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The value of psychometrics in coaching


In coaching, psychometric tests can bring about a deeper, richer conversation quicker but they should be used with caution, argues Neil Twogood.

A staggering number of psychometric assessments are now available, offering an insight into aspects such as your personality, emotional intelligence, aptitude, values, motivations, mental toughness, interpersonal relations, preferred team role and leadership style. A fair question to ask is: what benefit can they bring to coaching?
Psychometric assessment reports can add real value to the coaching process when they help to raise the self awareness of the coachee. They can provide clear signs and paths that the coach and coachee can use to reflect on the coachee’s preferred styles of behaviour and competencies - and the impact of these in different situations. Coachees are sometimes uncomfortable talking about themselves and how they interact with others. However, if they’ve undertaken a psychometric assessment, you can often have a much richer, more intimate conversation, because in their ‘results’ they will have already revealed their view of themselves to you through the questionnaire. That’s what a self-report psychometric test does. It simply reflects back your own perception of yourself, analysed through a psychological model.
"I would advocate using psychometrics early on in the coaching relationship, once a good rapport has been created, as the results can inform and guide the coaching process."
As a coach, your role is to help the coachee on their journey. Helping them to dispassionately review their self perception, and how that influences how they behave, is a good way forward. Psychometrics enable you to do this in two ways:
Firstly, by asking questions about the ‘profile’ that’s been generated by the test. For example: How accurate do you think the findings are? What interests you about your result? When are you more or less like that? What causes you to change? What are the implications for your role or what you’re trying to achieve? What are your real strengths? When do they help you and when do they trip you up? Which aspect of the results would you most like to be different? When have you shown the qualities you’d like more of?
Secondly, by linking together some of the different aspects that have been highlighted. For example, if a personality questionnaire shows that the coachee prefers to be low profile and is quite sceptical, you might reflect this self-perception back and ask how it impacts on their ability to create relationships.

Three caveats

I would advocate using psychometrics early on in the coaching relationship, once a good rapport has been created, as the results can inform and guide the coaching process. However there are three caveats to watch out for:

1. Be an expert in the process, not on the output

Your coachee will often want you to tell him/her the implications of their psychometric report. What does it mean? What should they do as a result? Your role is to facilitate the reflection and awareness of the coachee, not to wear the expert hat and tell them what they should do. Encourage your coachee to reflect on which aspects of their results help them in their role and which aspects get in the way.

2. Don’t pigeon-hole the coachee

Some assessments, such as the Myers-Briggs personality test, tend to put you in a box. People often like these tests because they’re straightforward but there’s a danger that a coachee may just take the test result at face value, without reflecting on its implications. Everyone has preferred personality traits but these can shift at different times. Your natural preference may be to stay low profile but in certain situations, with certain people, you may be much more gregarious. The decision for a coachee is what ‘profile’ would be most helpful in their next interaction? How do they achieve that in a way that remains true to them?

3. Encourage the coachee to consider other options

It is unlikely that a coachee will be able to change their personality. For example, if someone lacks empathy, it might be difficult for them to become empathic. But if the coachee knows that he/she is not empathic, at least they can start to think about what they can do to get a better sense of what’s going on for other people. They might enlist the help of someone in the team who is very empathic. That person can act as a guide for them on what the team is thinking. Or it could involve just asking a few more questions around the team.

Situational behaviour

360-degree feedback can help a coachee to become aware of how well their perception of themselves matches up with other people’s perception of them. A coach can help a coachee to reflect on several things: Are the results from others consistent with what the coachee thinks about him/herself? How do the results of their manager, peers, direct reports and others compare? Is the coachee perceived in a different way by different people? How situational is their behaviour?

Emotional intelligence

My preference in coaching is to use an emotional intelligence (EI) assessment. Although there are personality aspects to this, the results of an EI assessment are usually expressed in the form of social and emotional competencies and skills. I find it more practical to help coachees reflect on their emotional competencies - and how these might be altered through changes in behaviour to produce benefits for themselves and others - than to contemplate changing personality traits.

Emotional intelligence is defined as the personal, social and emotional qualities that allow you to cope successfully with everyday life. It’s being able to recognise and understand your own emotions, to sense and understand the emotions in others and to take action to achieve a positive outcome, based on the emotional content that you find.
By gaining a better understanding of their emotional intelligence, coachees become more aware of their strengths, the challenges they are facing and the impact they have on other people. Their emotional intelligence profile can be likened to a ‘graphic equaliser’ where each competency moves up or down according to preferences, situation and context. To be emotionally intelligent is to consciously choose the best profile at the right time with the right intent, in the right way, with the right person, to achieve a desired outcome that’s positive. In practice, this is difficult to achieve. However, it’s worth the effort, as EI underpins sustainable high performance.

Gaining value from psychometrics

Psychometric tests have long been used for recruitment, selection and development. Used in the right way, they can certainly add value in coaching too. Remember, it’s not the results of psychometric tests that are important; it’s what you do with them. The real value comes in the quality of the conversations that psychometrics enable you to have.

Useful links

Free personality questionnaire: A sophisticated, industry-standard personality questionnaire (developed by ex-SHL test developers) is available entirely free of charge at: This is a useful resource that coaches can use with coachees. The questionnaire takes around 15 minutes to complete and no specific training is required to interpret the results.

Neil Twogood is chief operating officer at Performance Consultants, the coaching and leadership development specialist, and a former director of Psychometric Services Ltd. For more information on EI assessment, visit the website or email [email protected].

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