We’ve all been there. You’re at a movie, trying to enjoy your popcorn and a good flick. The room goes dark and it’s perfectly quiet as words on a blackened screen begin to tell you the timeframe and setting of the movie. Just then, like lightning cracking, some idiot begins opening the tinfoil-like packaging on his candy. Ok, understandable....annoying, but understandable. A normal human being would only take about 5 seconds to open a candy wrapper, but sadly, that is not the case in this movie theater. The invisible menace behind you spends what seems like an hour making the horrifically distracting noise.
As if that’s not enough, he begins eating the candy, if “eating” is even the word. He smashes and destroys the candy viciously between his mighty jaws, all the while keeping his mouth wide open so the sound of the carnage booms through all of eternity. As he smacks in your ear, you wonder what went wrong with this man’s childhood? Was he abandoned on the doorstep of the fire department and then found by wolves before firemen could come to rescue him? Did he escape from the confines of North Korea as a boy? Was he involved in a shipwreck, leaving him stranded for months floating atop the ocean in a dingy with a giant tiger on board? How does a person remain so clueless as to how he’s severely hampering the cinematic experience of the people around him? This is a classic case of the person who lacks Self Awareness.
Self awareness is arguably one of the best advantage qualities that a person can have. When we know where we are and what we are lacking, it’s easy to see where we can improve. Conversely, if we are unaware of our current state, then our efforts at self-improvement would essentially be nothing more than shots fired in the dark. We have all gone through situations where we overvalued our contributions. Usually this is a result of our youth. When I look back on some of the stupid stuff that I’ve done, I cringe. I cringe because I’ve grown up and matured past the person I used to be. When I was a child, I acted like a child. Now, as a man, I’m committed to an effort to become a better version of myself every day. This effort must start with the understanding of the default state. We all default to different states. Some people are naturally more aggressive. Some keep their cool with little effort and let the problems of the world just wash over them. Others are loud and boisterous, commanding every room they enter. While others still are deep thinking, quiet and reflective, extracting truths from daily happenings in an effort to create. We are all different and that difference is where our beauty, as a species, lies. It should certainly be celebrated, but first it must be understood.
There have been many personality tests published over the centuries to better understand our natural default state. In the past few decades, it has become an essential part of any graduate program. These tests have many classifications and blends of classifications, and are quite intricate and difficult to understand. First let’s explore the simplest form of personality classifications described by the Greek physician Hippocrates as the Four Temperaments.
While this wisdom comes to us from 400 BC, it does a beautiful job of illustrating personality traits from an observational level while also illustrating certain downfalls that can be associated with potential unchecked strength (Hubris). As you read this, I invite you to think about which of these is your default state. Of course, you will see similar aspects of yourself in all of them, as we are all somewhat balanced. Given the proper social structure and situational context, we can rise up to the challenge of adapting our behavior to that which is required. But don’t be too concerned with that right now. Rather, think about what you are when you have the choice, what you are when nobody's watching, and what you are when you are not thinking about what you should be.
The Choleric person is one who dots his lower case j’s. They are usually more
organized than others and prefer others to be similar to them in this regard. They tend to be ambitious and passionate, believing that their way is more than likely the better way, so there is no need to see how others have done it in the past. This is not to say that they are impractical. Rather, they’re confident in their ability to plan and solve problems and have a strong history of being right. They can most certainly delegate, but strong oversight is necessary for the best result. Their leadership quality and assertiveness can serve them well in an emergency as long as there is a strong plan in place. They’re often drawn to roles of leadership, and can make excellent producers and builders.
Cons: Unfortunately, there is always a catch. Without self awareness, the ambition of the Choleric can turn into a domineering, overly aggressive person. They can be quite impatient and rude. Their belief that they are usually right can also make them argumentative and intolerant. The real problem is that they often judge people too harshly who aren’t the same personality type and then hate others who are the same for constantly challenging them. This can lead to micro managing. As leaders, they often demand loyalty while not having much empathy for those they lead.
You will identify the Sanguine immediately after they walk into the room, as it is instantaneously filled with their charisma. They can command attention with their fun loving and optimistic outlook that is usually expressed with many words spoken at a loud volume. Their warm-hearted nature makes them quick to apologize and excellent at making friends. They are prone to spontaneity and will do anything in their power to prevent dull moments. People are excited when they come around but sometimes good things are better in smaller doses. They are drawn to roles that involve selling, acting, and speaking publically.
Cons: When spontaneous becomes impulsive, people can get hurt. They create such a powerful first impression that letting people down is second nature. They can struggle with constantly being late and will blow off tasks that are boring. They will exaggerate the story if it means they will achieve a better response or a louder laugh. They can become extremely self absorbed and seem to always have a good reason when things go wrong.
This is a person who prides himself in staying relaxed and calm, regardless of his surroundings. They are very consistent and content with who they are. They can be quite affectionate and are excellent at keeping the peace. Their diplomatic nature allows them to easily make friends while rarely making waves. They are rational and prefer a more utilitarian view of ethics. They are very observant. The problems of this world can flow over them like water, having little effect. In a crisis, they perform very well and usually keep their cool. They are drawn to roles as diplomats, accountants, teachers, and technicians.
Cons: As you can imagine, someone who is very content is also prone to laziness. They can be indecisive and passive aggressive. They are often shy and do not like change. Setting goals does not come naturally and they will often over compromise in relationships, giving up too much of who they are and what they value. This can lead to discouragement and communicating through sarcasm.
Finally, we have the Melancholic. These people are extremely thoughtful and considerate. Everything on this planet has a meaning that is deeper than superficial observation. They are very cautious and often considerate of others. They are schedule oriented and quite detailed in their planning. This provides them foresight which makes them great at preventing problems. Their most obvious quality is the ability of expression beyond the verbal. They are excellent creators of content, poetry, and art. They are independent in their thinking, finding their own meaning in this world and for this world. They are drawn to the roles of artists, musicians, inventors, philosophers, and doctors.
Cons: As with any creator, they can often be obsessive about their work. This obsessiveness can consume them for long periods of time and lead to moodiness and depression. They can also be quite the perfectionist and very self-critical. They are often pessimistic and difficult to please. Tragedy affects them deeply and can take more time to get over than those around them. While they are known for their ‘tunnel vision’, they are often prone to procrastination. If one were ever to play the martyr, they’re probably Melancholic.
Working with Others
A wise man once told me, “expect a fox to act like a fox and expect a scorpion to act like a scorpion”. If I know that I’m dealing with a scorpion, then it’s impossible to be disappointed when attempts to strike me with its poisonous tale. The thought of yelling out in pain, “I trusted you scorpion! I thought we were friends!”, is both comical and ridiculous.
Not to accuse any one temperament listed above to be that of a scorpion or fox, but correctly identifying what you are dealing with can certainly serve to mitigate disappointment. One thing that I have improved upon in recent years is the ability to identify the personality types of the people I work with and then use that when building effective teams. When I can identify a person is a Choleric personality, for example, it makes it easy to understand when they become impatient or display a lack of empathy. It also becomes easier to decide what tasks should be delegated to a certain member of your team. If it’s exciting and involves being in the public eye, then it may be a better fit for a Sanguine than a Phlegmatic.
When you are developing a younger, inexperienced member of your team who happens to be a Melancholic, it may be beneficial to nurture their attention to detail while letting them know that there is no reason to be a perfectionist. When you know their default state, your ability to nurture the good and avoid the negative will make you a powerful mentor.
Working with You
I’m sure that as you were reading these descriptions, you couldn’t help but think of people you know, your family members, and even your boss. It is always easier to identify other people’s strengths and weaknesses than it is our own. For this reason, you may want to get a few other people to tell you which of the four temperaments they think you are and then decide for yourself. Of course, if while reading the cons of one of those temperaments stung a little, that might be a good sign that you are identifying with that temperament on a subconscious level.
Knowledge really is power. There are pieces of you that are brilliant and add value to any group or situation that you find yourself in. Knowing where to apply yourself for the maximum payout could prove beneficial for the entrepreneur deciding which industry to choose and for the company man who is able to select assignments. As a leader, it will help you choose members of your own team as well. If you choose people who are strong where you are weak, then your team will be better balanced and prepared to handle a variety of work.
For that reason, knowing your weakness provides great strength to your ability to lead and make decisions. If you are a Sanguine who is prone to being impulsive, then you will know not to hit SEND after you compose a nasty email to someone who wronged you. Instead you can save it as a draft and wait until the next morning to re-read the email and make sure that it serves your interests.
Remember, just because your natural temperament comes with certain weaknesses and pitfalls does not necessarily mean that you have to be limited by them. You can train yourself away from your weaknesses, chipping away at them bit by bit. You can subtract the jagged edges apparent from birth and expand into a future with positive influence and success found through the simple notion of Self Awareness.