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Intentional personality change coaching. A randomised controlled trial of participant selected personality facet change using the Five-Factor Model of Personality

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Objectives: Recent literature suggests that personality may be more amenable to change than was previously thought, and that participant selected intentional personality change may be beneficial. The aim of this study was to examine the effects of a 10-week structured intentional personality change coaching programme on participant selected personality facets. Design: Participants were assigned to the personality coaching group or a waitlist control group using a waitlist control, matched, randomised procedure (personality coaching group, N=27; waitlist control group, N=27). Method: A structured coaching programme, designed to identify and modify a limited number of personality facets, chosen by the client, was employed. Results: Participation in the personality change coaching programme was associated with significant positive change in participant selected facets, with gains maintained three months later. Neither age of participant nor number of facets targeted significantly affected change outcomes. Conclusions: These findings suggest that a structured personality change coaching programme may facilitate beneficial personality change in motivated individuals. Keywords: Intentional personality change coaching.
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THE ASSERTION that individuals may
beneficially change their personality
through coaching is both challenging
and recent. Martin, Oades and Caputi
(2012) proposed that exploration of this
potential was warranted, based on an exten-
sive body of literature suggesting that
personality domains (traits) had wide
ranging consequences. For example, a meta-
analysis by Ozer and Benet-Martinez (2006)
found predictive relationships between Big 5
(five-factor) personality domains and
numerous important life outcomes, at the
individual, relationship and organisational/
community levels. Four of the five Big 5
domains were predominantly associated with
positive outcomes (i.e. conscientiousness,
extraversion, agreeableness and openness),
while emotionality was predominantly associ-
ated with negative outcomes. These findings
suggests that increasing or decreasing
domains in the direction associated with
positive outcomes may be beneficial.
Some authors have proposed that as the
literature has now demonstrated that
personality domains are predictive of many
life outcomes, it would be useful if future
research explored how to change personality
in ways that are beneficial to the individual.
For example, a four-year study of 8625
Australians (Boyce, Wood & Powdthavee,
2012) found that personality can change
over this period of time, and that these
changes are both important and meaningful,
as personality is the strongest and most
consistent predictor of life-satisfaction.
196 International Coaching Psychology Review lVol. 9 No. 2 September 2014
© The British Psychological Society – ISSN: 1750-2764
Paper
Intentional personality change coaching:
A randomised controlled trial of
participant selected personality facet
change using the Five-Factor Model of
Personality
Lesley S. Martin, Lindsay G. Oades & Peter Caputi
Objectives: Recent literature suggests that personality may be more amenable to change than was previously
thought, and that participant selected intentional personality change may be beneficial. The aim of this
study was to examine the effects of a 10-week structured intentional personality change coaching programme
on participant selected personality facets.
Design: Participants were assigned to the personality coaching group or a waitlist control group using a
waitlist control, matched, randomised procedure (personality coaching group, N=27; waitlist control group,
N=27).
Method: A structured coaching programme, designed to identify and modify a limited number of personality
facets, chosen by the client, was employed.
Results: Participation in the personality change coaching programme was associated with significant positive
change in participant selected facets, with gains maintained three months later. Neither age of participant
nor number of facets targeted significantly affected change outcomes.
Conclusions: These findings suggest that a structured personality change coaching programme may facilitate
beneficial personality change in motivated individuals.
Keywords: Intentional personality change coaching.
He further proposed that there would be
substantial advantages in gaining a better
empirical understanding of how personality
domains might be beneficially modified.
Cuijpers et al. (2010) suggested that the
economic costs of high levels of domain
emotionality were substantial in terms of
both health care costs and unemployment.
They found that individuals who had higher
levels of trait emotionality were more vulner-
able to a wide range of mental health disor-
ders (e.g. depression, anxiety disorders,
schizophrenia, eating disorders and person-
ality disorders) and physical disorders (e.g.
medically unfounded physical complaints,
cardiovascular disease, asthma, and irritable
bowel syndrome). Their research suggested
that in addition to the human costs, high
emotionality impacted heavily on the health
system. Their analysis suggested that the
incremental costs (per one million people)
of the highest 25 per cent of scorers on
emotionality resulted in US$1.393 billion in
health care costs.
These findings led Cuijpers et al. (2010)
to propose that ‘we should start thinking
about interventions that focus not on each of
the specific negative outcomes of neuroti-
cism [emotionality], but rather on the
starting point itself’ (p.1086). Similarly, in a
review of the mechanisms by which person-
ality domains predict consequential
outcomes, Hampson (2012) proposed that
‘As evidence has mounted for the important
role played by personality domains in conse-
quential life outcomes, there is increasing
interest in the possibility of using this knowl-
edge to bring about beneficial personality
change’ (p.333). The findings from these
studies suggest that empirical exploration of
personality change interventions is both
warranted and timely.
It is, therefore, useful to explore the liter-
ature around whether personality change
appears to be possible, and how that might
be achieved. Martin et al. (2012) clarified
that, whereas some literature had argued
that personality was relatively resistant to
change without long-term intensive interven-
tions (e.g. McCrae & Costa, 1994, 2003),
findings from more recent literature cast
doubt on this assumption.
A number of intervention studies have
suggested that personality is amenable to
change. Tang et al. (2009) found that
greater personality changes occurred in
depressed participants in two treatment
groups (i.e. anti-depressant medication and
cognitive therapy over 16 weeks), compared
to a placebo control group, even after
recovery from depression was controlled for.
This study measured personality using the
NEO Five-Factor Inventory (Costa &
McCrae, 1992). Participants taking anti-
depressant medication reported over three
times as much change on domain extraver-
sion and over six times as much change on
domain emotionality than the control
group, even when matched for improvement
in depression. Significantly greater change
on domain extraversion was also recorded in
the cognitive therapy group than the
placebo group, after being matched for
improvement in depression. These findings
suggest that interventions used to treat
depression can have an effect on personality
(domain level change) separate from its
effect on depression (state level change),
and that interventions can achieve signifi-
cant changes in personality domains in as
little as 16 weeks.
Similarly, De Fruyt et al. (2006) found
that treatment with medication and therapy
was associated with a substantial reduction in
neuroticism, and minor gains on extraver-
sion, openness, agreeableness, and conscien-
tiousness. Furthermore, a six-week broad
based multimodal outpatient programme
for substance abusers achieved significant
shifts on all five personality domains , with
changes on three domains being maintained
15 months later (i.e. reduced emotionality
and increased agreeableness and conscien-
tiousness)(Piedmont, 2001).
A number of studies have explored if
interventions can change the personality of
individuals not suffering from psychological
problems. For example, Nelis et al. (2011)
International Coaching Psychology Review lVol. 9 No. 2 September 2014 197
TitleIntentional personality change coaching
found that 18 hours of emotional compe-
tence training resulted in longer term
changes in three of the five Big 5 personality
domains. Six months after the emotional
competence interventions participants were
less emotional and more extraverted and
agreeable, with effect size suggesting that
such change was meaningful.
A meta-analysis of 16 transcendental
meditation studies (Orme-Johnson &
Barnes, 2013) found that individuals whose
scores on facet anxiety placed them between
the 80th and the 100th percentile range
achieved significant reductions in facet
anxiety (down to between 53rd and 62nd
percentile range) from 20 minutes of tran-
scendental meditation twice daily. Further-
more, meaningful benefits were achieved
within the initial few weeks, and effects were
sustained at three year follow up. Similarly,
a 16-week inductive reasoning training
programme for older adults increased the
domain openness to new experience over
the 30-week assessment period (Jackson et
al., 2012).
Spence and Grant (2005) assessed the
impact of 10 life coaching sessions on
Big 5 personality domains (using both peer
and professional coaching groups). Person-
ality change was not targeted by the
coaching interventions in this study (i.e. it
was an incidental measure). Nevertheless,
significant change was achieved on two of
five domains (i.e. increased extraversion and
openness to experience) in the peer
coaching group. This study provided some
evidence that aspects of personality may be
amenable to change through coaching, even
when not targeted. Spence and Grant (2007)
note, not surprisingly, that constructs that
are targeted by coaching interventions are
more likely to change than constructs that
are not, implying that if personality change is
being observed in the absence of targeted
efforts, then even greater change is likely to
occur if coaching specifically targets such
change.
In the above intervention studies that
evidenced personality change, participant
selected personality change was not specifi-
cally targeted. This observation suggested
that stronger personality change results may
be achievable if: (1) participants consciously
choose to change aspects of their person-
ality; (2) they had professional support to do
this; and (3) professionals had access to
evidence-based resources specifically
designed to facilitate participant selected
personality change.
Nevertheless, some may argue that what
we are seeing in many of these cited studies
is state rather than domain based change.
This state based explanation is unlikely, as,
firstly, personality inventory items typically
encapsulate more enduring views of self (e.g.
‘I often feel inferior to others’. Secondly, the
duration of the change noted in some of
these studies was substantial, (e.g. Nelis et al.
[2011] was six months, Piedmont [2001] was
30 months and Orme-Johnson and Barnes
[2013] was three years). Finally, Tang et al.
(2009) found significant domain level
change from their interventions, even after
controlling for state level change. Hence, in
combination the above findings provide
support for the concept of personality being
amenable to change.
Consistent with this view, Magidson et al.
(2012) proposed that personality domains,
such as conscientiousness, may be amenable
to change through bottom up behavioural
interventions, and provided both theoretical
discussion of this possibility, and a case study
illustrating this approach. Dweck (2008)
proposed that beliefs are a major determi-
nant of personality, that beliefs can be
changed, and when beliefs change, so too
does personality.
Martin et al. (2012) proposed that client
selected personality change could be both
beneficial and achievable, using resources
specifically designed for this purpose. They
did, however, emphasise the importance of
personality change goals being determined
by the client, and internally motivated.
Martin et al. (2012) further suggested that
the Five-Factor Model of Personality
provides a useful model for exploring
198 International Coaching Psychology Review lVol. 9 No. 2 September 2014
Author nameLesley S. Martin, Lindsay G. Oades & Peter Caputi
International Coaching Psychology Review lVol. 9 No. 2 September 2014 199
Title
personality change, and that working at the
more detailed facet level would be more
beneficial than working at the broader
domain level. They proposed that the
NEO PI-R (Costa & McCrae, 1992), or a
reputable proxy, could provide a suitable
measure of personality. Whereas they
acknowledged that personality change could
be explored within either a one to one
coaching or counselling/therapy context,
they recommended that ‘for clients without
major psychopathology, personality change
interventions may be more consistent with
coaching, and a coaching approach may
offer certain advantages’ (p.189).
Ten coaching sessions were proposed as
an appropriate duration over which to
initially explore intentional personality
change, based on positive outcomes
achieved by a number of 10-session coaching
studies (Green, Grant & Rynsaardt, 2007;
Spence & Grant, 2005, 2007). One-to-one
coaching with an appropriately trained
professional was recommended, due to: (1)
the sensitive personal nature of personality
profile material; and (2) the importance of
such professionals being well versed in
psychometrics and personality, and compe-
tent working with emotional distress.
Furthermore, Martin et al. (2012) encour-
aged empirical research to further explore
these notions.
To this end, Martin, Oades and Caputi
(2014) developed a step-wise process of
intentional personality change, drawing on
coach training material developed in an
earlier phase of their research. The current
study is designed to empirically explore
whether these resources, applied over 10
sessions of coaching, can facilitate change on
participant selected personality facets. It was
considered important that the study
reflected participant preferences of having
the flexibility to choose which facets were
targeted, and how many. Therefore,
different participants choose different types
and numbers of facets. As it was necessary to
avoid participants who chose a high number
of facets having a disproportionate influence
on the results, an average of the targeted
facets was calculated for each participant at
each data collection time. Reverse scoring
was used for facets that clients wished to
decrease. This averaged score was then
termed average targeted facet score (ATFS)1,
and this became the personality construct
explored. For example, if a client chose to
increase two facets (e.g. self-discipline and
assertiveness), and decrease one facet (e.g.
anxiety) then the scores for self-discipline
and assertiveness would be added to a
reversed score for anxiety, and the total
would be divided by three. The result would
then be the ATFS for that data collection
point. Therefore, it was hypothesised that,
firstly, the intervention group will have
significantly higher ATFS when compared to
the control group, and secondly, that there
would be significant increases in ATFS over
the coaching period.
Method
Participants
Total participants were 54 adults aged
between 18 and 64 years (M=42.18,
SD=12.44). Participants consisted of eight
males and 46 females without major
psychopathology (see procedures for exclu-
sions). Three individuals were excluded
prior to the study, due to Axis II disorders.
The 54 participants were assigned to the
personality coaching group or the waitlist
control group using a waitlist control,
matched, randomised procedure (person-
ality coaching group, N=27; waitlist control
group, N=27). Participants were firstly
matched on sex (male/female) and then on
age range (18 to 30, 31 to 50, 51+ years). The
first author randomly assigned individuals
within each group to either the coaching
group or the waitlist control group. The
participants that withdrew (six in the waitlist
group and none in the coaching group)
were replaced by individuals matched by age
Intentional personality change coaching
1ATFS=average targeted facet score.
200 International Coaching Psychology Review lVol. 9 No. 2 September 2014
Author name
grouping and gender. All waitlist control
participants that completed the 10 sessions
of coaching completed a personality inven-
tory three months later. One participant
from the personality coaching group did not
furnish a three month follow up personality
inventory, but their data was included in
analysis up to end of coaching. The compo-
sition of the 54 participants by age and
gender is summarised in Table 1.
Experimental design
Table 2 illustrates the study design, including
data collection timing for the NEO PI-R and
key research stages for the two groups.
(Other inventories were completed to assist
coaching processes, but changes in these
were not measured over time).
Lesley S. Martin, Lindsay G. Oades & Peter Caputi
Table 1: Age and gender of participants.
Age Female – Female – Male – Male – Total
Coaching Waitlist Coaching Waitlist
Group Group Group Group
18–29 441110
30–49 10 11 2225
50+ 881219
Total 22 23 4554
Table 2: Experimental design of study and NEO PI-R data collection timing.
Note: PCG=personality coaching group. WCG=waitlist control group. A–F indicate data collecting points.
PCG
data A B C F
10 week coaching period
Waitlist period
12 week follow-up period
12 week follow-up period10 week coaching period
A C D E F
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32
PCG
stages
WCG
data
WCG
stages
Week
Measures
The 240 item NEO PI-R (Costa & McCrae,
1992), a well-established personality assess-
ment tool, was used to assess participants
personality domains and facets. It includes
statements such as ‘When I do things, I do
them vigorously’ (facet activity), ‘I often feel
tense and jittery’ (facet anxiety) and ‘I’m not
know for my generosity’ (facet altruism).
Participants responded on a five-point scale
(0=strongly disagree, 4=strongly agree). The
NEO assesses five broad domains based on
the Five-Factor Model of Personality, (i.e.
emotionality, extraversion, openness, agree-
ableness and conscientiousness). These five
domains provide a more general description
of personality, whilst 30 facets allow for a
more detailed analysis.
The NEO PI-R has been validated against
a variety of other personality assessment
tools, and has a acceptable level of alpha reli-
abilities (ranging from .56 to .81 for facets
and .86 to .92 for domains), and test-retest
reliability (between .70 and .80 for most
facets and domains)(Piedmont, 1998).
Procedure
Participants were recruited by an article in a
local newspaper, an invitation to participate
posted on a university website, and word of
mouth from existing participants. The only
initial eligibility criteria was that respondents
be 18 years or older. Subsequently, major
psychopathology was excluded by asking
those participants who had one or more
emotionality facets on the personality inven-
tory (i.e. anxiety, anger, depression, vulnera-
bility, impulsivity or self-conscientiousness)
in the very high range to also complete a
Millon MCMI-III (Millon, Davis & Millon,
1997), an inventory which assesses for
DSM-IV diagnoses. Those individuals with
Axis II disorders, significant current alcohol
and drug abuse, active psychosis or bipolar
disorder were excluded from the study, and
referred to other services. Participants were
then randomly assigned to either the person-
ality coaching group (and completed a
10-week personality coaching programme)
or the waitlist control group (and completed
a 10-week waiting period, followed by a
10-week personality coaching programme).
Coaching programme
The step-wise process of intentional person-
ality change coaching that provided the
coaching programme framework for the
current study will be discussed in detail in a
separate article (Martin et al., 2014).
However, a brief overview of the step-wise
process applied is illustrated in Figure 1
(overleaf).
Participants in the coaching programme
completed a NEO PI-R directly before
coaching commenced, and completed addi-
tional NEO PI-Rs at session five (week five),
session 10 (week 10) and again three months
later (week 22). Participants in the waitlist
control group completed a NEO PI-R 10
weeks before coaching commenced, and
completed additional NEO PI-Rs directly
before session one (week 10), session five
(week 15), session 10 (week 20) and again
three months later (week 32).
During the first coaching session, partici-
pants were provided with their personality
profile, which included a description and
graphing of five broad domains and 30 facets
against population norms, based on the
NEO PI-R (Costa & McCrae, 1992). The
coach facilitated discussion on whether the
participant would like to increase or
decrease a limited number of facets. This
discussion took into account participant
values, motivational factors, and considera-
tion of how facets helped or hindered them
in everyday life. If the participant chose to
increase or decrease one or more facets, they
continued in the programme, and changing
those facets became the over-riding goal of
the coaching. Changes on the NEO PI-R
scores on the participant selected facets, in
the direction chosen by the client, became
the measure of change. A coaching manual
provided a structured step-by-step coaching
process, and incorporated a unique set of
change intervention options for each of the
30 facets. The facet change interventions
International Coaching Psychology Review lVol. 9 No. 2 September 2014 201
TitleIntentional personality change coaching
202 International Coaching Psychology Review lVol. 9 No. 2 September 2014
Author nameLesley S. Martin, Lindsay G. Oades & Peter Caputi
Figure 1: A step-wise process of intentional personality change.
Step 1: Assess personality and client values
lComplete personality inventory and develop report.
lComplete values inventory.
Step 2: Discover the current self
lExplore what is positive and problematic in the client's life.
lReview client values questionnaire findings.
lReview personality report.
Step 3: Explore gaps between the current and ideal self
lClarify client’s ideal self.
lReflect on how current and ideal personality differ.
lExplore what facet changes could help narrow this gap.
Step 4: Choose personality facet change goals
lShortlist facets targeted for change.
lReview consistency of proposed changes with values.
Step 5: Assess attitudes towards change
lAssess motivation, importance, confidence and timeliness.
lManage ambivalent attitudes and/or review change goals.
lFinalise list of facets to target for change.
Step 6: Design and implement coaching plan
lChoose change intervention options for targeted facets.
lDevelop and implement a coaching plan.
Step 7: Re-assess personality and review progress
lRe-administer personality inventory (session 5).
lReview progress and revise coaching plan (if necessary).
Step 8: Implement remaining coaching sessions
lImplement remaining coaching sessions, incorporating coaching plan revisions.
Step 9: Re-assess, review and maintain
lRe-administer personality inventory (session 10).
lReview progress towards personality change goals.
lDevelop a maintenance plan for targeted sub-trait change.
Step 10: Follow-up, review and refinement
lRe-administer personality inventory (three months later).
lRefine maintenence strategies for targeted facet change.
primarily reflected an eclectic mix the
following approaches; solution focused
coaching, positive psychology, acceptance
and commitment principles and cognitive
behavioural techniques. Further informa-
tion on these steps and specific change inter-
ventions, how they were developed, a client
example, and an extract from the coaching
manual are provided in ‘A step-wise process
of intentional personality change coaching’
(Martin et al., 2014).
Coaching was conducted by two regis-
tered and seven provisionally registered
psychologists who received training in
personality coaching by way of: (a) atten-
dance at a one-day workshop; (b) provision
of a coach training manual, developed in a
previous phase of the research; (c) comple-
tion of a research fidelity checklist after each
coaching session; and (d) weekly one-hour
one-to-one supervision, which included
review of videoed coaching sessions.
Training and supervision was provided by:
(1) The lead researcher in the study, who
also facilitated the development of the step-
wise process of personality change. She was a
registered psychologist, coach and PhD
candidate, with extensive prior experience
in training. (2) The Director of the Univer-
sity Psychology Clinic where the coaching
took place, who was a Clinical Psychologist,
and a Psychology Board of Australia
approved supervisor. The majority of the
coaches (seven) were Master’s level clinical
students at a regional Australian university.
Four coaches were also PhD candidates. The
Master’s level clinical students were in their
fifth year of full-time training in psychology,
and had a minimum of 60 hours of prior
face-to-face client contact.
Results
Mixed design analysis comparing waitlist to
coaching group on ATFS over 10 weeks
A mixed design analysis of variance
(ANOVA) with Group (waitlist versus
coaching) as the between subjects factor and
Time (week 1 versus week 10) as the within
subjects factor indicated a significant main
effect for Time, F(1,51)=13.90, p<.001,
hp2=.21. There was a significant interaction
effect between Group and Time
F(1,51)=11.27, p=.001, hp2=.18. Simple
effects were used to analyse the interaction
effect. At week 1, there was no significant
difference in ATFS between the control
group (M=13.02, SD=3.58) and the coaching
group (M=13.51, SD=3.58), F(1,51)=.23,
p=.63, hp2=.005. At week 10, the coaching
group had significantly higher ATFS
(M=17.14, SD=4.67) than the control group
(M=13.21, SD=3.34), F(1,51)=11.95, p=.001,
hp2=.19. There was no significant simple
effect for Time for the control group,
F(1,51)=.07, p=.79. There was a significant
simple effect for Time for the coaching
group, F(1,51)=24.63, p<.001, hp2=.33.
A graphical representation of the means for
the coaching group and waitlist group at
week 1 and week 10 is presented in Figure 2
(overleaf).
Repeated measures analysis of change in ATFS
over time
As the logistics of having participants
complete personality inventories part way
through a waitlist period were considered
impractical, week 5 measures were not taken
for the waitlist group. However, measures
were taken at week 5 during the coaching
period. Consequently, a repeated measures
ANOVA was performed in order to provide
additional information regarding when
change occurred during the coaching
period.
Assumption tests revealed no violations
of normality; however Mauchly’s Test indi-
cated that the assumption of sphericity had
been violated. Consequently a Greenhouse-
Geisser correction was applied. The results
of the analysis suggested that there was
a significant difference in ATFS between
time points over the coaching period,
F(1.72,86.2)=36.63, p<.001, hp2=.42. Within
subject contrasts indicated a significant
linear effect for time, F(1,50)=52.90, p<.001,
hp2=.51.
In order to determine whether there
were significant differences in ATFS between
each specific time point during the coaching
period, a series of dependent sample t-tests
were performed using a Bonferroni adjusted
significance level of .016 which was calcu-
lated by dividing a significance level of .05 by
the number of analyses (3). The results indi-
cated that ATFS was significantly higher at
week 5 (M=15.40, SD=3.86) as compared to
week 1 (M=13.45, SD=3.50), t(50)=–3.98,
p<.001, r=.49. It was also found that scores on
ATFS were significantly higher at week 10
(M=17.83, SD=4.28) as compared to week 5
(M=15.40, SD=3.86), t(50)=–5.70, p<.001,
r=.62. Similarly ATFS was significantly higher
at week 10 (M=17.83, SD=4.28) as compared
to week 1(M=13.45, SD=3.50), t(50)=–7.27,
p<.001, r=.72.
International Coaching Psychology Review lVol. 9 No. 2 September 2014 203
TitleIntentional personality change coaching
204 International Coaching Psychology Review lVol. 9 No. 2 September 2014
Author nameLesley S. Martin, Lindsay G. Oades & Peter Caputi
Figure 2: Average targeted facet score (ATFS) for coaching versus control group over a
10-week coaching period.
A dependent samples t-test was used to
determine whether there were significant
differences between participants’ ATFS at the
12-week follow-up as compared to the end of
the coaching period (week 10). The results of
this analysis suggested that participants
scores on targeted personality facets had not
significantly declined between week 10
(M=17.72, SD=4.26) and the 12-week follow-
up (M=17.79, SD=4.71), t(49)=–.25, p=.80.
Furthermore, a second dependent samples
t-test indicated that participants’ ATFS scores
were significantly higher at the 12-week
follow-up when compared to pre-interven-
tion scores, t(49)=6.70, p<.001, r=.67.
Influence of age, gender and number of facets
targeted
A multiple regression analysis was used to
determine whether age, gender and number
of facets targeted significantly predicted
change in ATFS over the intervention
International Coaching Psychology Review lVol. 9 No. 2 September 2014 205
Title
period. The results suggested that these
factors accounted for 3.7 per cent of the vari-
ance which was non-significant, R2=.10,
F(1,49)=1.65, p=.19. The results of the
regression analysis are summarised in Table
3 below.
Discussion
The results support the hypothesis that
personality change coaching can facilitate
significant change in participant selected
facets, in the direction desired by the parti-
cipant. The significant changes achieved
between sessions 1 and 5, and again between
session 5 and 10 suggest that meaningful
changes occur relatively early in the
coaching process, and are further consoli-
dated by additional sessions. The incre-
mental pattern of these changes raises the
question of whether further personality
change would be achieved by additional
sessions of coaching.
The findings of significant change in
personality are in contrast with some litera-
ture that proposes that personality is relatively
resistant to change without long-term inten-
sive interventions (e.g. McCrae & Costa, 1994,
2003). However, the current study’s finding
are consistent with other literature (predomi-
nantly published in the last five years) that
suggests that personality is more amenable to
change than was previously thought (Boyce et
al., 2012; De Fruyt et al., 2006; Dweck, 2008;
Jackson et al., 2012; Martin et al., 2012; Nelis
et al., 2011; Orme-Johnson & Barnes, 2013;
Robinson, 2009; Tang et al., 2009). From a
coaching perspective, it provides further
support for Spence and Grant’s (2005) tenta-
tive findings that personality changes may
occur during 10 weeks of coaching (even
when personality change is not the goal of
coaching). The stronger findings in the
current study on personality change (relative
to Spence and Grant’s findings) are likely
attributable to personality change being
targeted with interventions designed for this
purpose (i.e. Spence and Grant only found
changes on two of five domains, and with peer
coaching only).
The current study’s findings provide
empirical support for the proposition that
targeted personality change coaching can
facilitate change on targeted facets, if the
participant is motivated to change. It also
provides empirical support for the step-wise
process of intentional personality change
proposes by Martin, Oades and Caputi
(2014). In so doing, it affirms the value of a
structured coaching process, using resources
specifically designed for this purpose.
The finding that gender does not affect
personality change outcomes may have been
influenced by the small number of men
(N=8) participating in the study, and further
exploration of this question with larger male
samples would be useful. No participants
over 65 years enrolled in the study, leaving
this age group unexplored. However, in the
18 to 64 years age range enrolled in the
study, age did not significantly affect capacity
to change. This is encouraging as it suggests
that intentional personality change can be
achieved by motivated individuals through-
out most, if not all, of the adult lifespan.
Intentional personality change coaching
Table 3: Influence of age, gender and number of facets targeted on change in
Averaged Targeted Facet Score (ATFS).
Variable B SE B bp
Constant 7.06 3.75
Number of facets targeted .68 .39 .24 .09
Age -.01 .05 –.02 .90
Gender -2.43 1.63 –.21 .14
The number of facets targeted did not
significantly predict change in ATFS. This is
somewhat surprising as it might be expected
that focusing on just one or two facets over
10 sessions would achieve greater average
change on targeted facets than focusing on
five or six facets, as each targeted facet would
have a greater number of coaching hours
available to work on it. For example,
targeting just one facet would mean that 10
hours of coaching could be available to facil-
itate change on it, whereas if five facets were
targeted each of these targeted facets would
only have two hours, on average, applied to
changing them. One possible explanation
for this result is that participants who are
experiencing greater dissatisfaction with
their personality may well target more facets,
but may also have more scope for movement
on facets targeted. Similarly, individuals who
are functioning well may only wish to make
minor changes to one or two facets. Hence
the beneficial effects of more hours of
coaching per facet for participants with less
problematic personalities may be offset by a
floor/ceiling effect. This ties in with the find-
ings of Orme-Johnson and Barnes (2013)
that those individuals with higher levels of
anxiety benefitted most from a meditation
intervention.
An alternative possibility is that interven-
tions that target one problematic facet may
also trigger changes on other problematic
facets. For example, if someone is low on
self-discipline and high on anxiety, then
increasing self-discipline (e.g. through
enhancing planning and organisational
skills) may in turn reduce anxiety (e.g.
through reducing distress around the conse-
quences of procrastination). Similarly, devel-
opment of certain facet change skills (e.g.
challenging unhelpful beliefs and assump-
tions, and learning to think in a more posi-
tive and realistic way) may beneficially affect
many facets. For example, cognitive
behavioural interventions designed to
reduce facet depression may have a benefi-
cial effect on other targeted facets (e.g.
anxiety, gregariousness, assertiveness). This
possibility is supported by a number of
studies that suggests that a range of inter-
ventions (not specifically targeting person-
ality change) nevertheless may have wide
ranging beneficial impacts on personality
(Nelis et al., 2011; Piedmont, 2001; Tang et
al., 2009).
The findings of the current study are
relevant to the literature in a number of
areas. From a coaching perspective, it
provides preliminary empirical validation of
the step-wise process outlined in Martin,
Oades and Caputi (2014) and suggests that
structured coaching may be an effective
mechanism for facilitating beneficial person-
ality change in motivated individuals. The
preliminary validation of coaching as an
effective personality change process has
significant implications for the coaching
profession, as it extends coaching practice
and research into a new and potentially
exciting arena. It also raises questions about
the skills needed to competently undertake
this work. Training in personality, psycho-
metrics, and coaching, plus the capacity to
work competently with psychological
distress, are likely to be important skills.
The findings of this study also raise ques-
tions around the circumstances in which
personality change interventions are appro-
priate. It is the authors’ opinion that if
personality change coaching were to be
conducted in the absence of participant
motivation to change aspects of their person-
ality, it would likely be ineffectual, and could
be ethically problematic. Hence further
exploration of, and debate around, how and
if personality change coaching fits within an
organisational coaching context would be
beneficial (e.g. where an organisations may
be concerned about problematic personality
facets/domains in a staff member).
From the perspective of personality liter-
ature, the current study provides further
support for the plasticity of personality, and
preliminary empirical support for partici-
pant selected intentional personality change.
The capacity to intentionally change person-
ality has implications from a number of
206 International Coaching Psychology Review lVol. 9 No. 2 September 2014
Author nameLesley S. Martin, Lindsay G. Oades & Peter Caputi
perspectives. Firstly, the strong relationship
between personality and well-being (Boyce
et al., 2012) suggests that intentional person-
ality change coaching may potentially also
have a significant impact on well-being.
Future research directly exploring whether
intentional personality change coaching
results in changes in well-being would
usefully inform both the personality and
well-being literature.
Furthermore, the capacity to change
personality suggests a host of potential bene-
ficial implications at the individual, interper-
sonal and organisational/community level.
Based on the associations found between
personality and consequential outcomes by
Ozer and Benet-Martinez (2006), modifying
personality could potentially have a benefi-
cial impact on the following: spirituality,
physical and mental health, longevity, self-
concept and identity at the individual level;
peer, family and romantic relationships at
the interpersonal level; and a range of occu-
pational and community outcomes. The
current research responds to a need,
expressed in the literature, to move beyond
understanding what the consequential
impacts of personality are, to exploring if
and how beneficial personality change can
be facilitated (e.g. Boyce et al., 2012;
Cuijpers et al., 2010; Hampson, 2012).
A number of limitations of the current
study should be considered when inter-
preting the findings. This study is a prelimi-
nary investigation, using a relatively small
sample size. Strong claims cannot be made
on the basis of a single study of this size,
suggesting further empirical studies of this
nature would be useful. Furthermore, this
study is based on just one construct of
personality (the Five-Factor Model of
Personality), and one measure (i.e. the NEO
PI-R self report).
Participants were self-selected, and may
not be representative of the general popula-
tion. Researchers, including the first author,
are currently exploring the gender, age and
personality of individuals who chose to
change their personality, and possible impli-
cations for the findings of the current study.
For example, participants in the current
study were predominantly women, and the
possible impact of this on outcomes deserves
further attention. Future studies using a
more gender balanced sample, or a male
only sample, would be useful. Analysis of
participant personalities at the commence-
ment of coaching suggested that certain
types of personalities chose to change their
personality (e.g. those high on openness and
emotionality) (Allan, Leeson & Martin,
2014). This may suggest that the findings of
this study are relevant to certain groups of
individuals, rather than the general popula-
tion.
Furthermore, assessment of change was
limited to self-report inventories with the
inherent risks of (e.g. faking good and
responses being influenced by the goals of
the coaching). Whereas personality ratings
by others are informative and desirable in
many contexts, it was considered less rele-
vant in the current study. The current study
was focused on changing facets consistent
with the participant’s desire for change,
rather than meeting others’ perceptions of,
or preference for, observable change.
Furthermore, it is difficult for others to accu-
rately assess change on some facets (e.g.
fantasy, ideas). Nevertheless, this is a signifi-
cant limitation, and one that would benefit
from future studies incorporating additional
measures (e.g. informant reports and
behavioural assessments). It is further
acknowledged that repeated administration
of a questionnaire may impact responses.
The current study followed participants
for three months after completion of the
research; hence longer-term outcomes are
not know. Future research of intentional
personality change, with longer follow up
periods, would further inform the literature.
Finally, whereas it is useful to know if person-
ality change was achieved based on inventory
scores, the current study does not link these
changes to consequential tangible life
outcomes. Whereas associations between
personality measures and a wide range of
International Coaching Psychology Review lVol. 9 No. 2 September 2014 207
TitleIntentional personality change coaching
208 International Coaching Psychology Review lVol. 9 No. 2 September 2014
Author name
consequential outcomes is well established
(e.g. Ozer & Benet-Martinez, 2006), it is
unclear whether intentionally changing
personality will lead to changes in these
outcomes (i.e. at this stage cause and effect is
not clear). In combination, these limitations
suggest that the current study’s findings
should be viewed as preliminary. Hence,
future studies addressing these limitations
would be useful. Researchers, including the
first author, are currently exploring partici-
pants’ experiences of personality coaching,
including the tangible life impacts of inten-
tional personality change coaching (Martin
et al., in press).
In conclusion, the current study provides
preliminary support for the proposition that
intentional personality change, facilitated by
a structured step-wise coaching process, is
possible. As personality is predictive of a
wide range of life outcomes, exciting possi-
bilities are evident in the potential of inten-
tionally changing personality. These findings
provide a novel and important contribution
to literature in the fields of personality,
coaching and intentional change. They also
inform coaching practitioners, and sugges-
tion new opportunities for coaches with rele-
vant skills. It is hoped that the current study
will provide an important foundation for
future exploration in this area, and a useful
beginning in understanding if intentional
personality change is possible, and how it
can best be achieved.
The Authors
Lesley S. Martin
Sydney Business School,
University of Wollongong.
Lindsay G. Oades
Australian Institute of Business Wellbeing,
Sydney Business School,
University of Wollongong.
Peter Caputi
School of Psychology,
University of Wollongong.
Correspondence
Lesley Martin
PO Box 5059,
Wollongong, NSW 2500,
Australia.
Email: sue@psy.net.au
Lesley S. Martin, Lindsay G. Oades & Peter Caputi
International Coaching Psychology Review lVol. 9 No. 2 September 2014 209
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References
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