Telling a story - a study in people

Puck Norell

30th August 2018

Spending my vacation days at the beautiful Spanish island Mallorca, I’ve engaged in all the things you can do when you’re on vacation that I seldom have time for - spending time sunbathing, swimming, and reading literature. One of the books I chose to read this time was a book on how to read people, to best understand how different people behave depending on what kind of person they are (“Omgiven av idioter” by Thomas Erikson).

Reading this book, I have started thinking about human communication a lot, and how important it is that different work group constellations are diverse. Not only cultural and gender balanced but also personality balanced. However, I must say that I was not very fond of the book. First of all, he is calling himself a behavioural scientist, but the truth is that he does not have an academic background as a behavioural scientist. Secondly, the book bases its personalities on the DISC assessment, developed by psychologist William Moulton Marston. This method assesses what kind of personality you have according to whether you are dominant, influential, steady or compliant. It does not have strong scientific foothold, and does not have enough scientific evidence to be used. These profiles however, according to Erikson, can further be compared to Hippocrates’ hypothesis that there are four different kinds of persons; melancholics (black bile), sanguines (blood), phlegmatics (phlegm), and cholerics (yellow bile). Another comparison to the one of Hippocrates is the one of the Aztecs, who thought that people could be either fire, water, air or earth.

The problem with this book is primarily that the statements he does are not based on scientific studies, and he avoids to talk about research within the field. This points out his lack of knowledge and also the absence of academic background. It is one thing to write a fictional book, but it seems as if there is an underlying take home message that this method is a well developed scientific tool that is used. And if that is true, it should be backed up by scientific literature and research. Another thing that I do not like is that I think the assessment can make people too stuck on how they should behave according to their given profile. It feels as if people would try to live up to the profile that they have been matched up with, which can lead to disadvantages. There are more influences to your personality and way of solving tasks than to combine different letters and from that point being able to tell how you would react. That’s pretty much what the DISC assessment is.

However, although being scientifically incorrect, I know it is being used in large companies. I myself was actually assessed by the method once (turned out I was a real melancholic since I apparently am very analytical). While doing it, I felt that it was a very bad representation of the people around me, and of myself.

I couldn’t resist to think about my own team, iGEM Stockholm, and try to figure out what kind of people we are. I came to the conclusion that we all are very different, which is indeed a challenge, but I found out through the book (and through own personal experience) that the bigger challenge is actually being too alike. Think about it. If you are a person that loves standing in the spotlight and come up with great ideas, but only rely on other people actually realising these ideas. How would the project actually turn out if everyone in your team was the same?

A younger me would call people I met who didn’t think like me or believe in the same things as me, a person that doesn’t know better. They just don’t seem to want to understand! Maybe you recognise yourself in feeling this way too? Here is where we need to understand that people are different. Period. Just because you and I think different doesn’t mean that one is wrong (if it isn’t about pure facts, then someone can be wrong). Today, I’ve completely changed my way of thinking, because it isn’t about people now knowing better, it’s about thinking differently, and being different. No one thinks in the same way, or solves tasks in the same way.

And that’s the beauty of being your own person, isn’t it?