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Beyond a Personality Test: Simple Tips to Understand the People We Work With

Let me first make a confession. If there is a personality quiz, I will take it. Replace my (non-existent) dating bio of “Enjoys long walks on the beach and deep conversations that last until sunrise” with “I am an ENTJ, but I have been both a high I and high D on the DISC assessment, and my love language is Acts of Service.”

Point being, I have tried to use tools like Myers-Briggs, DISC, 5 Love Languages, and StrengthsFinder to not only learn about myself, but to see if it can help me connect with others. Honestly, I’ve had mixed success.
It’s interesting to evaluate myself and the people closest to me, but it’s not easy to apply the knowledge much further. I find myself swimming in alphabet soup trying to remember which characteristics go with which term or how a term is even being used.

So, what does an instructional designer like myself do? I work on cross-functional teams of designers, editors, developers, project managers, and directors. How do I look at the team’s diversity so that we collaborate effectively? I look at the commonalities.

When trying to appreciate and understand people at work, there are three best practices I’ve learned to apply.


Listen without an angle. Be present with the person you want to understand. Notice things like what they choose to talk about and how they talk about it. Some best practices are below.

Do… Don’t…
…encourage the conversation …listen to gather soundbytes to use later
…notice word choices …penalize word choices
…notice factors influencing the conversation …always take things at face value
…appreciate their uniqueness …dismiss what you consider odd


This may feel like a buzzword at this point, but when dealing with humans, empathy will never lose its importance. When you empathize, you meet people on their turf, on their terms. We know humans are complex. We know there is a constant brew inside each of us that includes id vs. ego, thoughts and feelings, hopes and fears. So, I’m saying start with the basics like asking questions and listening, halt your judgments, don’t jump to decision-making, and learn about who you are talking to, and try to see the world through their own brew.


This is the point where you implement most of the personality/preference/style tools. Once you have a code or label to work with, the tools often come with pointers about relationships, career choices, communication best practices, and other “So what?” factors. This is nice but is really only useful to those who actively want to apply it (and only if all parties truly understand the lingo being used). So what is standard?

  • Connect what you learned with what you already know.
    • See if you can identify patterns or themes. Have you seen this before? How is it alike or dissimilar?
  • Identify topics you are not familiar with.
    • See if there is a lack of knowledge on your end. Is this a difference in terminology or interpretation? Is it just something you don’t know?
  • Double-check your judgment.
    • While trying to make sense of the situation, make sure you aren’t adding your biases or judgments to the point they outweigh what you’re trying to learn about the person.

Technologies will continue to advance and change, but people remain the driver. We need to continue to make an effort to understand and appreciate those we work with. It’s easy to make quick decisions based on what we already know, but I challenge us to keep listening, empathizing, and synthesizing.

About the Authors

Carly Patterson
Carly is a senior instructional designer with a journalism background, which means she loves mining for and sharing information. She has performance improvement experience within several industries, designing and developing different kinds of learning interventions. Carly enjoys looking at the macro view as well as the details, as seen in her 15 years of experience writing for small town newspapers and designing training for Fortune 500 companies. She enjoys diving into the work and has been photographer, video editor, paginator, writer, editor, mentor, trainer, designer, developer, and project manager. She is now returning to her roots and publicly sharing some of the information she has gathered along the way.

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