A man looking confused staring at his laptop screen.

“What do you mean they said I had no personality!”

Ouch, the accusation stings! But you suspect it isn't so much an absolute truth but rather a sign of incompatibility after a really bad date. Everyone else says you're dazzling and dynamic, so it's just this person's opinion, right?

Or maybe you’re gossiping with co-workers, wondering why your newest co-worker seems to have “zero” in the personality department. It's a common jibe at a certain type of person, usually someone who's reserved, has bland opinions, or is unwilling to put it all out there for their nosy colleagues. And you're happy to dole out the same assessment of people who don't make a strong impression on you.

But what does it really mean to have no personality, and is it even possible? 

A look into the Big Five personality system might give us some answers.

No Personality isn’t a Reality

In terms of personality theory, it’s just not possible to have "no personality." All systems will measure your collective thoughts, feelings and behaviors to give you a score of some sort. According to theories like the 16-type system, the Enneagram and the Big Five, personality is measurable and classifiable.

So why do we often hear people being described as having no personality?

According to researchers at Ouachita Baptist University, it's all down to how well we know the person. The less we know them, the more we attribute that lack of experience to a lack of personality.

In other words, it's less about them and more about us—saying someone has “zero personality” is a sign that we haven't made an effort to get to know the person. The more time we spend with someone, the more we'll have the privilege of understanding their thoughts and behaviors. Hence, we associate “personality” only with people we're closer to. 

Low Versus High Personality on the Big Five

Familiarity aside, the same study found some interesting correlations between the perception of “low” and “high” personality and the Big Five personality traits.

The main finding was that people who scored high on Extraversion and Openness were perceived to have “a lot of personality.” This probably won't come as a shock. Extraverted, expressive people are generally open books. They wear their traits on their sleeves and when we know lots about someone, the more distinct their personalities seem. 

It also helps that the "people" measured in this study were Spider-Man, a literal superhero, and the ever-eccentric Kramer from Seinfeld, so the characters were right at the edge of the dynamic, outgoing extremes!

Let’s go back to our “zero personality” co-worker. What if they’re just introverted and prefer to keep their opinions to themselves? This limits the scope of your knowledge about this person and causes you to jump to conclusions. You may assume, like the people in this study, that they have low personality, simply because they’re more reserved.

Of course, introversion doesn’t mean you have a boring personality. You just want to reveal yourself on your own terms and in your own time to the people you really call buddies, which is more or less the opposite of the extravert’s approach. One of the characters who scored as having a "low personality” in the Ouachita study was none other than Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. A childish, stubborn know-it-all, Sheldon is naive, awkward, and often condescending. Unlikeable perhaps, but you cannot make the case that he lacks personality!

Which brings us back to the beginning—no one has no personality. If you’re afraid of trying new things, aren’t very social or just really like to keep your thoughts to yourself, trust me, you have a personality. It's just that you're not throwing it out for everyone to see.

How to see everyone’s personality, despite your differences

While it's all fun and games to discuss fictional characters, remember that this kind of low personality / no personality stereotype often applies to real people too. Clearly, no one is going to be as exciting as Spider-Man unless humans start sprouting webs from their hands. If you're judging personality or lack of it based on how much someone aligns with unrealistic standards set by TV and movies, you're always going to be disappointed.

Instead, acknowledge the "no personality" remark for what it is—a humorous stand-in for saying that you don’t feel connected to someone. Everyone has unique behaviors, thoughts and feelings, even if they seem like a blank book upon first impressions. For all you know, they could be as wild as Kramer when they’re with their friends.

If you want to understand your “no personality” coworker better, spend more time around them. Invite them to an after-work happy hour or put some effort into discussing something with them after the meeting. You might actually decide you like them.

You can also learn more about anyone’s personality by observing their behavior. One person’s favorite hobby (say, birdwatching) might seem boring to you, but it’s still a hobby. There’s a reason why they like it, which means they might have more opinions than you think.

Summing it up

When it comes to personality theory, it’s clear that “no personality” just is not possible. Everyone is born with a set of traits, quirks and behaviors that make them unique. You might not like any of those traits—but that's a different problem. Not liking someone is a sign of a clash of personalities, not of "no personality," which is not nearly the same thing!

Bear in mind, too, that while it’s normal to joke that someone has no personality, you could be hurting their feelings. Human perception is a ridiculous thing. Often we say "no personality" to  just mean introverted, which implies that introverted is bland or boring or wrong. That's a dangerous stereotype that no one wants to get behind.

Bottom line: be respectful and open to learning about someone’s personality. The more you know someone, the easier it is to understand and appreciate them. If you don’t get along well or share any interests, you don’t have to be best friends.

Cianna Garrison
Cianna Garrison holds a B.A. in English from Arizona State University and works as a freelance writer. She fell in love with psychology and personality type theory back in 2011. Since then, she has enjoyed continually learning about the 16 personality types. As an INFJ, she lives for the creative arts, and even when she isn’t working, she’s probably still writing.