The Big Five personality traits is a theory describing the traits that serve as the building blocks of personality. The Big Five personality traits is a suggested grouping of personality traits based on psychological trait theory, where five big personality traits are identified in openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism.
Understanding the Big Five personality traits
Several trait theories have been developed over the years as researchers attempted to define the number of personality traits in existence.
Early attempts, such as those made by psychologist Gordon Allport, resulted in a list of 4,504 different traits.
Fellow psychologist Raymond Cattell identified sixteen fundamental components of personality, while British psychologist Hans Eysenck suggested personality was based on just three core dimensions.
Many academics considered Cattell’s theory to be too complicated and Eysenck’s to be too simplistic.
As a result, a theory describing five broad categories of personality traits started to gain popularity.
Essentially, this five-factor theory builds on the work done by Eysenck and multiple researchers in the 1960s and 80s.
Later work by Robert R. McCrae and his peers found that the five personality traits were remarkably consistent across more than 50 different cultures.
Based on these results, most psychologists now believe the traits have biological or evolutionary origins.
The Big Five personality traits
Before we describe each of the personality traits, it’s important to understand that each trait represents a range between two extremes.
For example, extraversion represents a continuum between extreme extraversion and extreme introversion.
In actuality, most people will occupy a position somewhere along each continuum.
The Big Five personality traits are:
1 – Openness
Individuals with high openness are more adventurous and creative
They also tend to have a broader range of interests owing to their willingness to try new things or tackle new challenges.
Individuals with low openness are considered more traditional
They avoid change and do not enjoy new things.
A lack of imagination also means these people dislike abstract or theoretical concepts.
2 – Conscientiousness
Individuals with high conscientiousness are organized and detail-oriented
They recognize the value in preparation and scheduling and prioritize the completion of important tasks.
Individuals with low conscientiousness dislike the structure that scheduling brings
They tend to be messy, disorganized, and prone to procrastination.
This means they are less likely to complete important or assigned tasks.
3 – Extraversion
Extraversion is characterized by sociability, talkativeness, and emotional expressiveness
Highly extroverted individuals derive energy from being around other people.
Low extraversion (introversion) is characterized by individuals who derive their energy from solitude
They may feel exhausted when required to socialize for extended periods.
4 – Agreeableness
High agreeableness is primarily associated with cooperative behavior
More specifically, these individuals display trust, altruism, affection, and kindness toward others.
Low agreeableness, on the other hand, describes individuals who take a more competitive stance
They take little interest in the feelings or problems of others, and in extreme cases may manipulate others to get what they want.
5 – Neuroticism
Individuals with high neuroticism tend to experience high emotional instability
They experience a lot of stress and get upset easily. Many others struggle to recover after a traumatic event.
Individuals with low neuroticism tend to be more stable and resilient to external events
They are better able to deal with stress and rarely feel sad or depressed.
Big five personality traits examples in business
In this section, we’ll describe some business examples for each of the big five personality traits.
Openness to experience
Those with the openness to experience trait tend to be more adaptable, experience higher job satisfaction, and demonstrate strong leadership skills.
Entrepreneurs are the most open to experience because they are attracted to dynamic environments and the novelty associated with new challenges.
By their very nature, these environments pose problems that require creative solutions, business models, and products.
More broadly speaking, an organizational culture that is open to new experiences will find it much easier to implement and sustain change initiatives.
According to the Essentials of Organizational Behavior: 14th Edition, conscientiousness is the trait that has the most impact on job performance – especially in non-artistic professional contexts.
Consider the long-term viability of a start-up, for example. If the entrepreneur has a low amount of conscientiousness, they are more likely to abandon the project as interest starts to wane.
When obstacles are inevitably encountered, their lack of organization and planning is exposed and they may become impulsive.
Conscientious employees tend to be resilient, orderly, dependable, and embody the most aspects of a strong leader.
But they tend to prioritize work over anything else and can be less adaptable to change.
Extroverts are commonly found in public or customer-facing roles such as sales and marketing.
However, their ability to form close associations with others, work well in teams, and be charming, confident, and charismatic make them an asset to any company.
Extroverted individuals also have a knack for collaboration that enables them to connect with a diverse range of stakeholders.
What’s more, their natural tendency to take charge, show initiative, and mentor or advise others makes them more likely to end up in leadership positions.
Agreeable employees tend to be polite and compassionate, while those who are less agreeable are more comfortable with conflict.
In truth, organizations need a mixture of both.
Most leaders are on the disagreeable end of the spectrum.
They must be able to have hard conversations with employees about their performance, salary, and role within their team.
The same can also be said for entrepreneurs who often push the boundaries and are told by others that something cannot (or should not) be done.
In the workplace, employees who are more agreeable are those that comply with rules and regulations without protest.
They are collaborative, cooperative, approachable, and well-liked by others in the organization.
Neuroticism in the workplace relates to one’s ability to cope with stress and anxiety.
Frontline employees and middle management may be more neurotic than senior managers and executives who need only answer to themselves.
Entrepreneurs may also be low in neuroticism because the role of starting a new company requires exceptional self-confidence and risk tolerance.
Nevertheless, neuroticism can be associated with employee burnout since these individuals find it more difficult to manage their emotions.
Conversely, those who are less neurotic tend to be more emotionally resilient and can handle stressful work situations.
Big Five Personality Traits vs. Myers-Briggs
- The Big Five personality traits is a theory describing the traits that serve as the building blocks of personality. The theory is based on the work of multiple psychologists during the middle of the 20th century.
- The Big Five personality traits lie along a continuum of two extremes. Most individuals exhibit varying degrees of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.
- The Big Five personality traits were found to be common to more than 50 different cultures. Based on this revelation, the traits are thought to have evolutionary origins.
- Definition of Big Five Personality Traits: The Big Five personality traits theory identifies five major dimensions of personality: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. These traits are considered fundamental building blocks of human personality.
- Historical Context: The development of the Big Five personality traits theory emerged as a response to previous theories that either had too many complex traits or were too simplistic. This theory gained popularity in the 1960s and 1980s based on the work of researchers like Hans Eysenck and Robert R. McCrae.
- Cultural Universality: Research has shown that the Big Five traits are consistent across more than 50 different cultures. This suggests that these traits have biological or evolutionary origins, as they are present across diverse societies.
- Trait Continuums: Each of the Big Five personality traits represents a continuum between two extremes. For example, individuals can fall anywhere along the continuum between extreme extraversion and extreme introversion.
- Openness: High openness individuals are adventurous, creative, and open to new experiences. Low openness individuals are more traditional, avoid change, and dislike abstract concepts.
- Conscientiousness: High conscientiousness individuals are organized, detail-oriented, and prioritize tasks. Low conscientiousness individuals are disorganized, may procrastinate, and struggle with completing tasks.
- Extraversion: Extraversion is characterized by sociability and deriving energy from social interactions. Introversion involves gaining energy from solitude and can lead to exhaustion during extended socialization.
- Agreeableness: High agreeableness individuals are cooperative, kind, and considerate. Low agreeableness individuals may be competitive and less empathetic towards others.
- Neuroticism: High neuroticism individuals experience emotional instability, stress, and are easily upset. Low neuroticism individuals are more emotionally stable and resilient to external stressors.
- Application in Business: The Big Five traits have implications for various aspects of business:
- Openness: Those open to experience tend to adapt well, show leadership skills, and drive innovation. Entrepreneurs often exhibit high openness.
- Conscientiousness: High conscientiousness is linked to strong job performance and leadership qualities. However, it might lead to less adaptability.
- Extraversion: Extroverted individuals excel in customer-facing roles, teamwork, and leadership positions.
- Agreeableness: Agreeable employees are cooperative and well-liked, while some level of disagreeableness can be necessary for leadership roles.
- Neuroticism: Neuroticism influences stress coping abilities, with high neuroticism possibly leading to burnout.
- Comparison with Myers-Briggs: The Big Five traits differ from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), which categorizes personalities into distinct types based on preferences in four dichotomies. The Big Five, on the other hand, measures personality on continuous dimensions.
- Universal and Evolutionary Origins: The widespread presence of the Big Five traits across cultures suggests that these traits are deeply rooted in human biology and evolution.
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