The openness personality trait of the Big Five deals with people’s view of and reaction to the new. Most definitions are very slanted. For example, they might say it’s about how “open-minded” one is. Does that mean scoring low means one is close-minded? In many cases they say “yes.”
As I mentioned in my introduction to this series, this is a big problem with the Big Five. Their descriptions imply scoring one way is better than another. In the case of openness, it’s better to score high.
This kind of focus does not help us understand one another. The focus is on who is better or worse. For example, one who is open-minded is better than one who is closed-minded.
What Does Extreme Openness Look Like?
Again, using the two step approach to address this that I mentioned in my intro post, we have two questions:
- What bad stuff shows up when I push the openness personality trait to an extreme?
- What counter force inside us helps prevent these extremes?
Pushing openness to the extreme, one jumps on anything new. That means faddish behavior. Examples include “got to have” the newest technology and “must wear” the latest fashions. It’s not about whether either is any good or practical. It’s about whether they’re new.
What Prevents Extreme Openness?
So, what counter force prevents one from “gotta have” or “gotta do” whatever is in? It’s selectiveness. It’s being choosy about the new things one allows in his life.
For example, should one try drugs because they would be a new experience? Should a CEO jump on the newest business fad even though it’s high risk? Could “no” to these questions be seen as closed-minded? Of course. Yet, it also means one does not automatically see “new” as “good.”
Examples of Openness Shining a Bad Light
Other ways openness could shine a bad light:
- Lack of focus and consistency, jumping from one new thing to another
- Exposure to new but unknown, undesirable influences (i.e. cults)
- Divorces and infidelities to get a new love
- Over active curiosity that endangers well-being even life
- Busybody that has to keep up on the latest gossip
Applying Openness Personality Trait at Work
Of course, this is not to negate all the good stuff about openness. It serves to balance them. For example, take someone who scores low in the openness personality trait.
Rather than see him as closed-minded or resistant to change (as a number of descriptions write), we can now see him as more selective about what he allows in his life.
As a result, this changes how we work with him. Rather than fight him because he resists, we help him more to become comfortable with the new. In the end, this balancing of openness with selectiveness helps us understand him. That’s much better than seeing him as a bad egg