There are probably some fairly bad taste jokes to be cracked in the context of psychometrics about ‘not knowing your own strength’, and I’ll try to avoid them. But as psychometric instruments go, the Hogan Development Survey is different in identifying those strengths that can, indulged to excess, undermine us. Sometimes referred to as ‘The Dark Side’ rather than ‘The Development Survey’, it will help to keep in mind that the reference is to the less desirable aspects of our personality that may escape our ability to control or conceal them when we are living or acting under pressure.

Pausing to exhibit my capacity for mangling metaphors (even when not under duress), this isn’t so much a matter of a double-edged sword as a flip-side. Nor is it about avoiding going to extremes: some behaviours – passionate, excitable enthusiasm is important in driving or inspiring others – don’t benefit from being over-moderated. It’s not that this is something to be avoided – a lack of enthusiasm isn’t an improvement – rather than recognising what too much of it can be like not just for the individual but for others, and how it might demonstrate itself in stressful situations. There’s a big difference between The Duracell Bunny and The Moody Diva, and not just in how cuddly they are.

The questionnaire itself I found easy to complete compared with MBTI or FIRO-B: answering ‘True’ or ‘False’ to even a large number of questions feels rather more decisive. If anything, I was conscious of slowing myself to read each question a couple of times before answering (I was also slightly, but only slightly, less conscious that impetuousness has sometimes been somewhere between an Achilles heel and an inadequately spindly stiletto that’s left me metaphorically teetering most inelegantly). Following the instructions, I also answered the questions ‘as is’, doing my best to avoid answering how I felt someone with my agenda – career review and choice in later life (see the first of the series for full context) – should answer.

Those answers, once extracted and analysed, are measured along 11 scales. I should add ‘skilfully fed back’ to the ‘extracted and analysed’: of all the instruments I completed in this series, this is probably the one where I felt that insensitively handled feedback, explanation and exploration of the results could be what even the most inclusive liberal might call ‘challenging’. I was presented with a list and brief explanation of the scales and invited to identify the three scales I thought would be least and most accurate as probable descriptions of myself. As it turned out, I was pretty accurate when it came to the former: I can’t imagine many people who would describe me as either “The Opera Star” (Bold: Confident <-> Over-Confident) or “The Last Word Saloon” (Colourful: Lively <-> Sensational). As someone for whom spotlights are something you endure when they’re the most appropriate illumination for completing the task in hand, but not the lighting of choice, these were easy self-identifications. I’m no lady, and I’m not that fat: if you’re waiting to hear me sing, I hope you’ve brought a good book, a packed lunch and your knitting.

Although no third candidate for this category was obvious to me, the answer turned out to be “Charming Manipulator” (Mischievous: Charming <-> Exploiting). It seems my abilities at the former are in sharp contrast to my failures at the latter – or a lack of desire to manipulate. As inabilities go, that felt like a reasonable one to have to live with.

Identifying the traits most likely to potentially trip me up was harder – not least as these are scales where each behaviour has real strengths. After a bout of brow-furrowing and head-scratching, I suspected “The Changeable Friend (Excitable: Enthusiastic – Changeable)” was probably a candidate, but that over the preceding 51 years I’d probably exhibited most failings or shortcomings at one time or another and was left feeling a little spoiled for choice.

In this much, the exploration with the facilitator indicated that I’d arrived at the same ‘answer’ for myself through reasonably accurate self-awareness as I had through the questionnaire (although part of the exploration dialogue and subsequent conversation highlighted that my degree of self-awareness is unusual). The problem isn’t so much a lack of enthusiasm, as maintaining it. It’s not just my mind that has grasshopper tendencies (although that is at least an issue I’m aware of and do my best to manage), it’s that my enthusiasm can be short-lived. There are times and situations where, without positive feedback, that initial rush of energy can peter out and I have to focus hard on keeping it up if a sense of disinterest isn’t going to get the better of me. I’m also aware that I can become despondent too easily if something doesn’t go well (or, in cases where my enthusiasm has been particularly personal and passionate, where it doesn’t go in a direction I’d anticipated).

What intrigued me was trying to form connections between the different tools I’d completed by this point, and trying to understand how one behaviour might drive another. The tendency to underestimate my own competency highlighted by my FIRO-B control scores, which I commented on last time in terms of my lack of skill in giving myself positive feedback, seems relevant here: my enthusiasm is maintained by the continuing enthusiasm of others, and by the feedback I get from them. I’m not sure I can square this with the Introversion score from MBTI, although it explains my sense that my inspiration comes at least partly from those around me. I may need some space of my own, but I certainly don’t need isolation.

Beyond that potential derailler, there were several other contenders although none that I identified as possibly a threat to the same extent. Well, how wrong can one man be! My best guesses were “Clever Cynic” (where astute meets suspicious), “Outlandish Eccentric” (where creative meets eccentric), or “The Fussy Perfectionist” (where assiduous morphs into perfectionist), but the results said otherwise. The scales that were highlighted – although it should, as with many psychometric tools, be born in the mind that the norms against which you are being assessed may not be exactly your demographic – were “The Safety Officer” (Cautious: Safe – Risk Averse) and “The Resistance Fighter” (Leisurely: Co-operative – Resistant).

HDS lists its scales in the following descending order for me:

  • Excitable ‡
  • Cautious ‡
  • Leisurely ‡
  • Imaginative †
  • Sceptical ‡
  • Diligent †
  • Dutiful †
  • Reserved ‡
  • Mischievous
  • Bold
  • Colourful

The feedback was helpful in that it gave me another way of thinking of the result, by classifying these as instances of moving towards an issue/challenge (marked †), moving away (marked ‡), or moving against (unmarked). I think in my case this boils down to an approach that could be simplified as ‘get close enough to evaluate; make an assessment; decide to stay or leave’: decide to stay and change a few things round here to my liking isn’t, it seems, my approach.

I’m quite comfortable with that as a description: it chimes with a sense that I’m at a stage/age in my life where I’m not so interested in challenging for the sake of it – age has rendered me both more tolerant (of things I see as relatively unimportant) and more intolerant (things I just can’t be bothered to put up with anymore). It would be interesting to know if HDS profiles tend to show any particular patterns over individuals’ life times, or if they tend to remain constant. (Although the latter would imply that there are some mistakes that we never learn from, which would be a sad realisation.)

I was also struck that the description has a resonance with the personal circumstances that partly triggered my interest in the psychometric process: there are elements of life that are now open to action, and exchanging some of them for alternatives appeals more strongly than attempting to change them. I don’t think that’s entirely a case of me deciding that they are beyond being change – it’s more a case that things that were heading slightly off track when circumstances intervened probably needed only a minor nudge on the tiller at that point. Now that circumstances are receded, some of those things are so far off track that it would take an awful lot of tacking and gybing (to use a nautical metaphor) to even attempt to ‘resolve’ them.

HDS also gave me a new view of my potential pitfalls, and a nudge that leisurely caution could either be an issue I’ve been turning a blind eye too, could become one, or has been a way of behaving that I have learned in response to life events: behaving in that way has been rendered desirable by external influences, and I’ve responded by incrementally increasing those behaviours in my own life: leisurely caution has, if you like, crept up on me. (Well, how else might leisurely caution approach?) And that’s a valuable lesson all in itself.

Of course, as someone who is not just “unassertive, resistant to change, risk-averse, and slow to make decisions” and “overtly cooperative, but privately irritable, stubborn, and uncooperative” (Hogan Assessment website’s nutshell descriptions of the Cautious and Leisurely scales), but also sceptical, I was probably likely to season the report with a sprinkling of fine salt crystals. (As with other psychometric assessments, bear in mind that the scales are ‘normed’: I wasn’t expecting, let alone aspiring, to be typical of “10,000 working managers”. Steering clear of some things is a discriminatory behaviour that has more relevance and application for an editor than for a manager. Part of my role is knowing when not to go there – at least not in print.)

And context and immediate culture matter too: what would be overly excitable behaviour in one organisation would be comparatively subdued in another, for example, while you would hope that a manager in transport or pharmaceuticals (for example) would be more risk-averse than one in PR. Some risks really are more serious than others.

That said, provided you don’t approach HDS in the spirit of someone who might say “I’m an Aquarian, and we’re always drawn to the mystic”, the process – and the feedback and the report in particular – provides food for thought. One aspects of psychometrics in general is that our appetite for this is as variable as our personalities: I was fascinated, as self-awareness and understanding matters to me, but there are plenty of people who may be less interested – or even openly rejecting of an external viewpoint that doesn’t match their own. HDS certainly requires some care with presentation and facilitation, as there’s a risk of indigestibility, but what ultimately matters is how you use the energy those mental calories can provide. For me, even in a less active way, they mean adjusting my image of myself to take a fresh perspective on board, acknowledging those ‘Cautious’ and ‘Leisurely’ aspects may be important, as I hone my thoughts and actions on my own next steps.

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