Personality Styles

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The ways we behave are products of our experiences and our histories. When we meet other people, we should be aware that personalities are complex and can have strong influences on our relationships. Reflection allows us to understand more clearly why we behave the way we do. It also gives us a chance to broaden our personal repertoires of behavior.

Individual Characteristics

All characteristics form a specific individual profile. They include a lot of different aspects. Which of these keywords and aspects characterize you best?

Way of Thinking

Intuition, analysis, openendedness, outcome orientation, structure, feeling, discipline, inspiration, logic, non-conformism...

Acting and Deciding

Process-orientation, decision, feeling, action, thought, judgment, perception, holism, pragmatism, team player, leader, compromise, straightforwardness, trial, plan...

Attitude towards People and Groups

Introversion, extroversion, conversation, reservation, inner thoughts, group activity, individual space, loudness, tranquility, trust, altruism, anxiety, excitement, team, lead, support,...

Sensual Perception

Detail-orientation, the big picture, look, touch, hear, read, perception of diagrams, texts, pictures, sound, smell...

  • Personality indicators like the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) analyze and categorize people’s personalities through a series of questions. It is based on the work of psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, Katharine Cook Briggs, and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers.
  • The "Big Five", "OCEAN" or NEO Personality Inventory is another popular example of such a test, widely applied in the digital transformation.

Personality models are assessing features or styles of a person and applied for different purposes. They build a model of key features/characteristics, assess these at concrete persons, and attach the identified charracteristics a value. Such, they "translate" a personality into a data model.

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How it works: Example MBTI

The MBTI is still one of the most popular personality instruments in use which allows us to describe this more concretely: The MBTI test measures answers to a standardised questionaire regarding four opposing qualities. Extraversion (e)-Intraversion (i), Sensing (s) - Intuition (n), Thinking (t)-Feeling(f), Judging (j)-Perceiving (p).

Simplified explained: Alina may be profiled as INFP, which stands for introversion, intuition, feeling, perception Every quality is represented by a letter. She seems to be an introverted intuitive team player who wants to involve everyone and prefers to take time making decisions rather than acting quickly.

Jon may be type ESTJ, which stands for extraversion, sensing, thinking, judgment. When he feels sad, he calls his best friends and meets up with them. It is easy for him to find logical solutions to nearly every problematic situation. But when stuck in team discussions, he becomes annoyed and impatient easily.

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How Personality Models Can Be Used:

One might draw different conclusions out of data generated by personality tests.

  • Gain information relevant for personal development or for therapy
  • Learn how different types and attitudes favor tension or harmony in a team or group
  • Job application: (more and more automated) categorizing of job applicants in order to preselect those, fitting best to a job profile. In opposite: In order to build a resilient team one could search for diversity
  • Personalise content, advertisement or services to specific personalities
  • Performance assessment and tailored work on specific competence dimensions (i. e. in leadership trainings)
  • ...


This description illustrates that the decision whether to use such tests must be strongly justified. Because personal data are involved, and the conclusions as well as the consequences can be far-reaching, one must use such instruments with caution. Of course, this includes respect for the individuals, that their rights are not compromised, their consent, and clarity about what will be done with this information and data.

Educators should also understand that these models are only indicators. Although several tests are based on experience with many people and make general statements that summarize statistical probabilities, they are simplified descriptions. They often lack precision or are ambiguous. [1]

Furthermore, interpreting information from a model or even an inventory can in so far become problematic, since feelings, or behavior vary from situation to situation, while facilitators experience learners often only in one context or role. Last but not least, one can ask whether the use of clinical psychology inventories suit your purposes in a general way.

Having said that, such a tool can also be really helpful, whether you want to use it concretely or just as a mental model. Facilitators being sensitive for different personalities can increase their competence to create dynamic group processes, to work in teams or to support personal development (in example in mentoring or coaching).[2] Furthermore, we might provide learners data for self-reflection.

Digital Transformation

Key role of applied behavioral psychology

Modelling personality styles is in particular interesting in the data industry today. It is used there for the creation of psychometric profiles, for example for targeted advertising or the individualisation of user experience. Especially the NEO Personality Inventory (also known as Five Factor or as OCEAN model) is playing here an important role.

Researchers like Shoshana Zuboff criticize how psychometric models are constructed and applied - how personality models are used by tech companies in order to understand users better or to sell their data. Especially in the appropriation of personal data in combination with algorithmic processing they see the core of a "surveillance capitalism":

"It is a ubiquitous networked institutional regime that records, modifies, and commodifies everyday experience from toasters to bodies, communication to thought, all with a view to establishing new pathways to monetization and profit." [3].

Especially Zuboff argues, it "unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data" [4]. Such, the collected data only partly would serve the specific purpose of a service offered. By far the largest part, the "proprietary behavioral surplus", would serve as (company-owned, therefore "proprietary") raw material for the actual purpose of predicting and controlling behavior as a citizen, user, consumer or employee.

What purpose do the models serve?

In this sense, especially for Education for Democratic Citizenship/Human Rights Education the question arises, for what purpose models of personalities are applied - and for what aim they are constructed.

Digital Learner Assessment

Because we can expect further datification of learning processes in the next few years, the immediate question is also which personality models we will use as the basis of evaluation and measurement, how realiable, fair and unbiased these or the algorithms using them are, how we can control them and, if necessary, competently correct their results.

Nils-Eyk Zimmermann

Nils-Eyk Zimmermann

Editor of Competendo. Coordinator of the project DIGIT-AL Digital Transformation in Adult Learning for Active Citizenship. Network Secretary of the DARE network. Topics: active citizenship, civil society, digital transformation, non-formal and lifelong learning, capacity building. Blogs here: Blog: Civil Resilience. Email:


  1. Franc Coffield, David Moseley, Elaine Hall, Kathryn Ecclestone: Learning and pedagogy in post 16 learning. A systematical and critical review. Learning and Skills Research Centre, London 2004
  2. N. Zimmermann: Mentoring Handbook - Providing Systemic Support for Mentees and Their Projects; Berlin 2012; MitOst; ISBN 978-3-944012-00-1
  3. Zuboff, S. (2015). Big Other: Surveillance Capitalism and the Prospects of an Information Civilization (April 4, 2015). Journal of Information Technology (2015) 30, 75–89. (page 81)
  4. Zuboff, S. (2018). The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. Profile Books, London 2019, page 8