Personality Tests and BComm

Have you ever incorporated personality testing into your bcomm courses? Others have. In fact, quite a few articles on personality analysis have appeared in Business Communication Quarterly over the years—such as Valerie Priscilla Goby and Justus Helen Lewis’s “Using Experiential Learning Theory and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator in Teaching Business Communication” and Nancy K. Schullery and Melissa K. Gibson’s “Working in Groups: Indentification and Treatment of Students’ Perceived Weaknesses.” But while I’ve always found personality tests intriguing, I’ve never used them in my classes.

Maybe that’s about to change.

As a board member for a nonprofit group, I was recently asked, along with the other members, to take a free online personality test at in preparation for working with a new director. The results were fascinating—and also seemingly on target and useful.

The questions in The Enneagram Institute’s approach test for tendencies toward nine different personality types: the reformer, the helper, the achiever, the individualist, the investigator, the loyalist, the enthusiast, the challenger, and the peacemaker. As you’d expect, each has its particular strengths and weaknesses. For example, the enthusiast is “busy, productive, . . . extroverted, optimistic, versatile, and spontaneous,” as the website says—but also easily distracted, prone to exhaustion, impatient, and impulsive. Also as you’d expect, no one falls into just one category, though each person has one predominant category.

Such tests are often used in business to identify the most promising job candidates, help with team building, coach employees on their career development, and improve organizational culture. I get the impression that the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, developed during World War II, is still the most popular and highly regarded test (certainly among Business Communication Quarterly authors), but other tests and categorizing systems are also on the playing field.

 For example,, a subsidiary of the high-tech psychometric company PsychTests AIM Inc., offers a Big Five Personality Test (along with a communication skills test, an emotional intelligence test, and others). The test places each taker along five continuua: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (emotional stability). (whose tagline is “Psychology Applied to Business”) identifies four personality types: the “bottom line person,” the “people person,” the “’can’t we all get along’ person,” and the “detail person.” Of particular relevance to us, the site links these types to four communication styles.

–Australian communication consultant Lee Hopkins identifies “the four personality” types as “extrovert,” “amiable,” “analytical,” and “pragmatic” and bases his communication advice on these.

 –The Keirsey Temperament Sorter was developed by David Keirsey as a variant on Myers-Briggs. His test—which, like Myers-Briggs, yields 16 personality types—measures people’s tendencies in regard to four scales: abstract/concrete, cooperative/utilitarian, directive/informative, and expressive/attentive.

What uses spring to mind as you contemplate these tests and typologies in relation to bcomm? Here are the main ones I think of:

–Have students use one or more of these typologies to become more self-aware, which can make them better team members and more adaptable communicators.

–Use one or more of these typologies to make students sensitive to others’ personalities and thus enhance students’ audience analysis. (Wouldn’t it be fun and enlightening to have students analyze the personality types revealed in sample documents or speeches?)

 –Use one or more of these tests/typologies as the basis for a major assignment—for example, a report comparing several tests or a proposal recommending that a company use one of them. 

I must confess that personality typing systems scare me a bit. Maybe that’s why I’ve held off on using them. Seeing others as “types” can blind students to the uniqueness of each individual—and I’m very uneasy with those who suggest (or sometimes even say) that hiring committees should use these tests to screen out everyone except extroverted, cooperative, high-energy people.

 But I think that, if used wisely, personality types can help our students achieve the interpersonal acumen and skill that we’re hoping they’ll achieve.

 What do you think?

5 thoughts on “Personality Tests and BComm

  1. I have (in the past) assigned a report project in which students write proposals for change, recommending the use of personality testing in hiring or team building (their choice). It’s a “suggestIon” kind of proposal, the one you might write to a supervisor to share an idea. They must use indirect structure because they must imagine an uninterested and somewhat hostile audience. They use the accuracy of their own results on the MBTI and the color test ( used by CA government for team building ) as evidence. It is an incredibly difficult project for them because, 1) they’ve been brainwashed not to use the first person when they write; 2) they’ve been brainwashed to believe anything in their own experience is not evidence — clearly two points of view that don’t translate well to business; 3) writing what amounts to a persuasive essay using indirect structure (letting the evidence speak for itself) is also new for them.

    The project results in a 5 – 7 page written report and a 5 minute oral presentation.

    The OTHER purpose (hidden) is to help those students who are majoring in business for no reason other than they don’t know what else to major in or their dad told them to. There is always a small percentage of my students who are not happy with their direction and the personality tests sometimes tell them why.

    I do not use the project any more. The current generation, which has grown up with standardized testing as a way to measure learning, is really terrified by the level of uncertainty of this project. If I taught upper division, however, I would probably use the project with them.

    Martha Kennedy
    San Diego State University


      • Cool! Do you want a copy of it? I’d love to hear what kind of luck you have with it — how your students do, if they get involved in it, etc. Just let me know if you want me to send it to you and I’m happy to.



  2. Hi Kathy – Great resources. Thanks!

    I use a memo assignment in which I give students the MBTI type for their boss, who is the audience for the message. I ask them to work in groups to strategize what elements of the message they need to emphasize in order to be responsive to her personality. For example, in my assignment, it might be more useful to emphasize that the suggested policy would avoid confusion and build relationships than it would be to emphasize the cost savings.


  3. For individuals, I intend this fall to focus on Tom Rath’s Strengths Finder under the auspices of the Gallup Organization. I like the emphasis on a person’s core strengths instead of areas needing improvement. One of the premises is that people tend to be bored and frustrated in their work if their strengths are not applied. I will have students select the top five Themes of Talent Measured by the
    Clifton Strenghts Finder and have students integrate these selections into their prospectus/portfolio for the term.

    For teams, I have found Dan Roam’s, Which Color is Your Pen, from
    his book, Back of the Napkin to be very effective in determing team
    leaders. It is a fun diagnostic of personality based on work and classroom scenarios. It has been a pleasant surprise as a
    reliable indicator of leadership potential.

    Tom Pickering
    Pierce College


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