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Behaviors vs Personality: Why it matters for TEAM SUCCESS

The terms “behavior” and “personality” are often used interchangeably. However, they are fundamentally different.

Behaviors are observable reactions to stimuli. They are visible actions or words that a person displays.

People behave fairly predictably. And every individual has their own behavioral style (e.g., how you react to stress is likely different from how your colleagues react to stress).

There are two fundamental characteristics of behaviors:

  1. Behavior is observable by others
  2. Behavior can be modified; you can control your behavior

Behaviors are perceived in different ways depending on the context in which they occur and the state of mind of the person observing.

Behaviors can be interpreted completely differently than what is intended (by the person exhibiting the behaviors). For example, you may think you are showing empathy while others may perceive it as placating.

The observations of others are key to understanding your behavior and its effects (positive or negative). This is because self-observation is not a common strength/ability.

At their core, behaviors are observable “doings”.

Personality, on the other hand, is a combination of values, views, set responses, patterns of thought, and characteristics. Personality is your complex inner world. It is who you are—your upbringing, your environment, your values, your social status, your beliefs, your traumas, etc. One can (and will) exhibit a different personality based on the context/environment.

In contrast to behaviors, personalities are unique. Others can observe parts of your personality (e.g., your behaviors, your opinions, your history, etc.), but these are all only part of your personality—a world that is largely hidden from others.

If one wanted to change their personality, they could not rely on others’ observations because no one can figure out, from the outside, what makes you who you are. Again, a fundamental difference between personality and behaviors.

Because of these fundamental characteristic differences, influencing others through behaviors has a much higher success rate than attempting to influence by way of personality.

At Vivo Team, we focus on behaviors. Why? 

Behaviors are task specific, easy to articulate, and easy to measure. We rely on The Video Test—active observation of a person’s behaviors so you can accurately describe them. Describing the behaviors is the starting point for a two-way conversation about an issue or problem in order to find a better way.

How does the focus on behaviors support and benefit teams?

When a leader makes a decision, it affects their entire team. Therefore, it is essential that leaders make behaviorally-informed decisions (i.e., decisions based on observable, documentable behaviors of their team members).

A good behavioral assessment enables proactive leadership. It helps a leader understand, beforehand, how people will react to the decision(s) they make, so they can manage, direct, and support their team members in the most effective way possible.

Alternatively, leading based on personality may result in labeling—the labeling of oneself and others. Labeling is limiting and we don’t want to restrain people.

So who wins this knock-out round? Behaviors or personality? If you lead based on behaviors, you’re sure to take the top prize.


Many thanks to: Peter Krammer, Senior Partner, Okos Partners; Dr. Jim Sellner – EVP, People Analytics & Talent Activation, Vivo Team; and Greg Basham, Executive Coach for their insights and contributions.