Do the Big 5 Personality Traits Impact Self-Awareness?

I’ve been a student of personality traits for nearly 25 years, and I’ve made my living from being able to understand, teach, coach and assess people using various personality trait tools. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this work, and have had fun helping others understand how their own traits would drive behaviors and impact their energy while working and living with others.

I have found multiple activities designed for team sessions to create discussion surrounding personalities. These activities are useful when I’m called in to companies to have conflict resolution meetings between people and/or departments.  Further, I am often hired to help decide what kind of traits work best in certain roles, and I often create succession-planning metrics using these traits to ‘guess’ what would be the most successful in particular roles.  I am not the only one who has found it deeply satisfying to be in this space; this work has captured the attention of many for decades.

The study of personalities has been prevalent since the 1930’s, with one of the founding assessments measuring what we now call The Big Five Personality Traits. The Big Five was designed to be an objective way to compare people.  This body of work is still considered the basis for which many current tools have been built. Over time, these traits have been hashed and rehashed, named and renamed. Essentially, the Big Five Personality traits tell us how assertive or accommodating we are, and how detailed (or in my case not detailed) we are. These traits also show us how easy or hard it is to communicate and connect with others. Additionally, there are other useful traits too that provide insight to how well we deal with stress, or how curious we can be.  (If you REALLY want to get into this topic more – there are about a million websites that highlight the Big Five, but here’s a generally informative and reputable source you may enjoy:

Over time and despite my passion for coaching and consulting around personality traits, I still felt I was missing something. Something big.  I couldn’t quite identify my feelings for this missing piece other than to say that by only focusing how “assertive or accommodating” or “detailed or not” someone is, there is no space for determining how aware they are about their own ways. It also didn’t really address how open or willing they were to explore or grow in their own self-awareness.  I know enough to realize that it is much easier to grow and make personal shifts the more self aware we are.

So, for a long while I compared.  I compared highly authoritative people to really accommodating ones. Did they seem to have different levels of self-awareness?  Not really. (Although it did feel like the assertive ones were more willing to take some sort of stand on the topic.)  How about the difference between an extreme extrovert that felt shame about talking a lot, compared to the extreme extrovert that seemed to have no awareness of how others were experiencing them when they just kept talking and talking and talking?  The extroversion trait didn’t appear to impact the awareness, but rather it impacted their willingness to talk about the awareness.  One by one, I observed the different traits in people and how self-awareness played into those traits.  Occasionally, I’d notice certain traits that seemed more often than not to lend themselves to higher self-awareness. For example, the quieter and more systematic personalities appeared to access their own feelings more readily, yet that did not mean they were any more successful in discerning those feelings in any given situation in comparison with their opposites if they lacked self awareness.

So, my general feeling on this is that personality traits do not make for higher levels of self awareness. They simply become the toolkit we use to express our level of self awareness in any given situation. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic! Please share on our FB page: @theselfawarenessjourney