Posts Tagged ‘Keirsey-Bates’

Work and Philosophy: Psychological Interlude Chapter Three: Temperament (pt.ii)

December 25, 2012

I read that as an INTP, I represent about 1% to 5% of the population; and if I am an INXP (borderline between the T and F, as my tests say) then I am rarer than that.  That helps to explain why I was drawn to philosophy early in life and still am, and why my favorite areas of philosophy are those dealing with personal life questions.  I am happiest thinking by myself or in an intimate conversation, so reading lots of books is no problem (aside from eyestrain).  I would rather learn abstract general principles that can be applied to answering a wide range of questions, and to finding connections between many different phenomena.  I want to find logical connections and arguments, but I am also seeking to understand what the passions are saying to me.  And I am always seeking new answers and a more complete understanding.  So my temperament has had a profound impact on my career choices and my career satisfaction.

Suppose I were my exact opposite, an ESFJ.  Then I would have little patience for sitting alone studying, or intensely focusing on one person or task.  As an Extrovert, I would want to be involved with as many people as possible.  As a Sensor, I would focus on concrete realities and particulars, and as a Feeler I would focus particularly on the feelings of those particular people around me.  As a Judger, I would want to set everything and everyone in order, to ensure social harmony and efficiency.  I might have wound up actually going into the ministry, where the ESFJ’s open heart and interest in providing help and direction to lots of people would have been very valuable. Or I might have gone into sales or worked my way into management, where I would have been comfortable taking charge of people for their own good.  Almost any service-oriented profession would have been a natural fit.

In my experience of the Presbyterian vocational counseling system, the most influential version of temperament theory was that was developed by Marilyn Bates and David Keirsey.  In addition to revising the personality test to focus on observable behaviors more than speculations of internal psychology, they greatly improved the four central temperaments.  Early on, Myers-Briggs and their associates noticed that all NT variants had many traits in common, as do all NF types, whether they are also Introverts or Extroverts, Judges or Perceivers.  They concluded that the two middle letters, representing the “functioning” aspects of the personality, were the most crucial.  However, attempts to establish commonalities between all STs or SFs were not as successful.  Keirsey and Bates concluded that for concrete thinkers, the primary distinguishing characteristic is not how they relate to words and ideas, but how they relate to the concrete world.  Is this Sensor more tempted to accept and enjoy the world, or to try to organize it?  Based on this question, and a fair amount of historical research into personality and temperament from ancient times until today, they developed their theory of the four archetypes:

  1. The Sensing-Perceiving, or SP:  the Artisan.  This is the sort who prefers to live in the moment, to enjoy the here and now.  They tend to be more passionate and hedonistic, and ruthlessly pragmatic—do what works in the current situation.  They are often drawn to the arts, to sports, and to tools, or to any job that is exciting.
  2. The Sensing-Judging, or SJ:  the Guardian.  Guardians worry about the future, and want to provide now for what might happen later.  They too prefer the concrete to the abstract and the actual to the possible, but they ask what can be done with the actual and the concrete.  They like things, and people, orderly and in place. Of the four temperament types, Guardians have the most respect for authority; when in charge they exercise it naturally and expect others to comply, and when not they naturally defer to the leader and are glad to follow a strong authority figure.   T-type Guardians tend towards careers like accounting, number-oriented tasks with clear right and wrong solutions and with significant responsibilities.  F-type Guardians are also responsible, but tend to prefer to work with people rather than things or numbers, so they gravitate towards the helping professions.  The S-types together make up 85% of the population, according to Dr. Keirsy.[1]
  3. The Intuitive-Feeling, or NF:  the Idealist.  As Intuitives, they are more defined by their relation to language and the inner world than they are by the outer world; as Feelers, they focus on values and emotions than on cold logic.  They can make good teachers or ministers, as do Guardians; but whereas Guardians approach teaching or the ministry in terms of upholding social order and traditional values, Idealists want to present new possibilities to those around them.  Idealists like to take abstract principles and present them to those who can benefit from them.  Introverted Idealists tend towards careers that require more personalized and individual attention, such as therapist, or perhaps writing, which allows them to focus completely on the grand ideas and passions without the distraction of actual concrete people.
  4. The Intuitive Thinker, or NT:  the Rational.  We are as oriented towards possibilities, language and the inner world as are the Idealists, but we prefer the logical over the emotional.  Scientists, architects and systems analysts are often NTs.  Artisans want to enjoy the world, Guardians to protect and manage it, and Idealists to save and heal it; Rationals want to understand it.  We tend towards strategic thinking and strategic careers, requiring long-term rather than immediate, crisis-driven thinking.  Many NTs are inventors and innovators; others, like Napoleon, use people rather than physical material to build their systems and to execute their plans.

Having said all this, though, it is important to retract much of it.  While temperament theory can suggest “typical” career choices, the fact is that many, many people are successful and happy in careers that seem odd for their personality types.  Some of our most successful entertainers have been Introverts.  A successful doctor could be any personality type.  Temperament theory can suggest what career you should choose, if you want to “fit in,” or if you want to find what is most likely to satisfy.  But what it most reliably tells us is how you will approach your job.  For example, let’s consider the management at a large company.  Many are likely to be Guardians, the typical “company man,” working diligently at his job (since Guardians tend towards the traditional, a larger number of women Guardians are likely to seek to be housewives or to do “women’s jobs” like teaching or nursing; so I’m saying “he”).  He expects that if he does a good job, he will earn a promotion; and if he has been promoted, he deserves it and therefore deserves the respect and loyalty of those below him on the hierarchy.  He tends to know and follow the rules and expects others to do the same.  Almost as many executives are Artisans.  They are likely the “rainmakers,” the ones who take risks all others would think insane or at least unsettling.  If they win, they celebrate; if they lose, they bounce back quicker than the other types.  They tend to be “players” in every sense of the term, so they can be quite competitive and self-promoting.  They are great in a crisis, but can become bored by the routine—-until their neglect of details and deadlines creates a crisis, which they can then jump in and solve.  Most of the NTs are in Research and Development, but some may have come up with some great idea that has landed them in a position of importance:  for example, Howard Hughes, Bill Gates or Steve Jobs all wound up commanding thousands of employees.  The Extroverted NTs are most likely to appear as management in some capacity, using their innovative and strategic abilities to work with human systems as easily as other NTs work with physical and logical systems.  The Idealists are most likely working in Human Resources, but those in supervisory roles are using their empathy and optimism to understand those they manage, and to encourage them to see new possibilities for themselves and the company.  One job—middle management, for example—can thus be done by any of the four character types, with each type approaching the job in its own distinctive ways.

Temperament psychology can be used to help job seekers find a satisfying career, and it can help employers understand employees’ gifts and find the best ways to harness those for the business.  And perhaps most important to Dr. Keirsey, temperament theory can help us avoid “the Pygmalion Project.”[2]  We are drawn to someone who has something we lack in ourselves, and admire; then we begin to try to get the other person to embrace our values and our temperament.  Temperament psychologists generally believe temperament is inborn; so it is impossible to simply make the Artisan spouse, child or new employee become a Guardian or measure up to the Guardian’s standards.  Instead, we have to learn how to utilize our differences to the best effect, and to be aware of our weaknesses and our strengths.  In the workplace, the Perceivers will have more trouble memorizing and following all the rules that their Guardian managers may have written out, but they will be better able to cope when a crisis arises that wasn’t covered in the employee handbook.  A wise manager will put the square pegs in the square holes, finding each employee’s particular temperament and gifts and assigning tasks matching those gifts.  The unwise one will try to impose one model of “the good worker” on everyone, which generally will leave many out in the cold while the organization suffers from underutilized talent.

Philosophical implications:  Perhaps the first person to apply temperament theory to career counseling was Plato.  In his Republic, Plato identifies three distinct temperaments, which he identifies with the three parts of the soul.  Most people, he says, are dominated by their appetitive part, and thus in his ideal republic he assigns to the Artisan class.  These are the people who most want to work in the world of things, as farmers or crafters or merchants or whatever, in order to attain wealth and physical comforts.  Others are dominated by their “spirit,” or passions or honor.  They want glory more than wealth; they want to be recognized and admired.  These Plato would assign to the Auxiliary class, as soldiers and police, people of action, who take risks for the good of society and crave medals and honors more than wealth.  His model for these were the soldiers of Sparta, who lived lives of poverty and hardship in order to be the absolute best warriors in the world, wishing nothing more than to die with honor and be admired by their society (and fearing nothing more than the scorn of their own mothers if they should return alive and unscarred from a battlefield loss).  Fewest of all are the philosophers, who seek neither wealth nor honor so much as the opportunity to think and learn.  These Plato made Guardians, the rulers of the Republic, the “philosopher-kings.”  Unusually, Plato said that gender should not play any determining role in class assignment; an intelligent and reflective woman could be a Guardian just as well as a man.  The well-functioning state, Plato said, would put the right people in the right jobs, so that each person served society as his or her temperament determined; for the well ordered state needs the gifts of all temperaments working in harmony.  Therefore, he proposed a society where different temperaments were given the rewards that were most meaningful to each, each did the work for which it was temperamentally best suited, and none sought to do the other’s job.

The Founding Fathers tended to look not to Plato for their image of the ideal State, but to a nearly mythological Republic of Rome.  In their minds, the ideal State was one where even the leading citizens saw themselves as public servants.  Washington refused kingship and, after two terms as President of the United States, retired to private life.  In this he was consciously imitating Cincinnatus, the Roman aristocrat who was given dictatorial powers to defend Rome from invasion, only to resign from the dictatorship and retire to his small farm when the crisis was over.  The Revolutionary Founding Fathers were, by and large, men who respected social status, but primarily when it was earned and when it was used for the public good.  Our republic, unlike Plato’s, was designed to allow upward and downward mobility, and to allow the individual rather than the State to determine how the individual could best serve society.  But this idea of different temperaments, each valuable and true in its own right and its own manner, continued from Plato down through the ages, often in conflict with other philosophies that taught a single ideal of human nature, until it gained new life in scientific psychology.  Now, it is common in workplace settings, as well as on-line dating sites and other “pop psych” arenas.  It is a useful tool in all areas where understanding differences between people is important to helping individuals achieve their own happiness and live and work together as well.


[1] Dr. David Keirsy, Please Understand Me II:  temperament, character, intelligence, first edition (Del Mar, CA:  Prometheus Nemesis Book Company, 1998) p. 61

[2] Marilyn Bates and David Keirsey, Please Understand Me:  Character & Temperament Types fifth edition (Del Mar, CA:  Prometheus Nemesis Book Company, 1984) p. 68