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Overview of Keirsey's Four Temperaments

Temperament is a configuration of observable personality traits, such as habits of communication, patterns of action, and sets of characteristic attitudes, values, and talents. It also encompasses personal needs, the kinds of contributions that individuals make in the workplace, and the roles they play in society. Dr. David Keirsey has identified mankind's four basic temperaments as the Artisan, the Guardian, the Rational, and the Idealist.

Each temperament has its own unique qualities and shortcomings, strengths and challenges. What accounts for these differences? To use the idea of Temperament most effectively, it is important to understand that the four temperaments are not simply arbitrary collections of characteristics, but spring from an interaction of the two basic dimensions of human behavior: our communication and our action, our words and our deeds, or, simply, what we say and what we do.

Communication: Concrete vs. Abstract

First, people naturally think and talk about what they are interested in, and if you listen carefully to people's conversations, you find two broad but distinct areas of subject matter.

Some people talk primarily about the external, concrete world of everyday reality: facts and figures, work and play, home and family, news, sports and weather -- all the who-what-when-where-and how much's of life.

Other people talk primarily about the internal, abstract world of ideas: theories and conjectures, dreams and philosophies, beliefs and fantasies --all the why's, if's, and what-might-be's of life.

At times, of course, everyone addresses both sorts of topics, but in their daily lives, and for the most part, Concrete people talk about reality, while Abstract people talk about ideas.

Action: Utilitarian vs. Cooperative

Second, at every turn people are trying to accomplish their goals, and if you watch closely how people go about their business, you see that there are two fundamentally opposite types of action.

Some people act primarily in a utilitarian or pragmatic manner, that is, they do what gets results, what achieves their objectives as effectively or efficiently as possible, and only afterwards do they check to see if they are observing the rules or going through proper channels.

Other people act primarily in a cooperative or socially acceptable manner, that is, they try to do the right thing, in keeping with agreed upon social rules, conventions, and codes of conduct, and only later do they concern themselves with the effectiveness of their actions.

These two ways of acting can overlap, certainly, but as they lead their lives, Utilitarian people instinctively, and for the most part, do what works, while Cooperative people do what's right.

  • As Concrete Cooperators, Guardians speak mostly of their duties and responsibilities, of what they can keep an eye on and take good care of, and they're careful to obey the laws, follow the rules, and respect the rights of others.
  • As Abstract Cooperators, Idealists speak mostly of what they hope for and imagine might be possible for people, and they want to act in good conscience, always trying to reach their goals without compromising their personal code of ethics.
  • As Concrete Utilitarians, Artisans speak mostly about what they see right in front of them, about what they can get their hands on, and they will do whatever works, whatever gives them a quick, effective payoff, even if they have to bend the rules.
  • As Abstract Utilitarians, Rationals speak mostly of what new problems intrigue them and what new solutions they envision, and always pragmatic, they act as efficiently as possible to achieve their objectives, ignoring arbitrary rules and conventions if need be.
Guardians | Idealists | Artisans | Rationals

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