The field of behavior is an expanding one, especially as more research comes out that affect schools, clinics, and homes. The ability to influence and modify behavior is all around us. From the office, classroom, and community to the hospital, center, and home, anyone can learn the basics of behavior. However, it takes a specialized professional to go through the process of observing, assessing, and implementing research-based strategies for the individuals who need them. This professional is an applied behavior analyst (ABA).
The abridged job description of an applied behavioral analyst is to study behaviors and the environmental factors that may influence them, but only those who possess a certain set of essential personality traits can execute the job perfectly.
The greatest personality traits for applied behavioral analysts to have are a unique blend of both openness and rationalism. A natural behavior analyst can balance a personable demeanor with critical attention to detail. The path of the behavioral analyst requires not only a sharp mind, but also a genuine interest in the thoughts, feelings, and actions of others around them.
Not every behavior analyst must possess all five personal characteristics—there is room to grow. Someone who is interested in having a career in the behavior field and relates to three or four of these traits can continue to flourish over time as a professional by working on the areas of need.
These five personality traits are common to those applied behavior analysts who are successful and are out in the world right now helping and supporting individuals with various needs.
The traits of an Applied Behavior Analyst include being:
- An active listener
- An approachable person
- Someone with emotional maturity
- Someone with natural empathy
- A curious person
Continue reading to go deeper into how these five characteristics help ABA specialists be the best they can be.
Applied behavior analysts must have active listening skills
The first personality trait of a natural applied behavioral analyst is a boundless capacity for listening. The behavioral analyst is never fixated on being heard above the person that they communicate with. While they may have their own convictions, natural behavioral analysts will still have a genuine desire to simply understand another person’s reasoning.
The behavior analyst’s outward-scanning personality overrides their ego and quiets the static noise of self-fixation, allowing them to perceive the easily overlooked significance of subtle things that people do and say. They are more interested in the underlying motivations behind another person’s words and actions than their personal feelings towards whatever is immediately observable on the surface.
Even though applied behavior analysts do quite a bit of talking, their observing and listening skills are used far more often than talking.
Being able to actively listen—truly listen to someone with empathy, understanding, and a lack of judgment takes practice. Those in the education and counseling fields take communication courses on how to actively listen to a client or student.
If active listening is one of your areas of need, these tips might help you improve.
- Show your attention by making eye contact, facing the person speaking, and being engaged in the conversation
- Pay close attention to the speaker—not your own thoughts or what you plan on saying next. This is how people easily lose track of what is really being said.
- Receive messages without judging them; be mindful of when and how you make internal or even external judgments.
- Understand that silence is okay. Someone does not need to be talking at all times. Allow silence between you and the person you are speaking to. Silence can be powerful and cathartic.
- Paraphrase what has been said to you so that you may check for understanding and show that you have been listening.
- Ask questions if needed. Get a clear picture of what is being said and leave no assumptions behind.
Everyone can become a better listener. If this is not a natural area for you, start using these tips to become a more effective applied behavior analyst in the future.
Applied behavior analysts must be approachable
Applied behavior analysts work with people. Simply put, that is what they do and there is no getting around that. Those who are interested in the field of behavior must understand that they will be communicating with and surrounded by various types of people in different settings every day. Therefore, it is highly beneficial for ABA specialists to be comfortable with directly engaging with people in any setting and for them to be naturally approachable.
Because a dedicated behavioral analyst is always interested in the most truthful representation of people’s feelings and actions, it is fitting for them to have a certain demeanor and charisma that naturally makes it easier for others to lower their walls and express themselves with fewer inhibitions. A behavioral analyst with a real affinity for their profession can make even those with more socially anxious or belligerent personalities feel more at ease.
In reality, ABA specialists will be working in tough situations with children, adults, and parents, sometimes in the middle of quite emotional situations; the more approachable and appropriate they are for these events, the better they will fare.
Applied behavior analysts must have emotional maturity
At many points in time, the career of an applied behavioral analyst may demand fortress-like emotional resilience and perfect ego suppression. No matter what words or actions they may hear or see, not a single trace of personal disapproval or confirmation bias can color their analyses. Being immune to personal insults, taunts, and inflammatory speech while observing are the bare minimum requirements.
The perfect observer has a rare ability to “forget” themselves. Every trace of subjective thought must be put aside so that that all information from the eyes and years can be recorded in crystal clear definition, as this is the only way that the analyst can take the perfectly impartial notes necessary for a valid observation.
The analysts’ field observations and personal reservations must be completely and consistently separated at all times; this is not only for the sake of proper observation but also for their own sake as well. Applied behavioral analysts not only need to be able to remain steadfast during work but also capable of keeping their professional experiences from interfering with their everyday life.
However, emotional maturity goes above and beyond being able to handle unfavorable situations with grace. Here are 10 signs that someone has emotional maturity…
- Being flexible
- Taking ownership and responsibility
- Knowing that they don’t know everything
- Seeking out learning opportunities for growth
- Listening to other points of view to make decisions
- Showing resilience
- Having a calm disposition
- Believing in themselves
- Being approachable
- Having a good sense of humor
Emotional maturity is an area that can be improved upon—and it is an absolute must for someone going into the field of ABA.
Applied behavior analysts must be empathetic
Speaking of absolute musts…
Empathy is a number one personality trait of someone going into an ABA career.
Psychology Today defines empathy as the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person, animal, or fictional character. Developing empathy is crucial for establishing relationships and behaving compassionately. It involves experiencing another person’s point of view, rather than just one’s own, and enables prosocial or helping behaviors that come from within, rather than being forced.
The ability to empathize is an essential personality trait that behavioral analysts need. ABA specialists work closely with parents, teachers, and others involved in oftentimes stressful and worrisome situations. Those who naturally exhibit empathy—and those who come off genuine—can connect with their clients and patients on a deeper level. It is imperative that clients and patients feel understood and heard, and empathy is the way to go about that.
Because of how much emotional volatility they may encounter in their observations, one of the most important challenges for an applied behavioral analyst to overcome is striking the balance between being both empathetic and professionally unbiased at the same time.
Those who do not feel as if they naturally can exhibit empathy might want to look for a different career choice.
Applied behavior analysts must be curious
They say curiosity killed the cat—but not in the world of applied behavior analysis!
Curiosity is the state of wanting and needing to know more; to investigate, observe, explore, and learn. Without a curious mind, things stay stagnant.
Most individuals in a research-based field of work are naturally curious people. Behavior analysis wants to know why someone is the way they are. What makes them tick? Why do they behave in that way? What interventions will work to improve their behaviors?
An applied behavioral analyst must be incurably enthusiastic about learning more. When it comes to behavioral analysts who are truly actualized in their line of work, not even the rigorous mental demands of analysis nor the emotional strain of their observations can compare to their tenacity in the pursuit of higher understanding.
Conclusion to Great Personality Traits of an ABA Therapist
Though some of these personality traits might seem slightly contradictory at a glance, when put together, they are simply indicators of a person who has both a passion for understanding others and the capacity for highly calculative work. The ideal applied behavioral analyst is naturally philanthropic at their core, and yet still has the discipline and steadfastness to perform professionally in an environment that demands unwavering focus and emotional resilience.
Master of Education (M.Ed.) | Northeastern State University
Behavior and Learning Disorders | Georgia State University
Updated July 2021