Personality: An internal disposition that guides a specific pattern of behaviour.
Over many decades, psychologists have attempted to tackle the following questions:
- How accurate are we at defining a personality?
- Can personality predict or explain behaviour?
- Is personality consistent over time?
These questions rest at the heart of personality research and in this article, we will examine the finding’s and consider what personality traits are best suited for working in close protection.
Given the nature of close protection and the conditions under which operators are expected to perform, it is imperative for those providing protective services to be highly developed, multi-disciplined individuals. However, beyond the obvious technical skills reqauired to execute well-drilled procedures, modern operators are expected to display more nuanced skills such as emotional intelligence, candour, judgement and resourcefulness to list but a few. So, how can understanding our personality type help us become better in our roles as close protection operatives? To answer this, we need to have a basic understanding of the factors influencing the various personality traits.
A prominent role within personality research involves identifying common clusters of traits that can be assigned to a higher order personality. Trait theories of personality suggest that personality is relatively consistent across time, place and social interactions.
However, people can experience states of being that differ from their personality. An example may involve a typically happy-go-lucky (extrovert) person, who then suffers a prolonged period of depression, triggered by a specific environmental/social situation. Another example may involve an individual who is usually quiet/withdrawn in social situations (introvert), who then becomes loud and outgoing due to the effects of specific drugs. Consequently, the impact of short-term biological and social stimulus may not reflect an accurate representation of an individual’s personality. On the other hand, prolonged exposure to a short-term stimulus may profoundly impact and alter personality, which then implies that our personalities are a transient and constructed phenomenon.
You will notice I have used the terms ‘extrovert’, ‘happy-go-lucky’ and ‘withdrawn’. Ultimately, these labels exist within the confines and limitations of language. Western linguistic descriptions of personality traits may not adequately represent all personality types, and it’s likely that some traits have not yet been accurately identified. Despite these shortcomings, researchers have attempted to define universal explanations of personality types. The logical place to begin this undertaking is from a biological approach. The focus on personality within biological psychology (behavioural neuroscience) often involves identifying brain functions such as cortical arousal, inhibition, anxiety and the nature/nurture relationship.
Trait Personality Theory
Personality is usually measured using questionnaires, which adopt a psychometric framework, similar to IQ tests. Raymond Cattell (1905-1998) was one of the first researchers to utilise this psychometric approach by measuring 16 personality factors (each factor rated 1 to 10). He found that certain personality factors often shared similar patterns of covariation, the contrasting relationship between seemingly random variables. Updated research has attempted to whittle down Cattell’s theory, with the most prominent being Costa and McCrae’s ‘Big Five’ personality traits.
The ‘Big Five’ and Related Traits
- Extraversion – positive emotions, comfortable in social situations, active and excitement, warmth, commonly described as a ‘character’.
- Openness to experience – new ideas, values, fantasy, daydreamers, emotive, usually seeks euphoric experiences, inventive, curious.
- Neuroticism – self-consciousness, vulnerability, low emotional stability, anger, nervous, sensitive, depression, view the world as a place of threat because they are more sensitive to experiencing social pain.
- Agreeableness – modesty, compliance, compassionate, cooperative, tender-minded, altruistic.
- Conscientiousness – punctuality, order, achievement, self-discipline, deliberation, reliability, dutifully.
‘Big five’ psychometric questionnaires often rate each trait on a scale of 1 to 5 (1= weak and 5 = strong). As with Cattell’s approach, this allows researchers to identify patterns of covariation between traits. For example, if you measure high in openness you are likely to measure low in conscientiousness, or if low in neuroticism and then high in extraversion. Once the data from the questionnaires are collected and analysed, the researcher can begin
to build a model to predict behaviour. There have been numerous personality trait theories, but the ‘Big Five’ has been the one to withstand the test of time.
Real World Application
Personality research is widely utilised within corporate/political institutions. Within the cooperate setting, personality tests are used as a recruitment tool and to improve work production. However, Psychometric tests can be misleading when used as a cooperate tool. Firstly, most tests can be researched then practised, giving the applicant/employee time to tailor their answers to suit the position.
In the short term, tailoring personality questionnaires to suit job roles may be beneficial for the applicant/employee. However, it would be difficult for the applicant/employee to hide their real personality over an extended period, despite evidence which suggests that personality traits can be learned.
Within the world of politics, personality tests can be used to predict the outcome of elections and public reactions to government policies. Conservatives tend to be low in openness and high in conscientiousness /agreeableness. Liberals tend to score highly in openness but low in conscientiousness. Hodson & Costello (2007) explored how personality and temperament influence political views. They found that people who reported high feelings of disgust are more likely to be tolerant to social inequality, have more conservative attitudes and measure high on authoritarian personality scales.
Within the field of personality research, evidence has shown a positive relationship between agreeableness/conscientiousness and disgust sensitivity. We have seen that people who measure high on conscientiousness have orderly and punctual behavioural traits. When orderly and punctuality are disrupted, disgust sensitivity is high. In today’s social/political climate, it is likely that ‘hate’ is a misrepresentation of ‘disgust’.
I don’t want to venture far from the beaten track, so let us look at the use of personality research within the security profession. As we have seen, people measuring high on conscientiousness are more likely to engage in labour related tasks, work hard, are reliable, have integrity and a stable daily structure. I’m sure that most ex-service personnel reading this article would agree on conscientiousness being a good predictor of military performance. However, research shows that people measuring high on conscientiousness are less likely to produce creative ideas. However, people who can think ‘outside of the box’, when unplanned situations occur, can be highly valuable on the battlefield. How do we compensate the reduced functioning of one desirable attribute for the abundance of another?
Personality in Close Protection
Is there such a thing as the perfect blend of traits for a CP operator and what would they be? From my own experience, I suggest a CP operator should be low on Neuroticism. It would be counterproductive to have an operator who has low emotional stability, becomes angry at irrelevant stimuli and is often depressed.
I’m sure many operators will agree that the profession often requires ‘thick skinned’ individuals.
Secondly, protectors should measure mid-range on openness and agreeableness. The close protection profession requires operators to think on their feet; however, an individual who daydreams with their head in the clouds and is overly compassionate may run into issues.
Finally, in my opinion, the strongest traits for the CP professional are conscientiousness and extraversion. The ability to leave ‘no stone unturned’, be punctual, work long hours, and remain alert, while engaging with people in a positive and outgoing manner, are all critical traits for CP operators.
At this point, I’m sure some readers are thinking “oh damn, I don’t have the right personality for my job”. If so, don’t despair, I had the exact same thoughts when I first encountered personality research. After some contemplation, I rated myself as measuring mid to high-range on neuroticism – I dislike social situations, I’m sensitive to social stimuli, and I don’t feel comfortable in busy places. However, with prolonged exposure to such stimuli, I have learned to subdue these traits.
The point I’m making here is, models of personality are idealised and subjective. The labels placed upon certain characteristics may not accurately account for the complexity of individual differences and the adaptability of human behaviour. Ultimately, personality research acts as a guide. Being aware of your own personality traits (positive or negative) will strengthen your conscious awareness and help you understand and predict social interactions. ‘Tempt nosce’ is Latin for ‘know yourself’. Mastering this knowledge will serve as a powerful tool to assist an individual in navigating
the complexity of the dynamic world in which we operate.
If you’re interested in taking the test, do an online search for ‘Big Five’ or go to the website below. Once complete, you get a free snapshot report, or you can pay to receive a full, detailed review:
The Conscientious Bodyguard
By: Matt Adey
Matt Adey is a highly experienced close protection operator with over 14 years of professional practice. A former paratrooper, Matt has provided close protection/surveillance across a wide spectrum of situations in many different counties. Matt holds a BSc (honours) in Psychology and several security/surveillance qualifications. In his spare time, Matt is a keen mountaineer and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner.