Who you are, how you got that way, and how to live with others who aren't like you.


I. Temperament defined

Your temperament is like an artist's canvas. It is your basic inherited style. It is the fabric underlying who you are. Generally speaking, two of the basic temperament types are outgoing or extroverted and two are more inward directed or introverted. This varies based on temperament blend and our individual personality development.

II. Personality defined

Your personality is like the painting on the canvas. It is what you have built on top of your temperament. Two people with like temperament may be very different in actual behavior. Factors that affect personality include socialization, education, birth order, siblings or lack of siblings, and interpersonal pressures will cause us to adapt and change our behaviors.

III. Why study temperament?

Understanding temperament - your own and others - make you much better equipped to handle interpersonal relationships successfully. Studying your own temperament helps you understand your strengths and weaknesses and why you do some of the things you do. Understanding another's temperament can help you adapt your communication to theirs or, at the least, understand why you have problems with them.

IV. The four "types"

Why four? Why not forty? There are more than four kinds of people, aren't there? Of course, but everyone from the ancients to modern psychologists find that people can be grouped into four basic types of personality. These are:

A. Sanguine

1. Influencing of others, SP - Artisan - The Sanguine is receptive by nature and outgoing. He is usually called a 'super-extrovert'. This temperament is usually thought of as a "natural salesman" but they also tend to enter professions that are outgoing such as acting.

He "leads into a room with his mouth" and is never at a loss for words. His outgoing nature makes him the envy of more timid temperament types. He is most comfortable around people and does not like being alone. He is often known as a "toucher"; reaching out and touching the arm or shoulder of the person he is talking with. This can make more introverted temperaments nervous and uncomfortable.

His energy can make him seem more confident than he actually is and his cheery disposition often cause others to excuse his weaknesses by saying, "That's just how he is". The sanguine is mostly a happy person whom others are glad to have around.

The weakness of the sanguine include a lack of discipline which can be expressed in many ways - including a generally "messy" lifestyle or overeating. The sanguine is the most emotional of the temperaments and can burst into tears or a rage without warning. These "bursts" are usually over as fast as they occur but this lack of emotional consistency can affect other areas of his life. He may be "morally flexible" and may take advantage of others via his good nature.

A sanguine's tremendous personal talents can be made or broken by his lack of self-discipline.

B. Choleric

1. Decisive, NT - Rational - The choleric is the most forceful and active of the four types. He is strong-willed and independent and opinionated. The choleric thrives on activity. He is the most practical and makes sound, quick decisions. He is not afraid of obstacles and tends to drive right through or over problems. He is probably the strongest natural leader of the four types. He has the most problem with anger and does not display compassion easily. He is quick to recognize opportunities and quick to capitalize on them - though details irritate him and, unless he learns to delegate, he will often gloss over details. His strong will and determination may drive him to succeed where more gifted people give up.

The choleric is a developer and may be seen in construction supervision or coaching or law enforcement. Most entrepreneurs are choleric. Because of their impatience they often end up doing everything themselves. A choleric is extremely goal/task oriented in leading others. His biggest weakness as a leader is a tendency to run right over people if he feels they are in his way. He assumes that approval and encouragement will lead others to slack off and he probably finds criticism and faultfinding more useful for his purposes. Through his natural determination he may succeed where others may give up.

A choleric's weaknesses include anger and hostility. A choleric is the most likely to have an active temper; he is a door slammer and horn blower and he can carry a grudge for a long time. This includes a cutting and sarcastic tongue and the choleric will rarely hesitate to tell someone off. The choleric is the least likely to show affection or any public show of emotion. His emotions are the lease developed of all the temperaments. Additionally a choleric can be inconsiderate, opinionated and crafty in getting their own way.

C. Melancholy

1. Conscientious, SJ - Guardian - The melancholy is an introverted temperament type. His natural style is analytical and perfectionist. He is the most moody of types ranging from highly "up" to gloomy and depressed. During his low periods he can be very antagonistic and does not make friends easily. He is the most dependable of the temperaments due to his perfectionist tendencies. His analytical ability allows him to accurately diagnose obstacles and problems, which often keep him from making changes - he prefers the status quo and may seem overly pessimistic.

He may choose a difficult life vocation involving personal sacrifice. Many melancholies become doctors or scientists or artists. Their interpersonal style can be critical and negative. He tends to be more indecisive than other types. They have difficulty giving praise and approval because they cannot bring themselves to say something that is not 100% true. They also are usually dissatisfied with themselves being highly self-critical.

Other weaknesses include being "thin skinned" or touchy and easily offended. He often feels persecuted and may seek revenge for real or imagined insults. He tends to be "all or nothing" in his evaluation of things; everything must be black or white and no shades of gray. He is least likely to consider mitigating circumstances when evaluating a person or situation. No temperament is more likely to be legalistic and rigid. He can be intolerant and impatient with those who do not see things his way.

D. Phlegmatic

1. Steady, NF - Idealist - the phlegmatic is best characterized by the words "easy going". He is the calm and steady person who is not easily disturbed. He is the easiest temperament type to get along with. Life for him is happy, unexcited and calm. Underneath the calm exterior, the phlegmatic is the most timid temperament type. He often uses humor to make his points. The phlegmatic is more an observer and does not involve himself in the activities of others.

Phlegmatics make excellent teachers, counselors and administrators. They are very dependable and organized and, while they never volunteer, they make good group leaders.

The weakness of a phlegmatic include lack of motivation or even laziness; they appear to lack drive and ambition. A phlegmatic needs to realize that he is not internally motivated and take up activities that force him into action. The phlegmatic is self-protective and may be selfish. He is often very stubborn, though it is hidden beneath his mild-mannered style. He is also the most fearful of temperaments.

After defining each temperament in "black and white" we must look realize that no one is completely one temperament type. Each of us is a blend of usually two and occasionally 3 types. One temperament type is dominant and one is secondary. And don't forget that training, lifestyle, upbringing and other circumstances may have forced an individual to function "off style". The saddest people I have seen are those who have "put on" a style that is not theirs naturally for so long that it has become a habitual way of life

V. The sixteen "combinations"

A. SanChlor (ID) is the strongest extrovert of all the blends because both primary types are extroverted. They are people-oriented and enthusiastic but with the resolutions of the choleric tempering the lack of organization of the Sanguine. He is almost always a sports enthusiast and is ideal in sales. He can talk too much and can be obnoxious if threatened. The forgetfulness of the sanguine and the caustic nature of the choleric may make them hurtful without realizing it.

B. SanMel (IC) are highly emotional people whose moods can fluctuate from highs to lows and back again quickly. The sanguine outgoing nature often allows the melancholy's critical nature "out" too easily. It is very easy for a sanmel to "get down" on themselves and, to realize their potential, it is best if they work with others.

C. SanPhleg (IS) The overpowering outgoing nature of the sanguine is tempered by the gracious phlegmatic. These are extremely happy and carefree individuals who live to help people. They would not purposely hurt anyone but they must fight a lack of workplace motivation - they would rather visit than work.

D. ChlorSan (DI) The second strongest extrovert is an active and purposeful individual. He is almost fearless and has high levels of energy. Whatever his profession, his brain is always active and engaged. His weaknesses combine the quick anger of the sanguine with the resentment of the choleric. He gets AND gives ulcers. He may leave people, including spouse and children, shell-shocked and resentful of their angry outbursts.

E. ChlorMel (DC) The choleric/melancholy is very industrious and capable. He is both industrious and detailed. He combines verbal aggressiveness with sharp attention to detail. He is very competitive and forceful. He can be autocratic and opinionated with work habits that keep after details until the job is completely finished. He finds interpersonal relationships difficult due to the hard-to-please nature of the choleric and the perfectionism nature of the melancholy.

F. ChlorPhleg (DS) is the most subdued of the outgoing temperaments. He is extremely capable in the long run though he may not impress you that way at first. He is organized and a good planner. He often gets more accomplished than other temperaments because he always thinks in terms of enlisting others to help him. His weaknesses include a tendency to quietly harbor bitterness rather than letting it out like a chlormeg might. Acknowledging weaknesses is difficult for him and he tends to worry about his performance in life activities.

G. MelSan (CI) the detailed and organized melancholy is tempered by the outgoing and warm sanguine. He makes an excellent teacher as his organized side is well versed in the facts and his sanguine side makes him enjoyable to attend to. If he goes into sales it will be sales that calls for exacting detail and the presentation of many facts. He is an emotional person - from being moved to tears to being critical and hard on others. Both temperaments can be fearful which may make this an insecure person with a poor self image.

H. MelChlor (CD) is both a perfectionist and a driver which may lead him into the law or medicine. They mix decisiveness and determination. Because of the critical nature of the melancholy they may be very difficult to please. If they become negative about someone or something it will have a tendency to stay with them for a long time. Their combination can lead them to "nit-pick" others and be revengeful to those they have a grudge against.

I. MelPhleg (CS) are often teachers and scholars. They are not as prone to hostility as other melancholy blends and combine analysis with organization. They make excellent accountants and bookkeepers. Unfortunately he can become easily discouraged and may be susceptible to fear and anxiety. They may become uncooperative because of stubborn, rigid tendencies.

J. PhlegSan (SI) is the easiest to get along with being congenial, happy, and people-oriented. They make excellent administrators and other jobs that involve getting along with people. He may lack motivation and discipline and may fall short of his true capabilities. He may "putter around" for years without making progress.

K. PhlegChlor (SD) This is the most active of the introverts but he'll never be a ball of fire. He can be an excellent counselor because he is an active listener. He is practical and helpful and patient. He may lack motivation and may become stubborn if threatened. He may also have a tendency toward being sedentary and passive. He needs to be around other people as he is externally motivated.

L. PhlegMel (SC) is gracious and quiet, does the proper thing and is dependable. He wobbles between patience and criticism and may tend toward negativism. They can be afraid of overextending themselves so may avoid involvement in a group.

VI. Other factors that shape personality

Just as no one is only one temperament or an exact blend of two types, there are a multitude of other factors that affect a person's behavior. The percentage of blend may be any combination of percentages making them more one type than another.

A choleric raised in the northeast US may exhibit different behavior than one raised in the Deep South due to cultural differences.

Childhood experiences and parenting will cause differences. A Phlegmatic father may behave differently in raising a child than a melancholy one thereby causing the child to value different behaviors.

A person's level of education and training may affect behavior as will a person's level of physical health. A healthy phlegchol may seem more outgoing and aggressive than a choleric with health problems.

In certain individuals there may be parts of three temperament types blended together. While rare, it does happen and makes it more difficult for the person to get a clear picture of their type.

VII. How to use temperament to your advantage

A. Know yourself - knowing your temperament blend can be an "eye-opening" experience. It may help explain why you do certain things and why you don't get along with certain others. Use your knowledge of temperament to guide you in choosing vocations, affiliations, and friendships.

B. Get along with others - learning how to spot the temperament of others is invaluable. It take practice but once you can spot a choleric you know not to try and be "chatty" with them. If you spot a phlegmatic you may understand why they seem quiet and reserved.

C. Work life - This is a key area of understanding temperament. There are so many people in life who are in jobs that do not match their temperament. A sangphleg may not make a good surgeon. A cholmel probably wouldn't be happy teaching kindergartners. Tests of temperament often include suggestions concerning career choices.

D. Relationships - another key area. Cholerics get impatient with sanguines. Melancholies think that phlegmatics "just don't care" about details. And in marriage we more often than not see opposite temperaments together. This can help each individual grow and develop or it can cause anger, resentment and separation. Understanding your temperament and your child's can affect parenting style. A melancholy child needs structure, organization and reassurance. A choleric child needs a big backyard and a large dog to take care of. A phlegmatic mother needs to be firm with a sanguine child.


A. Can you change your personality? You cannot change your basic temperament styles but you can influence your behaviors and thereby your personality. The biggest mistake I've seen is someone who has "put on" behaviors that were not theirs' naturally until it has become habitual. It is almost always obvious and often painful. An example is a phlegmatic who felt is necessary to put on an outgoing sanguine style for so many years that it has become a habit; however it is clear that this is not their natural way of being.

B. Can you change someone else's personality? If you can't change you own, it is clear that you can't change someone else's but that won't stop most of us from trying. This is an special problem in marriage and child raising if the spouse or parent thinks the other person can be "improved" on. In Dicken's David Copperfield, Mr. Murdstone and his sister fatally try to impress their choleric nature on sanguine Mrs. Copperfield. Husbands and wives who think they will change their spouse may affect some behavior changes and think they have "changed" them. Changes are only fully implemented when they come from within the person and then they will still be in line with their basic temperament style.

C. Why do people so often marry opposite temperament? The first person to find out the underlying answer to this one will retire wealthy. Seriously, what attracts us to another person? Often it is the strengths we see in them that we do not have temperamentally. A choleric woman may appreciate the easygoing nature of the phlegmatic. A disorganized Sanguine appreciates the orderly manner of a melancholy. Unfortunately, over time, we realize that our natural strengths are usually their natural weaknesses which can cause friction or even a feeling of betrayal; that is, "if he really loved me, he wouldn't be so disorganized, or angry, or rigid".

D. Why do different temperament types irritate us? Again, it's usually a matter of strengths and weaknesses. A straightforward choleric is irritated by a highly verbal sanguine. A highly organized melancholy finds a phlegmatic's laid back nature to go "against their grain". The phlegmatic is the most likely to ignore these irritations. The choleric is the most likely to bring them out in the open.

E. Is one temperament "better" than another? Each of us is who we are - we were made that way based on inherited temperament characteristics. Each temperament type at some time thinks another type is "better" but that feeling is usually related to something they admire in that person that they cannot do easily. So a quiet phlegmatic envies the sanguines easy outgoing manner and the disorganized sanguine may envy the melancholy's natural organization. Each type is better at some things and worse at others. The trick is to match the personality to the situation - which very rarely happens in normal life.

F. How does knowing my temperament help me? "Why do I do the things I do?" is a question many of us have asked ourselves at one time or another. Temperament study gives us insight into some of those "whys". A choleric with a quick temper, the talkative sanguine, or the organized melancholy now have an underlying reason for behavior. The trick is not to let temperament become an excuse for negative behavior.

G. What jobs are best for each temperament type? Again there are many other factors to consider but in general cholerics make good leaders (managers or executives) if they can control their tendency to criticize and get angry. Sanguines make good teachers if they can keep themselves organized. Phlegmatics make good counselors or pastors; anywhere where noncritical listening and relating can be helpful. Melancholies are good anywhere organization is important including the law and medical professions. Cholerics don't like jobs where easygoing relating to others is important. Phlegmatics don't care for jobs where they must be outgoing and talkative. Melancholies detest jobs where they have little control over their circumstances and sanguines don't like jobs where they must work alone for periods of time.

H. Help! I'm not just a blend of two types - I can see traits of three! This is where temperament tests can be useful as well as talking with someone familiar with temperament theory. If we inherit temperament then it's certainly possible to inherit a blend of three temperament types.

I. What are quick "cues" that I can use to "read" a person's temperament? Again, the phlegmatic will be calm, quiet and easygoing. The melancholy will be precise, analytical and critical in conversation. A sanguine will always be the most verbal and will often be a "toucher". The choleric will be straightforward, even abrupt and most easily angered.

J. I hate my job! Is that a temperament thing? If you dislike the job because it doesn't "fit" your type, then yes it may be temperament related. List those things you dislike about the job (i.e. relationships, tasks, etc., NOT "it doesn't pay enough".) and compare them to your temperamental strengths and weaknesses. This should give you insight into whether or not your job dislike is temperamental.

K. I love my husband (wife, child) but I can't stand certain traits. How can I change them? Again, you cannot change a person's temperament type any more than you can change their eye color. Real change comes when a person sees the need to change and not before. Externally forced change is never real and can cause unhappiness and friction. Encourage the other's natural strengths and discourage their natural weaknesses. Realize that you may cause the same feelings in others that do not have your temperament.

L. How do the different temperament systems match up? Am I a choleric, a "D", or an "SJ"? There are many different "systems" of temperament classification. There are even those that compare a temperament to different animals. The three most common systems include the one used here - choleric, sanguine, melancholy and phlegmatic, as well as the Meyers-Briggs Temperament Indicator which uses sixteen combinations of traits and includes the Guardian, Artisan, Rational, and idealist. The DiSC system is similar to the first system where the Decisive is the choleric, the influencer is the Sanguine, the Steady is the phlegmatic and the Conscientious is the Melancholy.

M. Is my temperament my personality? Or the other way round? What's the difference? Temperament is the canvas, personality is the painting. The temperament is the foundation, personality is the building. Taking your basic temperament, you add life experience, culture, education, and upbringing to form your personality.

N. How do the temperaments relate to a person's anger and fear? Everyone experiences fear and anger. The phlegmatic experiences the most fear and the choleric the most anger. The melancholy fears being out of control of situations and the Sanguine has quick, hot flashes of anger that pass as quickly as they start.

O. Do men and women's temperaments differ substantially? Temperament is temperament. There are choleric men and choleric women. There are sanguine women and sanguine men. Gender is only one of many environmental factors that influence behavior. Others include upbringing, culture, education, etc.

P. If I can't change my temperament, then what good is it to know about it? Understanding temperament has many benefits such as understanding others better or being able to communicate more easily with temperament types that are different from yours. But while you cannot change your temperament type, all of us CAN change our behaviors. Knowing your temperamental weaknesses can help you reduce their impact on your life. Knowing your temperamental strengths can help you release them more into your everyday life. Feed your strengths and starve your weaknesses. Understand how your temperament impacts other types of individuals and adapt accordingly.

Author's Bio: 

Hal Warfield is a Personal Coach, speaker and teacher. Email
address is warfield@midsouth.rr.com.