Self-Deception at Work

Image: Bob RosnerThanks to Myers Briggs and a host of other workplace personality tests, it seems like everyone in the corporate world is either an “ENTP,” or their collaborative style is “Red,” or their leadership style is “Homer” (I made the last one up, there is currently no test to determine if you are like the head of the Simpson clan.)

Take a test, get the results and instantly you’ll have a clearer understanding of who you are and you’ll suddenly become insanely effective at work.

I vehemently disagree. Not only are these tests mostly a waste of time and money, I think they are dangerous.

But first let me quote a favorite scene from “Seinfeld.” Jerry is being forced to take a lie detector test by a woman that he wants to date. Since he knows that he’ll be caught in a lie, he goes to the best liar he knows, George Costanza, to ask for advice. George’s reply sums up everything you need to know about what’s wrong with self-inflicted personality tests, “Jerry, it’s not a lie if you believe it to be the truth.”

And that is why I think these tests are so bogus. Because they don’t pursue an objective view of your performance, but simply quantify our own self-deceptions. And that’s where the danger comes in.

The most valid take on your personality comes from the people you work with. They watch you, they know when to trust you and when to run away from you. Even your craziest colleagues can often offer insight that you won’t find by going knee-deep in your own gray matter. Without some external input from the people who see you on a daily basis, you are just filling out forms and recycling your own misperceptions.

I admit, these tests can be an ideal starting point for a conversation with the people you work with about who you are and how you can do a better job. But they usually aren’t, because people hold the results so close to their chest—like they’re an immortal truth.

It’s like hearing your own voice (you didn’t think you were going to get through this entire column without a metaphor, did you?). Your voice sounds one way when you hear it inside your head. But have you ever noticed how it sounds totally different when you hear it on a tape recorder that is played back to you? It’s no different when it comes to meaningful feedback, the most helpful comes from outside your own head.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of self-deception as much as the next guy or gal—heck, not a Keanu Reeves movie goes by that I don’t think that I could have provided a much more compelling performance. The problem is that these tests claim that they offer some objective truth and can cost a lot of money.

If you don’t believe me, then start talking to your colleagues about what they believe they do very well. Undoubtedly you’ll hear things that will make you double over in laughter. Mr. Disorganization will tell you that he’s totally on top of all of his projects. Ms. Only-In-It-For-Herself will tell you what a great team player she is. And your boss will tell you that his people love him.

Which leads up to the big question—what are your blind spots?  What do you hold very closely about your approach to work, or your values, that is just as laughable as Mr. Disorganization, Ms. Only-In-It-For-Herself or your boss?

Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to put those number 2 pencils away any time soon. Keep taking your tests. But just remember that a dose of truth from a trusted coworker can provide you a lot more valuable input than just probing your own gray matter.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning Also check out his newly revised best-seller “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.