Difficult Temperament Moments Cheat Sheet

The temperaments are natural tendencies in each of us that we all struggle to mature through. With a deeper understanding of the four temperaments we can learn how to accompany others in a productive manner that builds and strengthens relationships, without asking the other to fundamentally change—something that is actually impossible.

Here are some aspects of other people’s temperaments that will always be difficult for us to swallow:

How do I confront a choleric who is intimidating me?

How do I motivate my phlegmatic friend to action?

How do I get my melancholic spouse to not be so down?

How do I encourage my sanguine son to stay on task?

 

Disagreeing with a choleric

The choleric is known for her temper, her inability to back down willingly, her love of argument—for the sake of argument. Now it is quite possible that there is a choleric in your life who has become bossy to the point of being tyrannical. Or is bulldozing yours and others’ feelings—obliviously. What do you do? Do you continue to let her cause you harm? Do you wait it out? I recommend confronting the choleric in a meaningful conversation.

Consider: the choleric’s blind spot includes other people’s feelings. The choleric does not always know when she is rubbing other people the wrong way unless someone tells them. The choleric’s bossiness or bulldozing needs to be addressed before problems get worse because typically a choleric does not see herself at fault and so will not self-address the issue (which is unapparent to her).

Try this approach:

Imagine you are a glass of water and the choleric is a small fire. Be transparent in your actions, speak as clearly as possible, and remain calm without reacting to the possible inflammatory reaction. Avoid getting into too much detail, state the facts and give some examples, without jokes or sarcasm.

Use kindness and encouragement. First make it clear that you are on the choleric’s side. Avoid the appearance of a head to head combat or else the choleric will be tempted by nature to fight and defend herself.

Appeal to the choleric’s sense of honour. Cholerics, like melancholics, are more attuned to ideals than relationships. Avoid the talk of hurt feelings and delve into justice, honour, and appropriate behaviour.

Get a choleric to talk about her reasoning. Give her a chance to explain her actions. Ask questions like, “Did you realize that when you did this that people were upset?”

After giving your short, concise complaint or disagreement, give the choleric time to “temper down” if necessary. An immature choleric may take the opportunity to make an ad hominem attack, do not back down, apologize, or change your complaint unless you think it appropriate. If things were bad enough to lead to this confrontation in the first place, then your complaint has merit. After the choleric has finished fuming, she will look at the situation logically and may even agree with you. Make it easy for this to happen.

Be careful to avoid:

-Head to head conflict. Cholerics love to fight. Approach the complaint from an objective rather than offensive stand-point. Try to get on “her side.”

-Avoid making a choleric feel vulnerable. A very personal attack will just encourage the choleric to close up, withdraw emotionally, and possibly take revenge.

 

Motivating a Phlegmatic

Phlegmatics are very easy going, so easy going that they sometimes stall in action for indefinite periods of time.

Consider: A phlegmatic may appear compliant but if they are pushed for too long to do something they dislike, they will harbour resentment that will sooner or later explode out of them like a volcano. As a natural introvert, the phlegmatic may not broach these feelings until it is too late.

Try this approach:

Encouragement helps a phlegmatic thrive. It also boosts his confidence and may spur him to action. Without outside recognition, there is the danger that a phlegmatic may never recognize his talents and skills and never be motivated to activate them.

Structured environments like school and sports teams encourage a phlegmatic to succeed because the motivation is embedded in the process.

Don’t rush the phlegmatic. He tends to take longer to make decisions and needs time to think. Avoid the temptation of making a decision for him.

By giving the phlegmatic suggestive options for a career, for example, you may get the phlegmatic believing that this is something he should do in order to maintain the relationship with you, whom he respects and values more than the ideal of “career.” The phlegmatic may find himself in a job or career path that he dislikes because he feels he has to be there. Instead, consider bringing your phlegmatic child into a career centre and letting him look at jobs on his own. Sometimes the most difficult step for the phlegmatic is the first one.

Avoid:

Nagging the phlegmatic. This and negative criticism will encourage him to retreat into himself and resort to laziness through video game playing and Netflix binge watching.

 

Uplifting a Melancholic

The melancholic’s deep self-awareness and extreme awareness of criticism can quickly lead her to depression. This may alarm someone who is naturally more positive (like the sanguine). Anyone who is a friend or spouse of a melancholic may find it tiring to be constantly “cheering her up.”

Consider: The melancholic by nature sees the glass half-empty. This perspective may often be seen as discouraging but it is also an important contribution to our relationships and society in general. Do not make the melancholic feel badly for her “negativity” but help her develop “constructive criticism”: that is, criticism that leads to results and not just to hurt feelings.

Try this approach:

Take time to listen to the melancholic’s concerns—to a point. Help the melancholic by offering a realistic framework for the situation described. Be the touchstone that gets her back to present reality and do not let her wander in the “what if’s” of what could have been or what could be.

Listen to the melancholic with empathy. A melancholic wants to have her very real problems acknowledged. Although they may seem sometimes ridiculous, they are very real to her. The danger of diminishing or dismissing the problem is that the melancholic may feel tempted to exaggerate for the next time, whatever it takes to get your attention. Accompany the melancholic through the trial and help her to find her own way out.

Melancholics get bogged down by details. It is as if they look through the world through a tiny magnifying glass. Help her to see the big picture. Encourage her to focus only on the problem of the present, and not on all the other problems that could be or are possibly connected to. Help her to work through the details so that she can make a good decision.

Avoid:

Falling into the melancholic’s negativity. If this is tempting for you, give the melancholic some space. Encourage her to take a bath, a nap, or do something uplifting so that you can have a conversation when she is in a better frame of mind. Remember melancholics are introverts and recharge their batteries when they are alone. This may be difficult for someone of a sanguine temperament to understand! But don’t be concerned. If the time alone is in fact causing your melancholic friend or spouse to become more withdrawn, then encourage her to go with you, one-on-one, to a place that she enjoys: art museum, theatre, book store, or coffee shop.

 

Keeping the Sanguine on Task

Sanguines are spontaneous and creative. The downside is that they are also often distracted and have difficulty following through on projects. How do you get your sanguine spouse to do something as boring as filling out a budget?

Consider: Sanguines, like phlegmatics, are socially motivated. It is difficult for him to accomplish a task that seems to be only “necessary” and “for duty.” Sanguines are not naturally motivated by ideals.

Try this approach:

Encourage the sanguine to see a necessary task as a kind of game. Use game language, such as “strategy” and “compete”. Sanguines are attracted by arranging complexity. They like to a address and solve problems. Do not then, dumb down tasks into boring lists. Let him figure it out for himself.

The sanguine likes to have fun, so motivate him to accomplish a task by promising a reward. This may be a candy for a child or a beer for an adult! Rewards add an element of fun.

Work on a project or problem together with a sanguine. Make a point of setting a date so he does not forget. Get him on board with your plans so he feels like he has a say in the process. Remember sanguines prefer team work over rout work.

A time crunch can also be highly motivating for a sanguine. Many sanguines are naturally procrastinators and thrive in doing things quickly with the pressure of the clock running out. A time crunch, though stressful for the detail-oriented and cautious melancholic, adds a degree of adrenaline and fun to any task for the sanguine.

Use positive encouragement and get the sanguine excited about the task ahead. Let him focus on the opportunity ahead of him. After this pep talk, give him a chance to work on the task immediately. Sanguines are quick to fire up, and just as quick to let down when the initial excitement dies away.

Avoid:

-Repressing fun or removing rewards. This will easily discourage the sanguine and perhaps lead him to feel resentful to you.

-Creating too many rules. Sanguines don’t normally like restrictions and will feel tempted to rebel, or hold back their efforts if there are too many constraints on their creative fun.

-Using negative encouragement. Though easy-going, sanguines are deeply affected by criticisms. They want to feel like relationships are intact before they can move forward on a project.


This article was written from my own and Gerhard’s experience and also with ideas from Art & Laraine Bennet’s book The Temperament God Gave You.

Listen to our podcast on the 4 Temperaments here.

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