In coaching, psychometric tests can bring about a deeper, richer conversation quicker but they should be used with caution, argues Neil Twogood.
I would advocate using psychometrics early on in the coaching relationship, once a good rapport has been created, as the results can inform and guide the coaching process. However there are three caveats to watch out for:
1. Be an expert in the process, not on the output
Your coachee will often want you to tell him/her the implications of their psychometric report. What does it mean? What should they do as a result? Your role is to facilitate the reflection and awareness of the coachee, not to wear the expert hat and tell them what they should do. Encourage your coachee to reflect on which aspects of their results help them in their role and which aspects get in the way.
2. Don’t pigeon-hole the coachee
Some assessments, such as the Myers-Briggs personality test, tend to put you in a box. People often like these tests because they’re straightforward but there’s a danger that a coachee may just take the test result at face value, without reflecting on its implications. Everyone has preferred personality traits but these can shift at different times. Your natural preference may be to stay low profile but in certain situations, with certain people, you may be much more gregarious. The decision for a coachee is what ‘profile’ would be most helpful in their next interaction? How do they achieve that in a way that remains true to them?
3. Encourage the coachee to consider other options
It is unlikely that a coachee will be able to change their personality. For example, if someone lacks empathy, it might be difficult for them to become empathic. But if the coachee knows that he/she is not empathic, at least they can start to think about what they can do to get a better sense of what’s going on for other people. They might enlist the help of someone in the team who is very empathic. That person can act as a guide for them on what the team is thinking. Or it could involve just asking a few more questions around the team.
360-degree feedback can help a coachee to become aware of how well their perception of themselves matches up with other people’s perception of them. A coach can help a coachee to reflect on several things: Are the results from others consistent with what the coachee thinks about him/herself? How do the results of their manager, peers, direct reports and others compare? Is the coachee perceived in a different way by different people? How situational is their behaviour?
My preference in coaching is to use an emotional intelligence (EI) assessment. Although there are personality aspects to this, the results of an EI assessment are usually expressed in the form of social and emotional competencies and skills. I find it more practical to help coachees reflect on their emotional competencies - and how these might be altered through changes in behaviour to produce benefits for themselves and others - than to contemplate changing personality traits.
Gaining value from psychometrics
Psychometric tests have long been used for recruitment, selection and development. Used in the right way, they can certainly add value in coaching too. Remember, it’s not the results of psychometric tests that are important; it’s what you do with them. The real value comes in the quality of the conversations that psychometrics enable you to have.
Free personality questionnaire: A sophisticated, industry-standard personality questionnaire (developed by ex-SHL test developers) is available entirely free of charge at: http://www.findingpotential.com. This is a useful resource that coaches can use with coachees. The questionnaire takes around 15 minutes to complete and no specific training is required to interpret the results.