How the Big 5 Personality Theory Can Help Understand Others

The Big Five personality theory gives a simple blueprint to understanding others, improving relationships by knowing why people behave the way they do.


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We all want to feel understood. Taking a little time to appreciate the people around us can make the world a less lonely place. The Big Five personality theory gives a simple blueprint to understanding others, improving relationships by knowing why people tend to behave the way that they do. You can even use the theory to help better understand yourself and how to get along with others better than ever before.

Best of all, the theory has an easy to remember acronym:

OCEAN: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. You can go through each to see if you or someone else ranks high or low for each category. In doing so, you can make better connections and improve your people skills.


Openness to experience refers to a person’s willingness to try new things. A person with a high level of openness tends to have a big imagination, preference for variety, and loves to learn new things. A person low in openness tends to prefer routine and stick to their comfort zone.

Is this you?
-I love to try new things.
-I have a big imagination.
-I always try new activities.

If you answered mostly yes, chances are that you are high in openness to experience. If you disagreed, you are probably low in openness.

Cliff Jumping into the Ocean at Sunset

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Conscientiousness refers to how a person gets something done. A person with a high level of conscientiousness spends time preparing, finishes tasks right away, pays attention to details, and prefers to plan ahead to do a task dutifully. A person with a low level of conscientiousness prefers spontaneity and dislikes schedules. They tend to be messy and procrastinate important tasks.

Is this you?
-I like to write lists.
-I am very well-organized.
-I like to plan ahead rather than do something spontaneously.

Close up of woman in checkered dress typing on her laptop while standing and making notes

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Extroversion refers to how a person draws their energy and interacts with others. A highly extroverted person feels energized from socializing, likes to start conversations, has many friends, and find it easy to meet new people. Meanwhile, those low on the extroversion scale prefer solitude and feel exhausted from socializing too much. They also tend to dislike small talk and find it difficult to start conversations.

Is this you?
-I am the life of the party.
-I love getting all of the attention.
-I usually strike up conversations with people.

Cheerful group of friends

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Agreeableness means the way a person interacts with others and whether they have a tendency to cooperate and feel compassionate toward people. A highly agreeable person feels empathy toward other people and enjoys helping. A person low in this trait doesn’t care as much about others feelings and tends to disagree a lot.

Is this you?
-I tend to trust people.
-I am sensitive toward other people’s feelings.
-I like to make people feel comfortable.

Cheerful young couple in the morning at home.

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Neuroticism refers to a person's ability to remain stable and balanced. Those high in neuroticism tend to experience a lot of anxiety and worry about things easily. Someone low in neuroticism tends to be emotionally stable and doesn’t worry often.

Is this you?
-I get stressed easily.
-I tend to worry a lot.
-I tend to be moody.

Portrait of worried young man at workplace.

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How did you rank for the each? You can go through the “Big Five” and rank yourself as high, medium, or low. Understanding your own personality, you are able to ask for your own needs and connect more easily with others.

You can also score people in your life to see how they rank for each trait. In this way, you can understand the motivations behind someone’s behaviors. Looking at people through the lenses of the Big Five personality traits improves conversation and interactions.

For example, if you know someone who ranks high in consciousness, plan ahead rather than showing up at their house spontaneously. If you know someone high in openness, make suggestions for exciting new activities to try. They’ll love you for it. Invite someone low in extroversion to a movie or quiet dinner rather than a crowded music festival or big party. If you know a highly neurotic person, learn their triggers and try to avoid them.

With the Big Five, you can unlock the motivations behind each person’s behaviors and improve interactions. Through understanding others, we can optimize our interactions while building better, lasting relationships with the people in our lives.