Minter Dialogue with Nikita Mikhailov

Nikita Mikhailov is the self-declared Chief Neuroticism Officer at PsyPub. A highly influential trained occupational psychologist in the business world, Nikita is a coach, speaker, and comedian. An expert in psychometric assessments, he’s also coauthor, along with Georgi Yankov, of “Personality: A User’s Guide” published by Robinson. We discuss all things personality, the traits that best suit a leader, correlations between certain of the Five Factor Model and intelligence, dark empathy and charisma, and much more.

Please send me your questions — as an audio file if you’d like — to Otherwise, below, you’ll find the show notes and, of course, you are invited to comment. If you liked the podcast, please take a moment to rate it here.

To connect with Nikita Mikhailov:

  • Check out his main site, Goodness of Psychology here
  • Find/buy Nikita’s book, “Personality: A User’s Guide,” here
  • Find/follow Nikita Mikhailov on LinkedIn

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Music credit: The jingle at the beginning of the show is courtesy of my friend, Pierre Journel, author of the Guitar Channel. And, the new sign-off music is “A Convinced Man,” a song I co-wrote and recorded with Stephanie Singer back in the late 1980s (please excuse the quality of the sound!).

Full transcript via

SUMMARY KEYWORDS: people, personality, psychometrics, neuroticism, extroverts, question, work, agreeableness, feel, linkedin, book, talk, humor, listening, extroverted, idea, colleagues, extraversion, written, extent

SPEAKERS: Minter Dial, Nikita Mikhailov

Minter Dial  00:02

You’ve got to love the robotic voice. Indeed. Nikita Mikhailov, we’re not talking robots. We’re talking personalities, real people, albeit helped by some digital technologies. In your own words, Nikita, who are you?

Nikita Mikhailov  00:18

Well, human being’s chief neuroticism officer. And I’ve been working in the world of personality for over 12 years now. And to me, what’s most interesting is how we can work with people to make them maybe a couple of percent more curious about themselves and others, and a couple of percent less judgmental.

Minter Dial  00:35

Hmm, interesting. So you’re based in England. Tell us a little bit about your background.

Nikita Mikhailov  00:43

So, I grew up in the town and Soviet Union. In my earliest childhood, it was a scientific town, so we had neurodiversity before it was cool. And then, at a young age, I moved to a lovely place called Yorkshire. When I spoke to words in English, I don’t speak English, and Come on baby light my fire, because my brothers listen to The Doors. And my parents sent me to school. So that experience made me interested in, let’s say, cultural differences in psychology. Then, I pursued this at university. And then I just ended up working in personality. I can post-rationalize my journey. But I would say 80% of it was chance, but I’m quite happy how it worked out.

Minter Dial  01:28

So, how, how did you end up in Yorkshire? What was the route that your parents took to go to up north?

Nikita Mikhailov  01:34

Well, I was born originally in Siberia. So North is relative. So, my dad, he’s a professor of applied mathematics and physics. He had three job offers: US, south of France, and Yorkshire. So he didn’t fancy working in the US too much at that stage, that South of France, life is too good. He’ll never get any work done, so he picked Yorkshire as a middle ground between US and South of France. So we could have been in Nice instead of Leeds, but to him, it was a good idea at the time.

Minter Dial  02:09

Well, it certainly speaks to his must have been his pro West, to have had three offers from from those three places. And so, let’s let’s dig in on your book here: Personality, which you co wrote with Georgi Yankov. Why this book “Personality: a User’s Guide”?

Nikita Mikhailov  02:30

Well, I think that personality is a fascinating topic. Because if we listen to everyday communication, and conversations, personality is a word like psychology, which it gets used a lot. And I don’t know which one actually gets used more psychology or personality in everyday language, you hear it all the time, like, my boss has a strong personality, or I married them for their personality. Or, I bought this chair because it has character, or my dog has a playful personality. So we use this all the time. And at the same time, we have this two lines. One is everyday use, such as when you pick up a newspaper. There’s always a Zodiac there. So to me, Zodiac is the first personality assessment, you ask one question, When are you born? And then you get 12 types, such as Leo, which is clearly the best because it’s mine. But it would be my way. Oh, perfect. And excellent. We can agree is the best course. So it’s the key thing here is that with star signs, it’s about first of all, what is in it for me, such as you shall meet tall, tall, dark stranger on Saturday. But what’s really cool there is that the second step people immediately go, how do you relate to somebody else? Like you know, you How do I relate to a Virgo? or what have you, because this fundamental thing about self narrative, and models, and how we see ourselves and how we see others is intrinsic, I think, to our being, and Zodiac is just one model of that. And then but things have moved on in 1000s of years. And then we’ll have the field of psychometrics and personality psychology, which does all sorts of research was brain scans genetics, what are we drawn to how people behave in different situations based on their personality, but that field made something amazing. They took this thing, which people are interested in every day. To that extent, it’s in every newspaper, and the made, it’s so boring, so convoluted, and un-understandable that people can’t access all that goodness of knowledge. So Georgi and I thought that why not we take all of that lovely personality psychology, and all that research that has been done over the years and make it usable, and valuable. And most importantly understandable, to as many people as we can, because we will have a personality. So based on personality psychology, we decided to write a user’s guide for it.

Minter Dial  05:10

Beautiful. So with Georgi, I’ve co-written a book, I would love for you to just to talk us through the experience of writing a book with four hands, two minds.

Nikita Mikhailov  05:21

Well, there’s also the editors, so of course, like, a four hand and eight hands, but with Georgi this is how we met. It’s that I have a policy, anybody who I argue with on LinkedIn and social media, I have a call with. And I’m at work get through an argument. Because we when you are given somebody on a professional topic, you both feel strongly about the topic at hand, since your argument, but you have a different perspective. And I find that social media does allow you to match your keyboard and stuff like that and feel righteous. But it’s far more interesting to have a call with this person.

Minter Dial  06:02

And have a face to face conversation and like the good old days.

Nikita Mikhailov  06:07

Yeah, Google days you mentioned?

Minter Dial  06:10

No, a face to face conversation.

Nikita Mikhailov  06:13

No, completely, if possible. So Georgi is based in the States. So next time was in the States we met as well. Because it is so important to actually have these conversations, and we just get on. But I’m more of a practitioner. Over 12 years, I deliver more, I work with psychometrics. So I do one to one sessions, I do coaching, I do group workshops, while Georgi, his background is actually philosophy originally. And then he wanted to big data. So he designed psychometric assessments and all the data analytics, all this stuff I can’t understand. Because all that mathematical side from my dad, it clearly skipped the generation in my case. So to me, it’s just like, I can sort of get it. But if it looks legit, I’m happy to go along with it. And so, we kind of bring complementary sides. And the way we decided to write this book, it was quite random. It was just a conversation. Because I thought before we need to submit a whole book, and then you get a book deal and all this stuff. But we were just chatting things like doing one agent. And you know, a friend of us who publishes a lot. So I wrote him a LinkedIn message, immediately connected with the agent, we had the chance to just submit a chapter and one page business analysis, we did that said, good enough, those two chapters, not one you submitted. And we’ll get the book deal. So we started writing, and the way we kind of separated our areas of expertise. So what was the practical and he was the philosophical. The way we created this book is that you just need to read the first chapter, which is the Rosetta Stone. So it gives you an introduction to personality theory, different, more, a few different models. And then you can pick whatever chapter you want be leadership, personality, and context, personality and AI, whichever floats your boat. And you can read them separately. And you can notice that the writing style is quite different between us. Of course, we went through each other’s work later, and slightly edited. So it wasn’t completely different, like apples and oranges, or chalk and cheese. But we still wanted to preserve that this is two authors. Not one.

Minter Dial  08:29

Make sense? Brilliant. Well, that’s really interesting. I think it is such a challenging experience to co write, you know, especially when it’s a first time, you’ve never really got a history but before you but the complementarity of your skills is really interesting. I let’s start with talking about what AI but more social media and and what role do you observe social media has had on our personalities? Do you feel like it’s, it’s that way? On us, or it’s us through social media?

Nikita Mikhailov  09:05

I think it’s a fascinating question. And maybe it’s even too soon to tell, because it’s been so prevalent. Right now, I think, personality personality exists in context. And one of the contexts is other people. Like when you say, I’m more extroverted, compared to him, or I’m more neurotic, compared to whom, because usually, you’d compare yourself to, you know, 1020 people, and in real world behavior. Now, with social media, you’re potentially comparing yourselves to hundreds of people, and you’re not comparing them to how you see them. The image is much more curated by them, is how they want to appear. So, you know, you often see posts of people who haven’t time of their lives extroverted, you know, high agreeableness, doing nice things humblebrag in Call of this, and, but that’s not necessarily them. And then I think it’s a whole new field that now we’re comparing our personalities and who we are not to actual people, but digital avatars. And I’m not sure what the psychological impact of that will be.

Minter Dial  10:18

Well, that is a certainly a topic near to my heart, and the subject of hopefully, my my new book. So that’s interesting that you express it that way. The idea of comparing with your real self presentation of yourself, as opposed to comparing yourself to others. And it brings up for me another question, which is your psychometrics, which you study? To what extent these psychometrics are deeply cultural, as in what is humility in South Korea, or Japan might be very differently understood or represented versus an American sense of humble pie.

Nikita Mikhailov  10:57

Absolutely. So psychometrics is basically a measurement of a psychological construct. That’s what it means psycho metric. And one of the things that psychometric constructs that is called personality. First of all, was pretty interesting, nobody can agree with personality is. So you can read lots of definitions. But they’re all quite different. But to me, it’s the way I break it down, it comes down, it’s like a layered cake, is what there’s what you like this, what you do is there’s what you do too much, and what you aspired to be. So there’s kind of multiple layers. If you ask in America, a survey 80%, in the recent study, said they want to change their personality. And they want to be less neurotic, so more emotionally stable, and more extroverted. So more kind of positive, and all of that, like the world needs more extroverts. But the key thing is that there’s many layers to personality. And people don’t really agree what it is. But I think this is a testament to how fluid personality is. So if people say, you know, your personality is fixed, well, surely, if it was fixed, we’d be able to define it better. Maybe the fact that we’re so fluid actually speaks to the dynamics of this entity we call personality. Because those are literally if you go to Google Scholar, type in personality research, you’ll get millions of hits. But we still can define it. So to me, what’s really interesting here is that at the same time, we do all this research on it, but we can define it. And that’s what makes it really kind of interesting. It’s like order and chaos. So when it comes to psychometrics, we’re creating tools was we tried to define it, but we can’t clearly define it. By the way, public service announcement. How can you tell that an article about psychology is likely to be rubbish? It starts with the following words psychologists agree. Psychologists don’t agree on anything really, probably not even that the psychologist disagree anyways. But the key thing here, we’ll come to design of psychometrics there. It’s usually a couple of researchers, they want to study a particular thing, let’s say how personality changes over time. And they can find assessments that really kind of says they’re both. So the right questions about the personality, you know, like, feel energized by interacting with lots of new people measuring extraversion or anxious by nature. So they create all this items to measure personalities to do factor analysis to see that it sticks together. All that stuff that is reliable, valid. And then they do this research on this. But there’s a couple of things to watch out for. So cultural. Absolutely. Where is it designed? If you build it was 100 students in us in 1950s. It sort of stuck in that time to an extent, like for example, even the language. So I was involved in update of a psychometric assessment. And one of the items was I’m lackadaisical by nature. I love the word lackadaisical to me. lackadaisical is one of the best words in English is just right there next to shenanigans. But you need to update even the language of the questionnaires. So the British Psychological Society says you need to update the language every 10 years. So to keep up with the times. Second, there’s an other issue is the cultural one. So what’s let’s say, with metta extraversion, saying, I like to go out and socialize in bars. I feel energized by this. But what if you send it to a country where there is no bars, then you’re not measuring that? extraversion, you’re measuring a cultural thing. So another key issue is translation. So if you need to translate even the items to the other territory, it becomes problematic. So my mentor was translated into questionnaires at one point into French. And there was one item I’m not afraid of hard work. And they sent it to French office workers. So they translated it centered. And all the French workers disagreed. And they will have like 100, French, they’re all afraid of hard work until they gave it to a French native speaker. It’s like what’s going on. So you translated hard work with words, which we associate with hard manual farm labor. And you sent it to office workers. So, of course, they disagree with us because they’re not doing hard farm labor. So even things like this play a part. So when psychometrics are translated, updated, it’s very important. And they’re also a bit like time capsules, because a lot of psychometrics are built in the 40s, which are still used now. And 50s 60s 70s. So what was relevant and cultural norms is also key. And it also says that most psychometrics because they’re all written by people, we try to be objective, we do our best, but they’re still subjective. They’re still biased, still written by humans. And most psychometric models will tell you more about the personality of the author than it does about your client. Because it’s how they see personality. It’s, but you should not take them too seriously. It is just the model, because ultimately, what we’re working with here is the self narrative. We all tell a story about how we see ourselves, and who am I like and who I am not? Because when people tell us stuff, like when my wife goes neck, European argumentative, I don’t know, I’m not. Because I think I’m being logical, you know, we do have the story. We’ve been telling ourselves for a long, long time. And what a psychometric does is tries to assess the story by asking you all those lots of hundreds of questions. But it’s not you. It’s a viewpoint on you. It’s like I always say in the group of 12 people, there’s 12 versions of you. There’s one, how you see yourself, there’s 11, how other people interpret your behavior, and make assumptions on who you are. And the psychometric is just another viewpoint. Because quite often people put the psychometric ahead of the person. And that’s where it becomes an issue. And quite often people do this. It’s like, oh, this is you know, it’s not just a viewpoint. It’s biased. It’s subjective, tells you more about the author, but can still be very, very useful. It’s like a lot of people bash MBTI right now, but MBTI can be highly useful. If people because let’s look at the honest investment, you spend 20 minutes doing the assessment, you spend an hour coaching session, maybe you did like half a day or on a day to day, so like one and a half days investment, right? And if a person who’s highly extroverted, realize introverts don’t reject their ideas, just because they’re not as excited outwardly as they are. An introvert realizes that extroverts are not that psychic, if you don’t voice their ideas are not necessarily going to ask you, that’s a huge takeaway is that make life a little bit easier, based on that miniature investment of time. And anyways, usually your l&d department will pay for it. So to me, it’s more about that what I call utilitarian validity, is how useful the assessment is to the person.

Minter Dial  18:22

Yeah, that’s fascinating. One small comment and all of that language changing every 10 years by the British guardians of language, it feels like maybe you need to do it even quicker these days, like everything is going a little bit quicker, where you know, in 2014, gender dysphoria wasn’t quite a topic, it’s, you know, very much a topic and it’s going to obviously, going to continue in terms of fluidity, what are the things that so the interesting idea here is that personalities can evolve AI, as you know, is as you write many times, the notion is your experiences form your personality. So if you have a big experience that can somehow make you evolve, What’s the link between values, and personality?

Nikita Mikhailov  19:14

Well, that’s a very interesting one, because values are can be also quite cultural. So what we know about personality change, it happens by itself. Sometimes you don’t even need those large experiences, to change your personalities, like we know, like, from 18 to 30, people tend to become less neurotic, more emotionally stable, but less extroverted, more agreeable and more conscientious. But one of the arguments for it is that your life becomes more of a pattern, such as, you know, paying the mortgage having a job nine to five, like Dolly Parton sings, and, and because of this, you become more conscientious because it’s just more of a pattern. But so, there’s lots of arguments there. I think that values are more about Got what you’re guided by. And with personalities, there could be a good connection, especially if you have strong preferences. So if you’re high on the trait of openness, and you’re really curious and all of this, being open to new experiences being open to new views on doing things, different approaches can be quite an intrinsic value. But I think what’s really curious is one of the founders of personality assessments, a guy called Allport has one of my favorite quotes and 20th century says, if I want to know something about somebody, I ask them. So when I’m working with a client, my first question would be, you know, how would you describe your personality? Because so we work with the self narrative, you know, then you ask them, what are the key values, you can ask? Like? What are the key values that are important to you? What you wouldn’t compromise? Like, for example, we know if you’re high on agreeableness, you’re less likely to compromise on more kinds of ethical things. Especially if you’re high on conscientiousness. There are things that are right, and the things that is wrong. Recently, I read a study which was fascinating about promotion and personality, and incorporates the theme people lower in agreeableness are more likely to get promoted. So does this imply that people more with, let’s say, flexible ethics are more likely to be promoted within organizations? And what are the implications of that?

Minter Dial  21:31

Certainly, it seems an even what you say that this idea of flexible ethics, agreeableness, you’re equating with a flexibility of ethics, as opposed to flexibility to deal with different personalities, for example?

Nikita Mikhailov  21:46

Yes, it could be both like the thing is, was high agreeableness people have this more things of like what’s fair, with, you know, potentially a little bit more inclined to look at that. People with low agreeableness might not care that much about it. They might still have that value, even with a different personality. But it’s just what research shows is that, especially if you’re high on agreeableness, and conscientiousness, there’s this moral kind of right and wrong. Well, how can I put those in corporates? Sometimes if you compromise on your values, you’re rewarded for it.

Minter Dial  22:28

Right? You do talk a fair amount about the this notion of success, versus or and effectiveness. And there’s a sort of a bifurcation in there. When you are looking at personality, we can talk about it in the context of business and such, but what is it about? Or how much of personality can help you to have a more fulfilling life? What are the levers within personality that we should be looking at if being more fulfilled is important to you, as opposed to just being happy?

Nikita Mikhailov  23:10

Absolutely. So I think what’s really key here is that how can you tell an article about well being is written with somebody with a psychology background rather than not. And that is, one threaten somebody with psychology background, they put down subjective well being, because ultimately, all wellbeing is subjective. And I think that happiness and fulfillment as well, it’s a very individuals journey. What’s good for you might not do as good for somebody else. And I think having the self awareness and understanding of your personality is very key. Because humans are highly flexible. Quite often, when people get a psychometric report, they go, can you ask me one question like, What is this my home cell phone, my work cells. So people manage their personality to that extent that they have several personas. And that’s okay, because you know, we’re different. We’re different, behave, behaving differently, with different people’s situations are different to their parents, with a partner with our colleagues. And that’s great is great to have the flexibility. People who don’t have this flexibility are often described as strong personalities. So, but what’s really important here is that we are aware of what gives us energy. So to me, if you have a strong preference on what you like, from personality, it’s like an essential vitamin. So let’s say if you’re highly creative by nature, but you don’t have any opportunity to create, you’re not getting that essential vitamin, if you need time for yourself to recharge, but you don’t have that time for yourself. You don’t have that essential vitamin, you need to socialize with lots of people, but you don’t have time to socialize. You’re not getting this essential vitamin. So let’s say if you don’t get that essential vitamin, over time, you will develop an emotional version of scurvy. So because your not getting that sustenance, and you can put up with it. But if you put up with it for long enough, a part of you might die inside.

Minter Dial  25:09

This feels like going circling back to the primacy talked about in the beginning, which is the presentation the avatar of yourself, you have the presentation of yours, a friend, you have the presentation of your work, you have the presentation of yourself online, which is sort of maybe a little bit of a merger, and he just talked about scurvy. I feel that there’s a lot of fatigue out there. In general, there’s a lot of loneliness out there in general. And, and burnout. And, and when you are constantly trying to be different people, the energy, that vitamin that you’re talking about is very likely to be hard, you know, a little bit rare.

Nikita Mikhailov  25:56

Absolutely, because you’re not only necessarily getting the vitamin, but you might be doing the opposite of what you want to do. So let’s say through highly creative, but need to be detailed focus. So not only you not getting the vitamin of creativity, you might be dialing up the opposite and other details focus, if you’re somebody who wanted to be creative, but working as an accountant, that might be really soul destroying to that individual, unless they become a creative accountant. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. So to say. But it’s quite often that people would compensate with things outside of work was less healthier compensation strategies than others. And I think we play now so many roles, especially on social media, like your personality can be tracked back from the language you use on social media. So and I find it fascinating like for example, out of the Big Five, so neuroticism, extraversion openness, agreeableness, conscientiousness model, there’s a recent studies that looked at LinkedIn. And we can track back your four traits. But one trait you can attract on LinkedIn. Which trait you think people choose not to show on LinkedIn. neuroticism. Exactly. So people don’t bring neuroticism to LinkedIn. Because it’s all about being professional. You know, that lovely word being professional, how much individual differences died under it. You know how much individuality is left behind. And it’s fascinating. It’s like, we play different roles, and it’s exhausting. And as Kurt Vonnegut said, one of my favorite quotes, we are what we pretend to be. So be really careful what you pretend to be. And if you pretend all of this stuff, other people don’t see the real you. They interpret your behaviors. So if you’re behaving in an opposite way to who you are, that’s how people see you. So, I sometimes get people who are highly introverted, in order to succeed in extroverted culture, the organization’s IT, dialogues, extraversion, it’s exhausting. And then at five o’clock, their extroverted colleagues go, you want to go for a drink? And they go, can you just imagine how tired I am? By the end of the day? Why they asking me? And they go, What did they think you’re an extrovert, they might think you’re enjoy that. Go? Oh, I didn’t think that. It’s like not acting who you are. How you expect ever anybody to see you for who you are?

Minter Dial  28:23

So, what’s the key to actually knowing who you are Nikita? Because in the end of the day, if it’s so hard to it’s already very fluid, just by myself of me, as opposed to these other psychometrics and other people’s evaluations of me. How do you sort of end up with something that you are aware of, and that you can lean into? I mean, presumably, including some, some sides of you that aren’t so good.

Nikita Mikhailov  28:55

Oh, the thing is, that, to me personalities, liminal construct. It exists between two states as who we think we were, and who we are becoming. So the way we define personality in our book is yourself developing yourself. Because it’s always changing, because that self narrative is based on your perception of the past, or memories, not perfect, all of that, but we’ll get into memory. And ultimately, we change by circumstances we’re in. And ultimately, we’re on the trajectory of becoming otherwise a life events, as you mentioned, but also by what’s happening to us, and maybe something or genetics, and there’s lots and lots of variables. So we’re always in this state of flux. So to me, it’s about realizing that we’re in a state of flux and updating who we think we are, and being open to it. Like we’re update software on our devices all the time. But how often do we update who we think we are? Because you know, people go, I’m a Virgo. I’m an extrovert. I’m empathetic. I’m emotionally intelligent. But how often do you check in with yourself and others around you? How can you change? How have you developed? And also challenging your assumptions while you’re managing your personality? So, in my sessions with clients, I love the question is like, unless the person says, you know, is this my home cell phone, my work cell? And that case, I asked, How is it different? But the person doesn’t bring this up? Ask him what aspects of your personality? Do you consciously manage at work? And why? And over 1000s of sessions, everybody has an answer. So, and sometimes it’s like, I need to be less emotional at work. And you didn’t go somebody in their 40s or 50s, senior executive and the corporate, and you say, why? And again, because my first manager said there should be less emotional. Like, when did this happen? Oh, when I was 20, working in the neighborhood shop, and my first job. Okay, so this person was less 30 years plus, potentially, has been managing their personality everyday at work, based on one sentence, feedback they got from somebody 30 years ago, in a different job in a different context. So this person might be already less emotional and highly likely to be less emotionally dynamic, because they’re more or less likely to be neurotic, because it goes down with age, to an extent. And maybe they’ve seek therapy, which reduced the neuroticism and further and all of this, they still manage about themselves. Or, you know, I cannot be as strategic as I want. Well, why not? Because people told me to keep my ideas to myself to 20 years ago, you’re now on a C suite of a company, if you’re not going to try to explore your ideas here. When will you and people carry this wisdom all this time. So I think that being a little bit more playful, and a little bit less serious with yourself construct. And when people tell you about stuff you disagree with? That’s not me. Well, actually are about asking that person, when was the last time they’ve seen this? Because it becomes so much more interesting to explore this. And rather than sitting with your non updated construct, working on feedback you got 30 years ago, instead of actually exploring this and seeing however changed, you know, turn to your spouse, or a partner or a good friend of mine to say, Look, over the years we’ve known each other and any changes, you noticed. Just curious, I’m just reflecting. And you know, they have the you don’t need to agree with them. But it might be really interesting to find out. And we don’t have that chance, because we work on assumptions. And rather than actually being kind of curious with this, about ourselves and others, it’s like, I find it so fascinating in the workplace, that people rather go to Google rather than their colleagues. It’s like, instead of asking their colleague, hey, Becky, thanks. Great. You joined the team. I’m just kind of curious. How would you like to receive feedback? They’re much more likely to go, how to give feedback to your colleagues on Google, instead of actually asking your colleague has I liked their feedback? Or, you know, Becky, how, like, how would you describe yourself? How do you like to work? You know, what really stresses you out? How can we see your stress how we can help? You know, I can open explorative curious questions about your colleagues and friends can be so interesting, especially now on teams and remote work. Because the how of how much do you know your colleagues as individuals, because let’s say, back and back in the office, I’m not saying everybody should go back to the office. But let’s say in an office environment, if a meeting finishes early, you might catch up for a cup of tea, you might bump into each other in the corridor. If you don’t have like a clean desk policy. You can see your colleagues there to the pictures of their family. I once saw a guy who literally has a sock framed on his table, and I was like, What is this, and it was a charity bike race. So that individuality is coming through what happens now he finished a team’s meeting 15 minutes early. I’ll give you 15 minutes of your life. But then he got great, I can use the bathroom. You know, nobody cancelled Hierarchy of Needs by Maslow. The thing is, that often do get to know them outside of work. And humans are fantastic at making very hardcore assumptions with no data. So we can assume like, oh, this person’s like this. Oh, they’re poker faced, and they’re cross armed. And I watch that YouTube video. That is their cross arm, they don’t like you with body language. It’s like what? No, they’re just cross armed, as they’re introverted, and they’re listening. Oh, that person has a camera off. They don’t like me enough. Who would just make all these assumptions. It’s like one of my colleagues and when he’s working on the one to one session with a client, and the client has a very strong opinion about somebody, or they’re just like this, or just like that goes. Fascinating. So what was the exact question? You asked them to let you know this? And it’s just an assumption.

Minter Dial  35:15

They spin off? Yeah, I wanted to ask you a question that I have been ruminating with personally. So talk about assumptions. And fact check, or at least put it against your body of work and understanding. We’ve been talking about this gap between who I am and who I really are, what I present, maybe the work-life, personal life, and, and mental health issues. Two of the maladies we talk about are schizophrenia and bipolar. And it feels to me that there’s a link between this inability or inconsistency with who I am and, and who I present myself as is there, in fact, a link? And second question, is there any evidence to say there’s more of schizophrenia and bipolar in today’s world, because of the multiple ways we present ourselves?

Nikita Mikhailov  36:14

That’s a fascinating question. I’m not familiar with any research and neither my clinical psychologist but I can put you in touch with people who work with schizophrenia. And they can make the answer that question. To me, I don’t work with clinical cases. But I think there’s more from my side. It’s more about personality, and I think there’s more fragmentation. That’s how we’ll see it. Because there’s so many roles now we play because now we play digital roles as well. Right? Exactly. The Avatar. Yeah, there’s more avatars, there’s more facades, like, not only now you don’t bring in eroticism to work, you also don’t bring it to LinkedIn.

Minter Dial  36:54

And and the way you present yourself on Facebook will be different from Twitter will be different from LinkedIn will be different from Insta.

Nikita Mikhailov  37:02

Exactly. And how you present yourself, because we always, as previously mentioned, play different roles as their parents, colleagues, friends, now we have all this digital stuff, then we have this presentation, this avatar is this personal brand, I mean, Jesus, I just really don’t like it. Like, part of me just shatters when people talk about personal branding, and you build your brand, and then people don’t see you for who you are. And then that contributes potentially to loss of connection.

Minter Dial  37:36

Well, it is sort of an ever-ending question the idea of Persona, right? The mask and personality. I want to get, before we finish, there are two other areas I wanted to go into. And, and one of them was related to sense of humor. What is the relationship with personality and sense of humor is, is there a some sort of correlation that we should be looking at, and how much is sense of humor, a part of, you know, your, your salt, and some, you know, sense of enjoyment of life.

Nikita Mikhailov  38:12

That’s really interesting, because the only research I read were super high in neuroticism is correlated with super high performance. Why their average too high is correlated with high levels of performance, is stand up comedy. stand up comedians, which tend to be fantastic, tend to be super neurotic. And so, there is. So I think humor is one of the coping mechanisms. And I think humor is one of the more healthier ways to discharge neuroticism to trigger it. Because quite often one of the pillars of neuroticism is a negative self construct. So people higher neuroticism have a more negative attitude towards themselves. Therefore, when they get the performance review, because of confirmation bias, which is not only for Google, they immediately look at the development areas. They don’t necessarily even read the positives. And if they read them, they forget half of them within three days. And all of them was in seven days, because they have so much work to do on themselves. And that previous American study of people wanting to be less neurotic. And I think this is one of the things neuroticism gets you if you’re, we’re neurotic about it. So want to change this. So we become neurotic about being neurotic. And it’s a feedback loop. So you become like negative self construct is reinforced because this is something you want to change. And I think presenting a little bit of humor about it is healthier. Like, you know, the it’s high anxiety, sometimes anger, frustration, all of this. Sometimes I think, just kind of how people make light of it can be much more productive than thinking, how can I change this? Rather than how it served me? Well, where the humor comes in, and the thing humor to a large extent is a way to deal with neuroticism. A colleague of mine, Nicholas, who works in human factors, recently published a book, not a book, an article called humor factors. And it’s how humor can be used to defuse really tense situations. And he works in aviation. And one of my favorite examples, was a case where a plane was misbehaving like not doing what pilots had, and it’s dropping 1000s of feet go and 1000s of feet, everybody survived. So Captain and first officer were interviewed in the cap. And in aviation, one of the main source of memes is a film airplane.

Minter Dial  40:40

And I got your vector vector.

Nikita Mikhailov  40:43

Yeah, exactly, Roger roger. And he noticed that his first officer was freaking out. The captain realized, like I needed to discharge the situation, because like, the first officer freaking out is not going to help the situation. So once the plane stabilized a little bit, he turns to the first officer, he goes: I picked the wrong day to stop sniffing glue. So that kind of helped to discharge that a little bit. And you see also a similar example of Chris Hadfield in his book “Astronauts’ Guide to Earth,” to sometimes use humor to kind of discharge the situation. think humor is a fantastic way to deal with neuroticism.

Minter Dial  41:25

So, I, it makes me want to just do a little deviation in the notion of having a backbone versus being agreeable and open. When you are giving a joke, there is some kind of you are really presenting something about you because you presumably think it’s funny. So it’s almost like a window into me if I think this joke vector vector, you know, airplanes, the funniest movie ever, you know, everybody has to see it. It’s it’s putting myself on the line a little bit. To what extent do you believe it’s important to have a backbone a rigid elements of yourself versus this idea of flexibility, adaptableness, openness?

Nikita Mikhailov  42:13

I think everybody has a backbone, and everybody’s flexible. The question is, to what extent some people have different ranges, and that were make things like values, boundaries, all of this comes into play. And I think with humor, absolutely, you’re putting yourself out there, I do stand up comedy, as well. And it’s really fascinating how to work with the audience. And I think if you facilitate it a little bit and get a sense of the audience first and get their participation, it becomes a little bit easier, because you can adapt to it. Like I tried to do stand up comedy online. And they just though infinitely more difficult, because no fanback, you can free the room like to me, if I don’t have the cameras on all of this, I rather go to the dentist, I really do. But it’s just it’s it’s, it’s, it’s you putting yourself out there and at the same time, become very sensitive to reading the room of how the audience responds. And I think was humor. It is one of the I’m actually going to look into research after our chat about humor and correlations with personality. Because there should be some maybe people high on openness, like more abstract humor, you know, or it’d be interesting what sort of comedy shows people watch? And also which comedy shows have particular cult following? And how does that correlate to this particular personality traits?

Minter Dial  43:46

Which brings back this idea of the backbone because a cult following suggests a specific type of humor, not for everybody. And you mentioned this idea of reading the room when you talked about the great skills or leadership qualities. One of them is the ability to communicate, and it feels like an ENTP personality. And so, reading the room would feel like a great leader ship skill.

Nikita Mikhailov  44:10

Absolutely, I’d say reading the room and I’d add listening. The trait which is most missing in leadership. Well, one of the traits, in my experience, is listening. Because there’s a reason for it. So if you take an extraversion introversion, and in the middle of there is ambiversion — if you have both — extroverts want leadership more, they have more of an appetite for power, and maybe it comes down to values etc, as well. But they just want it more. So they end up more in positions of power, just statistically. There’s no correlation with performance though. So introverts, extroverts, ambiverts can all make great leaders. It is just extroverts want it more, so they probably statistically end up in positions of power more. And therefore, I often have whenever I read LinkedIn articles, saying like, “Five things that take no effort,” and one of them is listening, and they go not, if you’re a bloody extrovert takes so much effort to shut up sometimes listening takes effort, you might think you’re super empathetic. But if you don’t listen, what are you empathizing with? And I suggest that often I’d have like, people who come into me in to me, and have like a little chat, say, Look, I have this team, say, Never speak up. And you do a workshop to help them speak up? Okay, can I attend one of your meetings first? And I attend one of the meetings and after the session, I’m like: What do you think of our workshop? We could do a workshop, and he could pay me some money for me the next time: Give people space to speak, because you just spoke at them for an hour. It was impressive. But there was no time for any of them to speak up. Neither was there any invitation to and but I wanted to brainstorm and all of this, again, you’re highly extroverted. And you speak you speak in a way, which other people interpret as more confident, that you already made this decision. It’s not an invitation to play with ideas. People are more likely to see, oh, he’s decided or she’s decided or they decided, and therefore it is just like, Okay, my view is not welcome here. Participation is optional. I go just next time, if just next time you say: any questions? Count to 15 inside your head, because the default settings, any questions good moving on. Because in your case, when you have a question, you already stopped listening. And you just wait for that point when somebody says any, and you immediately jump in there, and you expect everybody else to do the same. So just give people a bit of space. And I think this is where it’s the most interesting thing about personality comes in. To me, in my experience, the best return on investment, is when people focus on their lowest trait, what they avoid the most. So if you avoid detail, the most being a little bit more detail orientated can be more beneficial. But no, it takes energy. So schedule it in the morning, not Friday evening, that you might avoid it and push it back. But also, before you do this, look around your team. Because if there’s one thing I’d like to communicate to people about personality, and I blame the personal development industry, is that it tells you all the things you need to be as a leader. And it changes every two years, like you need to be more tough. You need to be more vulnerable, you know, vulnerable, it implies there is a threat, maybe we should deal with the threat first. But anyways, that’s a different topic. But you need to be more creative into informatic. You need to be more introverted, to be more extrovert, you don’t need to be all of those things. Because you can try this. There’ll be fragmentation and exhaustion. What you can do is that look around your team, and who you can delegate this to. Because our personalities don’t exist in isolation. we’re social creatures. We’re designed that way. You know, when people say, Oh, we met and we just click, well, what did click Exactly? Or we met and we had great chemistry. And what was the reaction of substances, and I suggest is personality, to an extent parts of it. And I think that this is what’s really key is how you can facilitate collective intelligence around you. So if you present with your fantastic ideas, but people don’t buy the best ideas, by ideas they can understand. Me have a colleague who keeps asking you all the annoying questions, and this person was your flow? How about next time the day before you buy this person that coffee? Say, look, I really appreciate your attention to detail or cautiousness, etc. Can we just run through the slides? And can you tell me if anything’s missing? It’s a minefield between slide two and three, this is missing. And I think over time we develop the symbiotic relationships. Because let’s say if you’re highly creative, and highly imaginative, and highly innovative, in order to pay your taxes, and exist in this society of ours, you still need to have this pragmatism attention to detail. But what if you pair up with somebody who has a great attention to detail and not so much of that innovation side, so they couldn’t look after implementation to the full extent. And when they need a bit of innovation they turn to you. So you can be full out and innovation can be full out implementation. And you rely on each other for this because it’s not need to compromise. The way to achieve this is to rely on each other because we need each other.

Minter Dial  49:48

To know who you are, what your weaknesses are, and then get a complementary type of person and I wanted to add into the listening thing, obviously a topic near to my heart, is this notion of non-judgmental listening because you know, frowning is, even if you don’t mean to be frowning, it will make the other person typically think, Hmm, already questioning what I’m saying? But these are these are skills I wanted to last question I time is running out, but I have to ask it, which is the notion of charisma. And that let’s say that from all the people I’ve ever known who were in major leadership positions, or, for example, presidents of countries, it seems that one of their tying factors is that they have charisma, which is identified as making me feel or the person they’re speaking to is the center of their universe, despite their position. What is the relationship between charisma and personality, Nikita?

Nikita Mikhailov  50:53

That’s a fascinating topic. But making you feel like a center of attention is an interesting talent that some people have. You know, it’s like people will forget how you what you did for them, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel. And I think this is where it’s really important that we take that people want to be seen as individuals they are, we have this fundamental need. And I think this is where we come to my style of a few topics discussed today is that charisma, as you describe charisma, people just want to be seen. But if people don’t show who they really are, what are we being seen for? Even asking your client, what you’d like to be seen for? What you’d like to be recognized for is something that present that something can be really valuable. Like, I’m not sure I’m that charismatic, but what I like to do in workshops, so I like to put people into groups, when the work is intact teams, and was focused on each of the individuals, the others provide feedback on what they appreciate this person brings to the team. And just to have that moment of being seen, I think it’s what’s really key. And the thing is, this is definitely something we can take out out of charismatic people’s books. And what can we do, because it’s charisma is often say, Oh, he’s charismatic, or she’s charismatic, or they’re charismatic. Great, but actually how you defined it. It’s not about them. It’s how they make you feel and to make you feel seen. And I, I think if we take this a little bit more into our everyday life, where we show a little bit more of ourselves, to others. And when people show a little bit more of themselves, we make them feel seen for it, I think makes life a little bit more bearable, rather than being obsessed with life, on LinkedIn, to power posts of how smart you think you are. Because I don’t think this gives us essential vitamins, but being seen for who we are, being who we are, and developing and changing and playing to each other’s strengths. And all that good stuff is far more sustainable, than obsessing about infinite avatars we can create today, and infinite possibilities. Because right now, for example, one of the things that was chatting with a colleague recently, she’s a therapist, is how dating apps change their perception of relationships. Because one of the first times like when your personality goes through a big change, is when you enter your first relationship. But right now, we might not feel need to change and grow through our relationships. Because there’s infinite possibilities. Because let me just download an app. And you know, I’ll have millions of potential partners. Surely I can find somebody better than that. And then the question, do we change? Do we grow through our experiences? Or do we exist in the possibilities? And actually never develop and grow? I’m not saying we should stay in unhappy relationships? Of course not. There is that kind of, what are we losing right now? By not using experiences to develop, but just leaving, because ultimately, if you go, I didn’t like this partner, and this partner and this partner and this because of this, this and this, how many do you need until you realize what the common denominator is? Which is you? And therefore, I think, what’s this digital world right now offers infinite possibility. And to what extent is now might be preventing us from development, because we have endless escapism. That’s what I would be interested to explore.

Minter Dial  54:53

It feels like we could have had infinite conversation, Nikita. But there are things is limits and putting some limits on life is probably a good thing, including the fact that we all have to meet our maker at the end and that is the ultimate limit. So this idea of infinite non-constrained boundaries is something that we can discuss maybe over a beer next time. Nikita, I’m showing your book “Personality: a User’s Guide,” co written with Georgi Yanko and yourself, published by Robinson. How can people get your book? How can they get in touch with you if they’re interested in hiring you to bring you in, talk to them about improving their personalities and business culture?

Nikita Mikhailov  55:40

Well, the book is available through Waterstones, Amazon, and Blackwell’s and lots of other, even eBay, etcetera. So you can definitely get your hands on either the physical or the digital ebook, and then what else to do? As far as connecting with me. The only social media use is LinkedIn. So just connect with me Nikita Mikhailov, chief neuroticism officer, I’m the only neuroticism officer on there. There’s lots of happiness officers running about. So I thought I’d fly the flag for negative emotional ethic. And always happy to connect and geek out. Nikita,

Minter Dial  56:17

You are a model neurotic and beautiful. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Nikita Mikhailov  56:24

Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be here and having the chat. Hopefully we can catch out for that beer.

Minter Dial  56:30

afterwards. Look for it.

Minter Dial

Minter Dial is an international professional speaker, author & consultant on Leadership, Branding and Transformation. After a successful international career at L’Oréal, Minter Dial returned to his entrepreneurial roots and has spent the last twelve years helping senior management teams and Boards to adapt to the new exigencies of the digitally enhanced marketplace. He has worked with world-class organisations to help activate their brand strategies, and figure out how best to integrate new technologies, digital tools, devices and platforms. Above all, Minter works to catalyse a change in mindset and dial up transformation. Minter received his BA in Trilingual Literature from Yale University (1987) and gained his MBA at INSEAD, Fontainebleau (1993). He’s author of four award-winning books, including Heartificial Empathy, Putting Heart into Business and Artificial Intelligence (2nd edition) (2023); You Lead, How Being Yourself Makes You A Better Leader (Kogan Page 2021); co-author of Futureproof, How To Get Your Business Ready For The Next Disruption (Pearson 2017); and author of The Last Ring Home (Myndset Press 2016), a book and documentary film, both of which have won awards and critical acclaim.

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