When we meet new people in work, the street or even in a story one of our first instincts is to assess whether they are like us, or even whether they are someone we would like. The attitudes and opinions we form of people are especially significance, for those of us who are people professionals. For example, if you aspire to being a HR professional, an Occupational Psychologist or a Guidance Counsellor you must learn to fine tune these instincts. The ability to be both judgemental and non-judgemental (as a situation demands) are fundamental to professional selection, career guidance or coaching work.

Understanding how we assess differences between people is at the heart of this psychometric assessment programme. Occupational psychometrics is concerned with the systematic assessment of psychological differences between people relevant to the world of work. It challenges our most fundamental biases by questioning the implicit frameworks we use for “assessing” people.

 Occupational Psychometrics is concerned with the systematic assessment of psychological differences between people relevant to the world of work

Do the constructs you use to discriminate between people tell us something about you? When discriminating between people are you most likely to see people as more or less: interesting; agreeable; easy going; rigid; hard working; fun; emotional; sensitive; distant; smart; thoughtful; self sufficient; practical…

We use the word “discriminate” advisedly. Discrimination is today used pejoratively to describe prejudicial opinions formed without evidence that are therefore unfair or unjustified. However here we want to highlight that there is no avoiding our need to discriminate in day to day life as well as when we are involved in selection decisions or directive guidance. One of the key task for people professionals is to determine when to suspend judgement and when we need to make professional judgements. Making professional judgements means becoming aware of and fine-tuning the constructs and the evidence we use to underpin our assessments of people.

Subjective and Objective Approaches in Psychology

It is interesting to contrast psychological applications of the humanistic approach with the more rigid and objective psychometric approaches. The humanistic approach emphasises the benefits of suspending judgement/ discrimination in order to get a deeper understanding of the individual.

Over 50 years ago George Kelly, a mathematician and a psychologist developed a unique technique for mapping an individuals view of the world. The technique of identifying similarities and differences is known as “construct elicitation”. It was developed as part of the “repertory grid” technique and is a valuable listening tool in humanistic (or person centered) approaches which emphasise understanding people from “inside out”.   In humanistic psychology there is a strong emphasis on seeing the world as the clients sees and appreciating the subjective experience of the individual.  In general the humanistic framework is popular with counselors who emphasise the individual’s freedom to create their own unique models of the world and to become more productive as they develop personal understanding.

By contrast “objective” approaches limits subjectivity by focusing on a common vocabulary of differences (traits). Individual differences are therefore understood through the lens of a pre-defined classification system. Some of the most common constructs in modern psychometrics are intelligence, extraversion, conscientiousness and emotionality.

In this reader we will review critical issues in the evolution of the psychometric approach.  As you review the ideas presented you can reflect on your own beliefs about individual differences and how they can be best assessed.


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