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In my experience any request to ‘do a psychometric profile’ seems to cause an increase in anxiety levels and a slight feeling of unease. I rarely get people calling me to express their delight at having to complete one.

Part of the nervousness usually stems from some unknowns around ‘what are they looking for?’ and ‘what if it reveals I’m no good’.

Psychometrics can be really useful to give us a perspective and vocabulary around personality, habits, patterns and behaviours. However, what’s really important is to understand what the focus is and what to do with the output. Here’s my attempt to untangle some of the more commonly used types.

Intelligence Quotient (IQ) tests: these measure our ability to learn, not to be confused with the amount of knowledge we have. It’s thought that our IQ is fairly stable in adulthood.

IQ tests tend to be used as part of recruitment processes to get a sense of our ability to process and sort information. There’s a school of thought that says we can increase our IQ by finding mental tricks and tools to sort information.

Trait or Personality tests: these look at how we like to do things and what’s important to us in a situation. Do we focus on people or task first? What does success look like to us; getting the problem completed quickly or coming up with a new way to approach a challenge.

Trait tends to be fairly static, it would, quite frankly, be odd if you suddenly woke up with a new personality! The power of these tests is being able to recognise your own habits and patterns and being aware that we’re not all the same. You don’t need to be fluent in other trait types but being able to speak a few words of your opposites language can be really useful. Commonly used trait tests include Myers-Briggs (MBTI) and Insights Discovery.

Emotional Intelligence (EQi) tests: these look our level of awareness and ability to deal with emotions in ourselves and those around us in a positive way. Essentially ‘do I know what I/others are feeling and how do I feel about that’.

EQi is determined by habituated thought patterns and useful to think of it like a piece of elastic. Left alone it’ll stay as it is, but put some energy and work into forming new patterns and awareness and you’ll change it. Logic will get you so far but if you want to be able to deal with the complexities of situations which are charged with emotion (which, let’s face it, many work situations are) having a high level of emotional intelligence can be extremely powerful.

We’re usually the harshest critics of the results which these tests generate, even when we’ve provided the input ourselves. We encourage clients to look at them as a starter for 10 to help other people understand how to help you be at your best. As one client said to me ‘I’ve just given this to my wife of 2 weeks and told her that this is basically my user manual!’

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What does your corporate presentation have in common with War and Peace?

Plenty, actually. The goal of any storyteller is to grab the audience’s attention and maintain it from beginning to end. Your techniques will be different from Tolstoy’s (1,225 pages might be a little on the long side, for example), but there’s plenty you can learn from the world of fiction. 

Here are five lessons from fiction writing that you can use to tell better stories in your work life.

1. Nobody cares about your story

It sounds harsh, but it’s the first key to telling a good story. Assume that nobody cares about what you have to say, and find out what you can do to make them care. Get inside the head of a typical member of your audience, and brainstorm about what would make that person sit up and pay attention. Then give it to them, from the first sentence to the last, remembering you could lose them at any moment.

2. Story-telling is a process of subtraction, not addition

If your story doesn’t feel clear, the impulse is always to add something, some extra nugget of information or explanation.

Resist that impulse.

The best way to make your story clearer is almost always to remove something. As an expert in your subject, you’ll naturally put in far more information than your audience can absorb. So slash and burn. Maybe you won’t make as many points, but your audience will pay attention to the points you do make.

3. Good stories have a strong plot with a human dimension

Think of a novel, any novel. 

Chances are, it involves human beings overcoming challenges. We’re hard-wired to pay attention to that stuff. We’ve been doing it since the days of sitting around the cave-fire talking about killing woolly mammoths.

And yet most business documents do their very best to erase any trace of this. We can’t admit that we faced challenges, because that might mean acknowledging that we did something wrong in the first place. 

Take a chance, expose your weaknesses and your humanity, and your story will instantly be ten times more compelling.

4. Good stories are specific, not general

As we’re listening to a story, we try to paint pictures in our minds. We instinctively latch onto specific details, and don’t pay attention to abstractions.

Journalists know this. They spice up dull stories about government budgets with quotes and stories from the people affected by the politicians’ decisions. 

Novelists know it too. Tolstoy began War and Peace with a sharply observed scene in a drawing room, not with abstractions about the nature of war. 

Most business presenters don’t know this. You can use that to your advantage.

5. Good story-tellers use clear language

There’s a common misconception that, in order to sound more business-like, you have to change plain English words into long, formal words. 

That’s utter nonsense. It’s a remnant of a more formal age. Remember when people had a special voice for speaking on the telephone? Nobody does that any more. And nobody should use stuffy, formal expressions in their writing either.

Write a presentation as if you’re explaining something to your best friend, and watch your audience’s eyes light up in sudden comprehension, relief, and gratitude.

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