A boatload of assessments purport to tell us who we are and how we operate. What kind of work we should be doing as a result. And who we should work with to create a well-rounded team.

Lately, I keep coming across the Big Five Personality Theory. I’m curious about how we can use it to enhance communication. And I can’t wait for your ideas.

Research going back to the ‘80s suggests we all have five characteristics. These core personality traits are consistent over time, and likely caused by a combination of heredity and experience.

The Big Five dimensions describe our personality. They also offer some clues about how we work best and how we interact with others. OCEAN is the acronym for the five central traits.

Openness to Experience

The very Open among us like variety. We’re willing, even eager to try new things. Don’t much care for routine. Experience intense emotions and have broad interests.

Those who are less Open prefer predictability, they’re drawn to the familiar. They’re more conventional. They’d rather follow a routine than not.


These folks make a plan—and actually carry it out. They’re detail-oriented and dutiful, they follow the rules. They have a lot of self-discipline. Conscientious people often wind up in charge. Of the Big Five, this is the trait that correlates most strongly with leadership in business and elsewhere.

The less Conscientious among us tend to go with the flow, act on impulse, start things but not finish them. Procrastination is a problem. We don’t always cross the T’s and dot the I’s. We can be disorganized. And my—I mean our—desk is a mess.


You know Extraverts draw energy from social interaction. Other traits associated with a high score on Extraversion are warmth, gregariousness, and assertiveness. Extraverts are friendly and sociable. They like meeting new people. They can be perceived as attention-seeking, limelight-hogging show-offs.

Those with low Extraversion scores are more inward-focused. They prefer talking to one person rather than a group, and they might be just as happy with solitude. They’re not a fan of small talk and they don’t like being the center of attention. Taken to extremes, they come off as aloof or unfriendly.


The highly Agreeable among us are straightforward, cooperative, even compassionate. They tend to trust others and to look for the best in people. They make people feel welcome and accepted.

Those who aren’t so Agreeable have low expectations of the rest of us. They can be competitive, suspicious and challenging. They can also be very successful—they’re pretty darn good at making sure their ideas get heard.


Not surprisingly, folks with high Neuroticism scores tend to be insecure and self-conscious; they worry a lot. They can be temperamental. Lots of ups and downs in their moods. They get angry easily and impulse control is not their best thing.

People with low Neuroticism scores are more even-tempered. They’re pretty comfortable with themselves. They stay calmer even when things don’t go well; they can handle stress. They don’t worry much. And they’re resilient.

What about you?

Where do you fall on the continuum for each dimension? You probably have a pretty good idea, just from what you’ve read here. If you want to go further, Google “Big Five”…you’ll find assessments you can take. But I’d bet you already have a sense of how you’d score.

Me? I’d say I’m High on Openness. Low on Conscientiousness. High on Extraversion. Fairly high on Agreeableness. And closer to the middle on Neuroticism—I’m pretty even-tempered much of the time, but I can get wound around a post.

And I’m already thinking about a woman who is just about the exact opposite on every one of those traits. No wonder we have trouble communicating! We’re each talking our own language and we don’t connect.

To explore this further, I need your help. Where would you put yourself on these Big Five dimensions? And where does that present a communication challenge?

Think of somebody who’s not like you. Maybe a colleague, a client…maybe your mother. Or a friend. Or your spouse?

Could you have more influence if you talked with them in a way that suits their Big Five instead of your own? How would that change the conversation? And the outcome?

Post a comment and we’ll pick this up next week with your contribution.