Unboxing personality – dynamic approach to individual differences (Joanna Sosnowska)
People at work differ from each other in many different ways. Some are organized, some are not. Some are very social and outgoing, some are not. To make sense out of those differences, we label them as personality traits, which are often linked with work behaviours. For example, we expect organized people to perform well, or those who are very social to thrive in group projects. Yet, our behaviour changes, depending on the situation, context, people we are surrounded by, and looking at general tendencies, such as being organized or outgoing, is not sufficient to understand the complexity of work life. Even if someone is highly organized on average, it does not mean they are very organized all the time. You may also meet two people who, on average, are equally outgoing, yet, one of them finds social events tiring after a while and needs time to re-charge. Acknowledging those dynamic changes is essential to understand people at work and capture the complexity of our lives.
Therefore, in my work, I focus on the dynamics and changes in our behaviours. Instead of boxing people according to their personality traits (i.e., extroverts vs. introverts), I look into the patterns of their behaviours, which can tell us more than simply looking at their general tendencies. In my research, I use several ways to describe those dynamic patterns: I look at the extent of the changes in behaviours, seeing that there are people who tend to behave very consistently, but there are also people who display wide range of different behaviours. For example, someone who is moderately organized, yet consistent in their behaviour, might perform better than someone who is also moderately organized on average, but acts either very organized or very disorganized, depending on the situation. I also look at how fast the changes in behaviour occur – for example, if a person tends to act very emotionally stable, but due to external circumstances they snap at their colleague, how long will it take them to return to their typical, emotionally stable behaviour.
This is particularly important in work psychology, where we tend to focus on ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Yet, work life is more complex than that, and a more individualistic approach is essential to create working environment where employees can thrive and fulfill their potential. My research on dynamics of personality aims to shed a new perspective on personality at work and discover all the features that we have not looked at before.