When people think of personality types in relation to business, many think of the Myers-Briggs test – a self-report questionnaire which was developed by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers during World War II, primarily to help women entering the workforce for the first time identify what type of war-time job they would be most comfortable with.

Over the past 80 years, the Myers-Briggs test, which is based on the theory proposed by Carl Jung that there are four principal psychological functions – sensation, intuition, feeling and thinking, has been a mainstay for workplaces which wish to help their members of staff recognise their leadership style and that of their colleagues.

There is no denying that different personality types have a huge impact on a business, how it’s run and its prospects – for instance, some people are bigger risk takers than others, are more creative, take a logical approach to tasks or care more about what other people think. It’s certainly not ground-breaking to think about how different personality types, interacting and working together, can create different outlooks for a company. However, something that has been gaining traction in recent years is the idea that people should bring their ‘whole self’ to work.

In many professions, including the legal profession, members of staff have been expected to uphold a particular image of professionalism – not sharing too much with clients or colleagues and usually not showing as much emotion as you might in your home life.

However, the concept of bringing your whole self to work has gained traction, with leadership experts such as Mike Robbins espousing the benefits of showing all aspects of your personality at work to get ahead. Mike, who has written a number of books including Be Yourself Everyone Else is Already Taken, and Bring Your Whole Self to Work, believes that the world of business can benefit from more authenticity – as this in turn creates more trust and space for people to be creative and take risks.

Arguably, personality in the legal profession is becoming more of a focus in recent years as various developments transform how legal services are delivered. For example, artificial intelligence has been embraced by many law firms. However, as the use of technology is embraced, lawyers must focus on strengthening personal connections with clients in order to differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive and commoditised market.  This could involve displaying more of the so-called ‘softer skills’ – a strong rapport with a client should never be underestimated.

In Asia, this personal connection is arguably even more important than in other cultures. A study from eHarmony, which expanded their online dating formula to employee recruitment, found that “East Asian workers are happier and more successful when they have a good relationship with colleagues and supervisors, while North Americans thrive when they enjoy gratifying job assignments and organisational policies”. Similarly, “a good relationship with colleagues engendered more organisational commitment among East Asian cultures compared to Westerners”.

In addition to distinguishing ourselves from the robots, there are many reasons why showing more of your personality at work can prove beneficial – it creates more trust and generally a happier and more relaxed workspace. At Vario, we recognise the importance of the right personality fit and we never underestimate the soft skills. Due to the nature of our business, our legal consultants are expected to drop into an inhouse legal team and start performing from day one. These assignments, which last between six and 18 months, mean our legal consultants must evolve and adapt to different work cultures and environments. In these situations, being authentic and true to who they are is important to foster relationships and gain trust quickly. We use a personality test when we are recruiting to ensure we match the right Vario to the right assignment.

However, bringing your whole self to work must be tempered – of course it is still important to act professionally and in a way that clients expect.

As well as support there has also been a backlash to this movement – research from Professor Herminia Ibarra, an expert in organisational behaviour and leadership at London Business School, found that it can backfire in some circumstances. For instance, if someone is promoted and fails to adapt their behaviour to fit with their elevated status, they risk losing credibility.  And in many work cultures, including Singapore for example, respect of the hierarchy and acting appropriately is hugely important.

Bringing your whole self to work is certainly an interesting concept and it’s true that constructing a ‘work persona’ may appear fake and inauthentic to colleagues and clients, impacting relationships and your ability to progress. Likewise, failure to adapt your personality to a work environment and in respect of hierarchies can prove damaging. It is a balancing act but there’s no doubt, as technology continues to evolve, people showing their ‘human side’ will continue to be valued.

Posted by Matthew Kay

Matthew Kay is Director of Vario, from Pinsent Masons

Leave a Reply