|Temperament is a magical model of personality. I find myself returning to it over and over again as I coach individuals.
Ironically, few people understand this model, even though many people are aware of it. It’s the greatest personality secret ever!
Temperament theory describes four organizing patterns of personality and is based in descriptions of behavior that go back over twenty-five centuries. It tells us the “why” of behavior, our motivators, and sources of deep psychological stress. Knowing our temperament patterns tells us our core needs and values as well as the talents we are more likely to be drawn to develop. How useful is that knowledge?
History of the Four Temperaments
Throughout the ages, observers of human behavior have repeatedly identified four major patterns or configurations of behavior.
In 450 B.C., Hippocrates described four dispositions he called temperaments—a choleric temperament with an ease of emotional arousal and sensitivity; a phlegmatic temperament with cool detachment and impassivity; a melancholic temperament with a very serious, dour, and downcast nature; and a sanguine temperament full of impulsivity, excitability, and quick reactivity. During the Middle Ages, Philippus Paracelsus likewise described four natures whose behaviors were said to be influenced by four kinds of spirits: nymphs, sylphs, gnomes, and salamanders.
Most twentieth-century psychologists abandoned a holistic observation of human behavior for a microscopic examination of parts, fragments, traits, and so on. To them, all human beings were basically alike, and individual differences were due to chance or conditioning.
A modern psychologist, David Keirsey, noted common themes in these various observations and the consistent tendency of human behavior to sort itself into four major patterns. These four patterns are referred to as temperaments. They describe the ways human personality interacts with the environment to satisfy its needs. Linda Berens expands our understanding of these four temperaments by identifying the core needs, values, talents, and behaviors of the four temperament patterns.