Monday, May 7, 2012

Personality vs. Character

Although often used synonymously, these terms represent two very distinct attributes of being. Personality is generally believed to remain fairly constant over time, and is inclusive of traits such as extroversion, competitiveness, organization, assertiveness and the like.  Though these characteristics may feel as though they mellow over time (our years of experience seeming to temper many of our more extreme personality traits), we often feel that there has been a bigger shift in our personality taking place than is actually the case.

Personality therefore, is deemed to be largely hereditary in its origin.  Character, on the other hand, is believed to be shaped more through socialization and experience.  Our belief systems drive much of our character, which means that, unlike our personality, they may shift and change over time as our experiences impact our beliefs.  This does not mean that character changes are easy, we do not easily give up our beliefs, but it is possible, typically in the face of huge emotional upheaval.

It is our character, comprised of such attributes as honesty, trust, kindness, respect, loyalty, courage, that establishes our morals and ethics.  As a result, our character is not as easily seen or read as our personality may be.  Think of Personality as sitting more on the surface of our interactions with others, while our Character is a little more deep-seated.  In essence...
  • Personality: is what we say and do when everyone is watching
  • Character: is what we say and do when no one is watching
The challenge we each face relates to our ability to accurately gauge the associated personality and character of others we are working and interacting with.  Studies show us that we tend to be better at accurately decoding personality elements but are not nearly as intuitive or accurate in our assessment of character.  In fact, we have a strong tendency to assign more positive character traits to those we deem to have a more attractive and positive personality.  This, of course may not have any direct correlation, but we tend to think that if someone is more outgoing, confident and fun that they are also more honest, moral and kind.  Making this association could come back to bite us in the butt later though, when we discover that our fun-loving friend is much more deceitful than we had earlier believed.

Generally, it is found that we have two key reasons for unconsciously linking personality to character.  
  1. we want to think positively of people that we like (so we assign them other positive characteristics)
  2. truly trying to assess someones character is extremely time-consuming.  In fact, the best way to assess someones character is to observe their behaviour during truly character-challenging situations, using their behaviour there as a predictor of future behaviour
  • the friend that is the life of the party, so much fun to be around... but who speaks about others behind their back...
  • the business partner who seems so easy to talk to, open and gregarious, but who easily pockets 'extra' change given by a server in error...
  • the prospective life partner who seems like the 'perfect' complement to your personality, but who never returns items they 'borrow' from others...
...may each require a closer inspection.  You may find that your perception of their Personality is influencing the accurate judgement of their Character.  In our relationships with others, personality may help us with our initial attraction to someone, but it will be character that makes or breaks it in the long run.  Deceitful and unethical behaviours are all a question of Character. 

How has yours been shaping up lately?

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