Types, Temperaments and Personalities–Oh My!

May 22, 2009 (Updated Jun 29, 2019) by — Intended Audience: .

Lions, Tigers and Bears, Tin Woodman, Dorothy and Scarecrow from the Wizard of OzWorking to make sense out of our own personality and the personalities of those around us can be very helpful. Let’s face it–people are complicated! And with an array of personality, type and temperament instruments available it can be just as daunting to decide on which model to use as it can be to figure out how to understand someone you care about. In this post I’ll share some of my journey down the road of types, personalities and temperaments.1

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I grew up with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)2 and have moved on to adopt the Four Temperaments. For decades my father (Bob Slevin) has worked heavily with the MBTI in his consulting business. He uses it in his workshops, trainings and coaching sessions in order to help managers better understand themselves, their colleagues, their superiors, and their employees (and hopefully help them all to work better together!). I took the MBTI for the first time in early high school and by the time I started college I had conversations with my father and others about it and occasionally tried to use it to make sense out of my own personality as well as the personalities of those around me.

The MBTI is fairly widely used and well known. If you have taken a formal personality test or two you have probably taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. In addition to its prevalence I also appreciate how the MBTI brings out a decent level of detail about an individual’s type (or personality). It gives a fuller picture of personality than a mere extroversion/introversion scale could, but it is not so detailed as to require a large investment of time and energy to take the test and to interpret the results, as is the case with some tests (especially those that are also testing for personality disorders).

My primary complaint with the Myers-Briggs has always been that I find it difficult to keep track of all of the dimensions and how they translate to into observable differences in those I relate to. I do fine with keeping track of my own “type” (or personality), but I find the number of categories (eight) to be a little cumbersome to work with as I relate with others and wonder to myself about how they might be wired. In defense of the MBTI, I believe it was originally developed more for the individual to use to understand themself, than for use in understanding others in everyday relationships. I’ll also add that there are those (e.g., my father) who have found the MBTI to be very usable and have utilized it with others with great success. Nonetheless, the MBTI has not clicked with me in the way that I would like for everyday use.

This brings me to the Four Temperaments, which is the model I have settled on and become proficient with over the past 5+ years. I was first exposed to the Temperaments through a book that I borrowed from our church library: Your Personality Tree, by Florence Littauer.3 One of the things that quickly intrigued me about the Four Temperaments is its long history. This 4-category model dates back to ancient times when it was hypothesized that a person’s mood, or personality, was determined by the presence or absence of four fluids in the body (blood, phlegm, and yellow and black bile).

Though different words have been used for the four personality categories, and the bodily fluid aspects have been abandoned, the model itself has persisted over time. I utilize the classical category names (in part because those are what was originally introduced to me): Choleric, Sanguine, Phlegmatic, and Melancholy. You might be familiar with this model under different terminology, such as: Dominance, Influencing, Steadiness/Supportiveness, Compliance/Cautious (DISC); Lion, Otter, Golden Retriever, Beaver (Smalley & Trent)4.

I intend to cover the Four Temperaments more in depth in subsequent posts, but I will go ahead and list several things that I really like about this model:

  1. I find it very easy to remember, work with and apply.
  2. Arranging the Four Temperaments in a box, and understanding how they relate to each other, makes understanding differences between personalities much easier to grasp and apply to one’s relationships.
  3. Understanding some additional nuances and principles enables one to “drill down” to a similar level of detail as the Meyers-Briggs.

All of the above makes it much more practical, in my opinion, for every day relationships because you can quickly begin forming hypotheses about yourself or others with very little information and then fill out the picture as you go. Thus you can work with the model at a broad level or at a more detailed level depending on how much you are trying to understand someone and how much information you’ve gathered. Consequently you can begin relating with them (or yourself, as the case may be) differently much earlier and get the benefits of relating and having your own and the others personality in mind.


  1. Image from The Wizard of Oz, Amazon Link 
  2. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Website 
  3. Your Personality Tree, ISBN: 0-8499-3169-X, Amazon Link 
  4. The Treasure Tree: Helping Kids Understand Their Personality Amazon Link 

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