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Four Temperaments Explained: Sanguine vs Choleric vs Melancholic vs Phlegmatic Personality Types

Before the advent of modern medicine, it was believed that there were fundamentally four major personality types: sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic. These personality types were attributed to four “humours,” or fluids, present in the body, which could present as a mood or personality when present in a particular balance. In a way, this form of “science” was the forerunner to many of our present-day personality tests, since parallels can be drawn back to these four types.

Sanguine Temperament

#1 Lives in the Present, Impulsive and Intense Emotions
The sanguine temperament is the life of the party. They are highly outgoing individuals, knowing very few personal boundaries. They wear their heart on their sleeve, never afraid to show what they are really feeling. It may seem like they are moody or prone to emotional swings, but they are simply open and honest with others.

A sanguine person is always living in the moment. They are always “present” and rarely have trouble with their minds wandering to other places. They are also easily drawn in by new experiences – if something seems fun or new or exciting, they will drop everything in order to try it.

#2 Is Very Outgoing, Talkative and Expressive
If you prefer quiet and solitude, don’t strike up a conversation with a sanguine person. They are highly extroverted, thriving off of social energy. While some may view them as chatty, they are simply interested in a great conversation and want to share that joy with others.

When they do talk, sanguine people have no trouble expressing themselves. They will always shoot straight – which may be off-putting for some, but provides a refreshing dose of honesty which others will appreciate.

#3 Likes Attention, Gifts and Reassurance
The sanguine temperament likes to be the center of attention. They want others to notice them, and they are not above acting out in order to get that attention. For this reason, those who possess this personality type would make natural performers, athletes, musicians – any profession that involves constantly being in front of people.

They also have a deep need to be recognized and for their feelings to be validated. Remember that a sanguine person is going to be highly expressive, but also remember that they are not simply speaking to fill the silence. They want you to hear and understand them, to validate what they feel, to show your appreciation for their contributions, and to make them feel loved and noticed.

#4 Is an Optimist
A sanguine person has never met a stranger. They never (or very rarely) have bad days, and their glass is always half full. This is because they are naturally optimistic, innately sensing the good in every situation.

It can be very helpful to have someone like this as a coworker or teammate. When morale is low, count on your sanguine friend to come in and give everyone a much-needed energy boost. Their boundless energy keeps them afloat, and they also want to share that positivity with those around them.

#5 Is a Great Communicator
Coupled with their usual expressiveness is a gift for communicating. Sanguine people have less of a filter than most, so you never have to wonder what is on their minds.

This can get sanguine people in trouble sometimes, but with practice and maturity, they can use their openness to their advantage. As leaders, they can clearly communicate at a moment’s notice, making them great messengers who can provide a clear picture without confusing their audience. They are also light on their feet when faced with a barrage of questions or conversations, which can be helpful in a crisis situation.

#6 Looks for Pleasure and Likes to Laugh
A sanguine person can find enjoyment in nearly anything because they naturally look for happiness and joy. They want to experience life and light and humor and good tastes and good friends and good times. They are the first ones to laugh at a joke, then the first ones to come up with the follow-up joke.

In this way, it can be hard for them to be critical of something, because they will always find a silver lining or some redeeming quality. This can be beneficial in certain situations, but maybe not when you want to assess “pros” and “cons” because all they can give you is “pros.” A healthy dose of realism can balance out input from this kind of person.

#7 Has High Self-Esteem
Because they handle social situations with ease and automatically assume the best in everything and everyone, a sanguine person is highly confident and has great self-esteem. Even though they will still seek external validation, their own internal compass is usually enough to guide them.

Not only can they see the positives in others, they also see the positives in themselves, so their self-image is generally high. They don’t bog themselves down with negative introspection, instead choosing to free their minds for fun new experiences.

Choleric Temperament

#1 Is a Leadership-Oriented Extrovert
A person with a choleric temperament is a natural-born leader. They know what needs to be done, they do it, and they also do their best to rally others along the way. Their dynamic and winsome personalities are usually successful in persuading others to get behind their vision and drive for action.

A choleric person does not do well sitting idle; they need to be active, preferable facing some kind of challenge or puzzle. They want a problem to solve, and need some sort of goal to reach, even if they have to make one up on their own.

#2 Is Competitive
The need to “win” makes a choleric person highly competitive. Not only do they need to solve puzzles and rise to meet challenges, they also have to be better than everyone else. Coming out on top is of paramount importance; there are no points for second place for a choleric person.

In addition to needing to be the winner, they also need to be right. Whatever morals or ethics they hold to are not up for negotiation: when they believe they have the right answer, regardless of truth or facts, they will doggedly hold to their point of view. It can be very difficult to change a choleric person’s mind, which can make them seem obstinate or stubborn.

#3 Gets Energy from Interacting with People
Choleric people also get energy from interacting with others. While a sanguine person is a social creature simply looking for happiness, choleric people see a social or business gathering as simply another puzzle. They are constantly on the lookout for the power players in the room, taking copious mental notes to refer to later. They are often genuinely interested in their conversations with others, but never view friendship as simply surface-level. They draw energy from it, always looking for the next great topic to talk about, or a new connection to keep handy for the future.

#4 Uses Logic and Facts
Not only do choleric people love to solve problems, they’re really good at it too. In addition to being visionary and seeing the big picture, they can also drill down into the smallest details. Nothing escapes the watchful eye of a choleric personality.

Their work is defined by process. Everything has its rightful place in a system at work, and they are the ones who will follow every direction in the instruction manual before beginning. They tend to follow a very linear progression, refusing to skip ahead until they have fully completed the first step.

#5 Is a Quick Thinker
Despite their measured and methodical approach, choleric people are very light on their feet and quick to think a problem through. Their minds automatically enter analysis mode when an issue presents itself, and it seems like they are looking at every angle simultaneously to arrive at the best course of action.

This can be a great asset in a consultant, engineer, or designer. If you can see how all the pieces fit together quickly, you can then build out your plan of action and finish more quickly – which also serves your need to win and be successful.

#6 Is Prideful
Choleric people also have a healthy self-esteem, but this can sometimes border on being prideful. This can have positive and negative aspects.

On the plus side, they typically have a very thick skin; because they are inclined to think they are right, criticism won’t hit them as hard as others. They will act like they have no fear, and their confidence can make you think twice before attacking them in any way.

On the other hand, their need to win any argument may cause them to lash out or overpower you in conversation. Their pride may also have its roots in a deep-seated fear of being wrong, so they might overcompensate by acting like they are invincible.

#7 Can Be a Bully
A choleric person’s most precious possession is their own ego. This does not have to be full-blown narcissism, but it can show itself in slightly offensive or harmful ways. They may try to find some way to blame others for their own mistakes in order to cover their failures, or impose their will in a domineering way over others. They may also use double standards to justify their own actions while condemning others for doing the very same thing.

While it can be difficult to deal with someone with this personality type, do not succumb to using their own tactics against them. Be warned: they are likely going to be much better at arguments than you!

Melancholic Temperament

#1 Is a Perfectionist
A “perfectionist” is the ideal word to describe the melancholic personality type. They need to be objectively right and will not stop until they have gotten everything correct and in order. They set very high standards for themselves, and also expect everyone else to fall in line. This can cause frustration when people do not live up to their expectations, but since they want to maintain a cool demeanor, they can keep their anger pent up.

#2 Is Logical and Organized
Like a choleric person, the melancholic person is a deep thinker; but while a choleric person will try to make the facts suit their positions, melancholic people see things as they are.

They are highly focused on the details and are adept at seeing how different scenarios will play out. They are excellent at long-term planning, while also taking whatever steps are necessary to ensure that the current project is completed well. They can sometimes get lost in thought pondering every possible outcome or thinking through minutiae; but despite their apparent disconnectedness, they are simply putting forth their best effort.

#3 Can Be Moody
Melancholic individuals are highly emotional; this is, in fact, the most emotional of the four personality types. Their highs are high, and their lows are low, but it may appear as if nothing rattles them on the surface. That is because they will usually try to keep their feelings hidden, whether good or bad. They do not want to let anyone down with what they are feeling, and so they will keep things bottled up until they build up enough pressure to be released in an outburst. This can serve them well when such feelings are patiently held until the right time, but they may let their emotions get the best of them.

They may have trouble expressing themselves with words, instead choosing to show their feelings through actions.

#4 Is Creative
When you need an innovative problem solver, go to a melancholic person. They will often find a solution that no one else would think of. They love working outside the box in their work, with their hobbies, and even in their relationships.

This unorthodox approach may seem scatterbrained, but it is simply their way of finding the best way to make things better. When they allow themselves to use this inclination for creativity, they can be prolific in art or music as an expression of their need to find beauty in order.

#5 Is Focused on the Right Solution
Melancholic people want to do their very best, but they also want to be right. If you have a repetitive task that you find tedious, give it to a melancholic person. They thrive on routine, discrete processes, and clear directions. It becomes a game for them, trying to make each repetition better than the last.

This powerful self-motivation is useful in work and school. They rarely have to be reminded of deadlines or requirements, instead striving to reach the goal as quickly and efficiently as possible.

#6 Is Risk-Averse
This comfort with routine can make them fearful of the unexpected. A melancholic person sees purpose and order in most things, so wildcards can make them confused or uncomfortable. They typically keep to a strict schedule, maybe doing the same activities or eating the same foods. This may seem like dull monotony, but this can simplify some aspects of their life so their brainpower can be freed up in order to solve other problems.

They will also be more cautious than others, going with a safer bet instead of taking a risk. They will usually take the path with the most known facts, skipping over options with too many unknown variables.

#7 Is Cautious and Can Be Slow
A melancholic person is cautious by nature, always following every rule and cringing at attempts to forge a new path. Because of this, they can be slow to adopt new systems or adapt to new leadership or environments. Be patient and give them time and space to learn the changes they will need to adapt to.

Phlegmatic Temperament

#1 Is a Peacemaker Who Values Harmony
The phlegmatic temperament is the most stable of the four personality types. They find a natural equilibrium with their life, their environment, and the people around them.

This expresses itself in a peacemaker mentality. They will actively try to deescalate arguments or disagreements, trying to establish a feeling of harmony and mutual respect. If the balance around them is upset in any way, they will naturally try to restore it.

#2 Is an Introvert
A phlegmatic person is usually an introvert. They do not gain joy from social gatherings; in fact, interacting with others drains them of their energy, making them tired. The ideal remedy is time to recharge alone. They are not antisocial, but they need time to process what they have experienced.

They will have and will develop relationships with others, which sometimes will be deeper with more emotional investment than you would get from another personality type. However, they will also need time to themselves to restore their own equilibrium.

#3 Has Strong Fact-Gathering and Classification Abilities
Phelgmatic people find system and order everywhere. It is very easy to make general assumptions based on the facts, and they will naturally classify things in order to make sense of them. They will be sure to gather as many facts as possible first, but they will also try to assign some meaning or classification in order to make sense of something.

#4 Tends to Be Conservative and Practical
Phelgmatic people are not flashy, but choose practical options. They much prefer function over form, seeking things that provide the greatest use rather than simple amusement or pleasure. They know what works for them and are happy with their own choices.

Like melancholic people, they are also averse to risk-taking. Not only do risks put them under greater social pressure, they lose energy by trying to assimilate to new ideas or surroundings. When they do make a choice based on personal preferences, comfort and dependability are of the utmost importance.

#5 Likes to Follow, Not Lead, and Be Supportive and Passive
A phlegmatic person will never seek out the spotlight; they never want attention focused on them. They are perfectly happy to operate behind the scenes, instead preferring that their accomplishments speak for themselves.

They are loyal spectators, content to stay on the sidelines rather than join in. When they do participate, they never assume a leadership role; if they must do anything, it will be in support of the team as a whole or taking an unassuming back seat to the bolder personality types.

#6 Is Cool, Calm and Easygoing
The balance and steadiness of phlegmatic individuals make them naturally easygoing, willing to follow the crowd rather than stand out in front. This may make them seem aloof or uninterested, but they simply want everyone to be happy and wouldn’t dare try to rock the boat by disagreeing with others.

Their aversion to risk in social situations may make them slow to enter into a relationship with someone. However, once they reach a comfort level with someone, they can return to that person with greater ease over time.

#7 Is Complacent and Generally Not Self-Motivated
Because they do not like confrontation and do not seek the spotlight, they can lack the motivation to reach great achievements. They do not typically present with high levels of energy or emotion, which can make them seem lethargic or disinterested. Remember that they are drained by social interaction; leaving them alone is not harsh treatment for them, but rather it is understanding what they need to be satisfied.

They also may not be the most engaged in their friendships or personal relationships. Their pursuit of harmony may make them complacent and willing to accept the average over the outstanding. They will need to work on this issue in order to invest in the most important relationships in their lives.

Conclusion

Ancient Greek philosophers believed that the balance of these four personality types was present in everyone, and we can still see today that these basic personality traits are present in each of us at different moments in our lives. However, we can probably identify with at least one of these temperaments more than the others.

As long as we can be honest about the strengths and weaknesses we have, we can improve ourselves and become better friends, coworkers, and people in the process.

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