What Are the Big Five Personality Traits?
The simple answer: they are a model intended to help understand the complexity of human personality, human relationships, and human reactions to situations. Understanding them is critical when it comes to a management approach that places humans at the center; although utilizing them as a tool to weed people out from being employed is not an ideal or even a very good use for them. Recognizing that they can change as our life changes and that they are a conceptual model with estimated scores makes them a rather unreliable tool for employment purposes, but can be helpful when working with people in the current moment or understanding your own motivations at a given time.
People react and do things differently from each other. Some have a fear of heights, while others jump out of planes for thrills. Some close up to emotionally stressful situations and others post it on Facebook. Some people look for the new and exciting, some like to go out and socialize, others are okay with a night in watching movies.
The guiding hand behind these differences are our separate personalities. These features that make our actions and thoughts distinctive from others have been broken up into these five major traits as a way to model the complexities of human personality. Through the different combinations of how much of these traits we have, they impact our personal lives and how we react to certain jobs and situations within a job.
It is vitally important to not judge a person by one single personality trait. The whole “Personality Trait Pie” should be considered and only then it should be considered in that particular moment. A high-scorer in Neuroticism and Extroversion will behave differently than a low-scorer in Neuroticism but higher in Extroversion.
The five traits are:
- Openness to Experience
Openness To Experience (Inhibited/Closed to Experience)
The more open someone is to experiences the more active their imagination may be and they may have a preference for more variety and intellectual curiosity (Rothman, 2003). These people are prepared to look at new ideas and new ways of doing things within social, political or ethical realms. They are curious and investigative.
A more inhibited person may reject new ideas with very little consideration. They may prefer the tried and true way, even if a better way presents itself.
I regard myself as a person fairly open to experiences most of the time, but I think most of us have gone through periods in our lives where we just wanted the old and the familiar. We wanted that comfortability that comes from being in a familiar space and unchanged environment. When I moved back to New York a few years ago, I was rather disappointed to learn that my father had turned my old bedroom into an extra bathroom. The change made sense to the house, but it felt like it took away an old comfortable environment from me. I wanted to find some old 90’s band posters and staple them to the wall.
Being rather high on the Conscientiousness side can be a good thing and a bad thing. A conscientious person is often strong-willed or inflexible. They can be determined and dependable or excessively focused on minor details that don’t add any value – the extreme perfectionist.
People scoring high in this category may have a strict adherence to rules and moral integrity, but being a low scorer doesn’t always mean they lack moral principles (Rothman, 2003). The differences come from how rules are applied, how strictly they self-enforce, and how specific they get into the details of the rules.
How sociable is someone? Are they assertive and talkative?
People who score high in Extroversion are likely to be energetic, likable, and optimistic (Rothman, 2003). Extroversion is seen as being more positive, which is not always true. In jobs that require a lot of social interaction, a high extroversion score can be positively beneficial (Rothman, 2003).
Extreme assertiveness within Extroversion can also be a bad thing, perhaps as coupled with high Neuroticism. Too often people are only judged on sociability, but issues with overly assertive tendencies are ignored.
Introversion occurs with a low score in Extroversion. This is typically a trait defined as being more independent and even-paced when it comes to job performance (Rothman, 2003). I am sure most of us can recall meeting an optimistic and likable introvert. However, introverts tend to be regarded as unfriendly and more likely to be independent rather than following a group. This is not always a bad thing.
The more agreeable someone is, the more altruistic tendencies they may experience and the more they can be sympathetic to others (Rothman, 2003). Sympathetic is not the same as empathetic. To be empathetic may require high Emotional Stability with high Openness to Experience and some Agreeableness mixed in.
On the opposite end of Agreeableness lies the more antagonistic a person. They may be driven more by their ego and only think about what is in it for them. They tend to be suspicious of the motivations of other people and are highly competitive.
Someone who is high on the Agreeable side is more likely of achieving success in a high collaboration and teamwork driven environment. That being said, I have known very agreeable people who worked well on teams and had very altruistic intentions. They were also very highly competitive. They regarded winning as important, whether in their personal endeavors or their team. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Neuroticism (Emotional Stability)
People high in Neuroticism may be at risk for certain kinds of psychiatric disorders. A lower score indicates someone who is more emotionally stable.
This category describes a lot of negative traits and negative emotional issues when it comes to being high in Neuroticism. These people may be overly fearful, even paranoid. It may negatively impact the happiness of an individual or the likelihood of being embarrassed even in situations most people would not find embarrassing. Anger, guilt, fear, and sadness are just a few of the negative emotions associated with Neuroticism.
The opposite of Neuroticism is Emotional Stability. People low in Neuroticism usually have an opposite emotional palette from high scorers. They are able to control their impulses more and cope more positively with stress (Rothman, 2003).
There have been studies done that have shown people with high Neuroticism scores have had issues with job performance, but it only predicts it within certain circumstances (Salgado, 1997). Think about the last time you had a death in your family or faced an extreme crisis with your career, like a sudden job loss. Now imagine taking a personality test during that time period. Your Neuroticism score may go up some.
I think many of us can relate to both sides of each of these traits at one point or another in our lives. We may typically exist in one side, but through varying situations, it brought out a more opposing side and viewpoint. You have to kind of expect that someone who is looking for a job, especially if they are longer-term unemployed, may not be their typical emotionally stable, extroverted and open selves. People are not so easily shoved into neat little packages.
While there is value in conceptualizing personality using this model, we have to recognize that it is just a model and it hardly captures the full unique impact and range of being a human.
Additional Reading Material on The Big Five
ROTHMANN, S.; COETZER, E. P.. The big five personality dimensions and job performance. SA Journal of Industrial Psychology, [S.l.], v. 29, n. 1, oct. 2003. ISSN 2071-0763. Available at: <https://sajip.co.za/index.php/sajip/article/view/88/84>. Date accessed: 08 feb. 2019. doi:https://doi.org/10.4102/sajip.v29i1.88.