But I’m Not Like That All the Time: Personality Types and Personas

Darrell’s avatar

“Nobody can be exactly like me. Sometimes even I have trouble doing it.”

Tallulah Bankhead

“Okay. Now I have to take off my manager’s hat and go home and put on my mommy (or daddy) hat.”

We’ve all heard something similar to that sentiment before, because regardless of personality type, we all wear different metaphorical hats that demand behaviors somewhat different from all the rest of our behaviors, at different times.

Take a moment. Think about your hats. Some of them may be roles and titles, and some may spring from moods or social events. We invite you to list them. Here are a few suggestions.

Perhaps you have a family and home hat, a school or work hat, a party hat, a somber hat, a friend hat, a “you don’t want to mess with me when I’m in this mood” hat, a weekend hat, a weekday hat, a recreation hat, a spiritual hat, and so on.

List as many of your hats as you can. If you look in the imaginary closet off the hallway that runs through your consciousness, you’re likely to find that it’s full of hats. We all have a lot.

(Warning: Metaphors will be mixed ahead.)

Often people call these personas. Personas are those unique ways in which we present ourselves to the world. They are how we adapt to unique situations, and they can be a valuable part of who we are. They are social roles.

Personas can help us focus on tasks by fostering task-appropriate behaviors and attitudes. Think about the funeral director who loves telling jokes at open-mic night. He dreams of being a comedian, but that’s hardly appropriate for his job, where none of his clients are likely in the mood for funny stories.

These alternate selves can also protect us. Maybe when you’re walking in the sketchy part of town, you walk a little bolder and try to look a little more confident than you might in other places. That persona could lead anyone wishing you harm to think twice. Or perhaps you are typically gregarious, but when you’re at work, you become quiet and fade into the woodwork because your supervisor is hypercritical of everyone. It’s best not to be noticed there, and you need the job.

Personas also tend to make us more interesting, especially if they are authentic. If your characteristics are all one note and you are always the same, you rob those who relate to you of the mystery, surprise, and interest that switching to another persona might offer. Without those elements, a person is likely to appear a little dull. If you’ve ever heard anyone say with delight, “I’ve never seen that side of you before,” then you know all about this aspect of personas.

So how do personas work with personality types? With all this swirl of personas in our lives, how can we pin down one personality type? Aren’t we all those personas rather than a single personality?

Persona comes from the Latin word for mask, and that’s the analogy often used to describe these alternative expressions. But if you think about it, personas are not a mask, because they aren’t so extreme that they hide your personality like a mask hides a face. Most people never sink so deeply into a persona that they completely hide who they are. It might be more accurate to see a persona as light stage makeup. Sure, you look different. But the face that the “audience” sees is still yours.

Your personality type is the core that holds your adaptive personas in place. It is your true north and the place you navigate toward when you don’t have to or want to adapt anymore. If you’re Introverted, it’s the pull that says, “Man, I need a nap” after you’ve uncharacteristically networked at a conference all day. Or if you’re Extraverted and you’ve been sitting patiently and quietly through several seminars at the same conference, it’s the pull that asks, “So, what are we all doing after the last session?”

Your personality type is your essence’s home. When you take our personality test (and if you haven’t yet, it’s available here), it reveals those core things that encompass who you are when you’re home.

There’s nothing wrong with having other personas, but they aren’t the same as personality types. Personas are situation-based and temporary, donned and removed as easily as a hat. (See what we did there?) There is nothing inauthentic about using personas as a tool, if you remember who you are and if you aren’t using the persona because you feel something negative about your core personality traits. All traits can use a little counterbalance occasionally for survival and success. Personas are not about hiding as much as they are about enhancing who you are and giving you more tools to work with.

Further Reading

  • To learn more about how we use personas to adapt to different situations, consider the case of the talkative Introvert.
  • We’ve all experienced something that has made us question how to stay true to ourselves. At these times, it can be helpful to take a step back and reflect on the idea of authenticity.
  • Have you ever wondered if it’s possible to change your personality type? We’ve got some thoughts on that.