What do you know about Personality Types…and what do you THINK you know?
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What do you know about Personality Types…and what do you THINK you know?


Cognitive Bias is Powerful!

Let’s face it, we love to put things – and people – into little boxes.  You have a great meal at a restaurant, and you follow that up by giving the “great” restaurant a glowing recommendation at a review site; you might even post a picture of your great meal on social media.  But then you notice that other people posted to say that the same restaurant was terrible!  Who is right – how can people have such different views of the same restaurant?

One reason for this dichotomy is that our brains are always processing information, and it happens so fast that they use little “cheats” here and there to make sense of it all.  We can’t know every single nuance to everything that we experience, so our brains helpfully fill in the gaps to make order of the seeming chaos of the world.  For instance, you might not be aware that the cook at the restaurant that you visited might have had a great day for you and a bad day for others…or maybe there is one bad apple in the waitstaff.  There could be hundreds of reasons for the different results, but all we know is what we perceive in the moment, and our brains do the rest to bring us to an action!

Psychologists call this brain-sorting “cognitive bias”; it’s what happens when we compare one thing to another, one person to another, or one event to another and categorise them.  It’s also what we do when misinterpret information and make decisions that are objectively irrational.  It happens automatically without any thought to what is actually happening around us.  And it helps to explain why we’re so obsessed with trying to understand the factors that make us select these irrational decisions.


The “Ladder of Inference” influences how we perceive our world and interact with the people around us.

The ladder of inference is a tool that explains how this cognitive bias happens. Each rung up the ladder is another step in a decision-making process; in each new situation, we start at the bottom of the ladder and climb the rungs as we work from an observation to an action as follows:

1.    Observe Reality

2.    Select Data

3.    Add Context to Data

4.    Make Assumptions

5.    Draw Conclusions

6.    Adopt Beliefs Based on Conclusions

7.    Take Action

Each of the steps above are guided by our perceptions, which are in turn moulded by our culture, family, experiences, career, etc.  Therefore, the Ladder of Inference isn’t a series of steps that you should take if you want to make the best decisions – not at all!  Rather, it simply outlines the way that we naturally use judgments and biases to interpret…and often misinterpret…the information around us.

Have you ever “jumped to a conclusion”?  

By looking at the Ladder of Inference, we can easily see how this happens in everyday life.  

Take a situation at work; you’re walking down the hall and you see your company CEO walk past you with a worried look on his face. Based on that bit of information, you could climb The Ladder of Inference in the following way:

1.    The Boss had a worried look

2.    The Boss has a lot of company information

3.    Last quarter was a poor one for the company

4.    The company will have to address this poor performance

5.    Companies often lay off staff to address poor performance

6.    My last review wasn’t great so I could be a layoff candidate

7.    I had better look for a new job before I get laid off!


Perception is KEY to understanding Personalities

Let’s rewind the story all the way back to when you saw the CEO in the hallway.  What if, just before you saw them, the CEO had just gotten a call that their child was sick, and they were rushing off to the hospital – would that change your perception of reality?  Of course, it would!

When you understand how the ladder of inference works, you become aware of how your assumptions lead to specific – and often irrational – conclusions. That awareness can ultimately help you avoid cognitive bias, stop treating your beliefs as truth, and make better decisions for you and your team.  The first step in this process is recognition; if we can recognise when we’re scaling The Ladder of Inference, we can stop our ascent towards a jump to conclusions!

Once we’ve stopped our progress, the next step is to identify where we’re at on the ladder and start using facts to work our way back down the ladder.  Using my CEO scenario, you realise you were making up stories about something you knew nothing about and stop yourself from making any more conclusions until you had more information.  If you are then told that the CEO was going to be away for a couple weeks to care for their child, you’ll have saved yourself a lot of time and worry!


My Story – Insights Personality Types

I came out of college with very little experience in psychology or the nature of personalities.  Like most people, I assumed that “everyone was the same” and therefore people automatically were able to get along and work with everyone else…as long as they “tried”.  So, I split people up into two groups: one group that I could get along with and/or “tried to get along with me”, and another group that I couldn’t get along with and/or “did not try to get along with me”.

Anyone taking notes can see that I was unwittingly climbing The Ladder of Inference!  I had decided that everyone was the same and the only differentiator was whether they could naturally get along, or tried to get along, with me.  By the time I was few years into my career, my preconceived notions were well-entrenched and while I could still work with people successfully, I struggled to understand why certain “leader-types” were so “pushy and insensitive” or why certain “friendly people” were so “scattered and hasty”.  Why couldn’t they just get with the program and be like everyone else (i.e. like me)?  To quote Insights, my perceptions were true, but were only based on my view of the world!

Then I took my first Insights Discovery test.  The base concept of Insights is that we have personality and behaviour tendencies towards particular colour energies - Insights calls them Fiery Red, Sunshine Yellow, Earth Green and Cool Blue. After I took the test, read my report, and participated in a group workshop, everything changed!

Have you seen “The Wizard of Oz”, where everything in Kansas is in black & white and everything in Oz is in colour?  It was like my brain and perceptions were transported from Kansas to Oz!  I found out that some people had “red tendencies” and therefore weren’t “bossy”.  And I found out that some people had “yellow tendencies” and therefore weren’t “loose with detail”.  The Insights information started a process of me becoming more aware of myself and others, and completely revolutionised the way that I thought and interacted with people!

The purpose of Insights is “to create a world where people truly understand themselves and others and are inspired to make a positive difference in everything they do”.


From a Coaching Perspective

A key factor of coaching is to allow coachees to be themselves and for the coach to help them discover the ideas and solutions that they need from within themselves, through guided introspection and focused questioning.  The coach should not be trying to mould versions of themself through re-alignment of the coachee to fit the coach’s pattern.

In a similar way, Insights Discovery has at its core the notion that no “colour energy” is better than another; they are simply a result of people’s natural preferences.  Because of these differences, people think, talk, and make decisions differently, just to name a few examples.  These differences come from the many unique psychological preference types and thus, because of all these preference types, more than one perception (i.e. my perception or your perception) is valid at any one time. The coach using Insights should thus not try to fit a coachee into following their personal preferences but rather help them plumb the wonderful depths that their colour energies bring so they aware of themselves – and others!

So, I’ll end this blog the way that I started it:

What do you know about Personality Types…and what do you THINK you know?  Maybe an Insights Discovery test could help YOU to understand the world better!

Photo credit: Magda Ehlers (www.pixels.com)