First things first: Nobody is fully encompassed by one personality type. The purpose of this post is not to oversimplify people, but rather to better understand ourselves and others, so that we can love others better.
I share this post because I’ve definitely made mistakes and learned lessons that I’m hoping to give you the shortcut to!
While there are many great personality profiles, this breakdown comes from Florence Littauer’s Personality Plus book. I fully recommend picking it up, as it’s obviously much more comprehensive than this post.
Still, I’ll do my best to provide something entertaining and valuable!
So, let’s dive in!
According to Personality Plus, there are four different personality types:
- Choleric – Type A and Extroverted. Born leader, goal oriented, productive, has difficulty resting.
- Melancholy – Type A and Introverted. Analytical, cautious, perfectionist, self-sacrificing, genius.
- Sanguine – Type B and Extroverted. People oriented, fun, inspiring, enthusiastic, forgetful.
- Phlegmatic – Type B and Introverted. Low-key, quiet but witty, calm, easy-going, compassionate.
You can take the survey here to find where you fall, but let’s also run through a sample scenario, shall we?
On a trip to Disneyland, here’s how the different groups might respond:
- Choleric – “I’m going on the most extreme rides, and I don’t care if other people come with me.”
- Melancholy – “I’ve charted out the best flow of the day, and I know where to get fast track passes, when to get in line, and where the most economical food is.”
- Sanguine – “Woohoo! We’re in Disneyland! Eeee!!!! Can we get those ear hats?!!?! This is the best day of my liiiiife!!!!!!”
- Phlegmatic – “I’m good with whatever you guys want.”
As fun as it is to recognize ourselves and other in these differentiations, the true purpose is to learn how to love others better.
We can do this in two ways:
- Know how our behavior affects others, and set on a course of improvement.
- Know others’ potential pitfalls, and be prepared to give grace and help.
So just to be clear, the goal is to help ourselves improve, and to give grace to others. Not to tell others how to improve, and give excuses for ourselves.
Being a choleric is not a free pass to be mean. Being a sanguine is not a free pass to be late.
So let’s start learning how can be more loving as the different personality styles, as well as be more loving toward the different styles. Just so you know where I’ve coming from, I am primarily Choleric (24 points) and Melancholy (9 points), with Sanguine (6 points) and Phlegmatic (1 lonely point) bringing up the rear. I had Ken (24 points of Phlegmatic) help me on the Phlegmatic section.
How to be loving toward a choleric:
- Take their words at face value – A Choleric will say something, not imply it. If you send a long text ending with question, they will probably reply “yes” or “no”, or even just “y” or “n”. They are not implying that your texts are too long, that you’re annoying, that they don’t want to talk to you, etc. They are truly just trying to be efficient. Don’t read into a choleric’s alternative meaning – they will say what they mean.
- Let them be in control of something – A Choleric needs control, not of everything, but of something. My mom gave me control over washing my own hair before I could read (I remember “red, orange, yellow, green bottle, blue bottle” for the order of shampoo and conditioner), and if you look at my childhood pictures, there’s no doubt that I dressed myself. Cholerics don’t need to have complete control over everything, but you can love them by giving them control over some things – even if it’s just the choice of what you eat that night.
- Give them specific, measurable goals – Cholerics have a funny way of thinking they’re great at most things. If you ask them to be “nicer,” “calmer,” or “better” at something, it may fall on deaf ears because they already think they are. Instead of asking your husband to be nice, tell him it would help your marriage if he gave you one compliment per day. Instead of asking your kids to be clean, ask them to make their bed every morning. Make sure it’s specific and measurable, so that they can know when they’ve achieved it.
How to be loving as a choleric:
- Put people over task – People over task. People over task. People over task. This is my (often failed) mantra. A woman I know recently told me that she was intimidated by me for years because I always looked like I was on a mission. I had no idea! Tasks are my safe zone; I’d much rather set up chairs at an event than engage in small talk, so I did! Unfortunately to the detriment of my relationship with this woman. So, cholerics, the tasks can wait – people come first. Engage in small talk (see below), and put people over tasks!
- Add fluff – Cholerics can tend to see fluff as a waste of time. Fluff could be small talk, greetings in emails, or even saying “hello” at the beginning of a phone conversation. To be loving as a choleric, intentionally add fluff to your life! In conversations, have a goal to ask people two questions about themselves (“How was your day?” “How’s the family?”). When I send an email, I make sure there is fluff at the beginning (“I hope this email finds you well!”) and end (“Have a great day!”) before I send it. You are not too busy or too important to be nice.
- Encourage other peoples’ ideas – Cholerics, I know you think your idea is the best, and it might be! But it also might not be. Encourage other peoples’ ideas, and whenever possible, practice rolling with someone else’s idea. Even if you think their idea is really bad, if it’s not in regards to something important, roll with it. If it is in regards to something really important, make sure to add some fluff to that conversation!
How to be loving toward a melancholy:
- Protect their alone time – Melancholies need alone time, so whether it’s your spouse or your kids, be protective of it. Make sure your schedule isn’t so packed that they don’t have time to refuel independently. And please don’t take offense to their need to be alone for a bit – it’s not that they don’t want to be around you, it’s that they want to be at their best when they are around you. So make sure they have that time and space to think and refuel!
- Provide them with details – “We’ll meet at Disneyland sometime on Saturday” is an extremely stressful sentence for a melancholy to hear. Where are we meeting? Should I pack a lunch? Is it going to be in the heat of the day, so I’ll need to buy sunscreen? Are we meeting inside or outside the park? To love a melancholy well, give them as many details as you can, and a reasonable expectation of when they will hear about details not currently available.
- Be on time – Melancholies are never late, and often see tardiness as disrespectful. Try your very, very best to be on time when you’re meeting with a melancholy.
How to be loving as a melancholy:
- Lower your standards – Not everyone is going to do everything as perfectly as you, and you might as well accept this. When I was doing a high group project, I asked someone to cut out small pictures for the poster. I would have preferred to use my paper cutter at home, but it seemed like a low risk operation, and they had to contribute something. Needless to say, they messed it up, and I was frustrated and disappointed enough to remember it a decade later. Melancholies, I promise your life will be more enjoyable if you just lower the bar on others.
- Let it go – Melancholies have a tendency to brood over negative, so I’d really encourage you to (in the words of Queen Elsa) let it go. Let’s stop brooding over ways that people may or may not have intended to hurt our feelings, and let’s live a lighter life! (For help, see Gary Chapman’s book Anger). In addition to perceived slights against us, I’d also recommend that we let it go when people make mistakes like use grammar or vocabulary incorrectly, or misremember a minor detail in a story. It doesn’t really matter; let it go.
- Practice making unimportant decisions quickly – I speak from experience when I say that the world will not end if you order the wrong sandwich. In fact – this is even more of a revelation – there is no wrong sandwich! Melancholies have a propensity to believe that there is always a right and wrong answer, and painstakingly try to find the right one. Sometimes, though, there are many acceptable sandwiches, outfits, blog titles, or things to do with your Saturday afternoon. Just pick one, and then stop worrying about if it was the right choice!
How to be loving toward a sanguine:
- Include a buffer – If you’re traveling with a sanguine and you tell them what time to meet you at the airport, you’re setting both of you up for failure. Include a buffer! Have them over for lunch first so that then you can drive to the airport together. If they’re an hour late, they miss lunch, but you still make it to the airport on time. If you’re running a bake sale, have them bring cookies, not the cash box. Don’t tell them to bring the turkey to Thanksgiving. Essentially, avoid situations where the success or failure of something depends on their reliability. Instead, include a buffer, and let them play to their strengths.
- Help them – Sometimes, sanguines just need a little extra help. If you see their phone lying around, plug it in. If you find one shoe in one room and one in another, put them together. If you find their homework under their bed, put it in their backpack. If you see their keys in the fridge (apparently happens), put them near the door. Your goal isn’t to spend hours picking up after them, but to just lend a hand here and there when it’s easy and convenient. They may not even notice, but it will help, and at the very least, it will at least save you the chaos/excitement of looking for keys when they’re already late.
- Enjoy them – Sanguines are truly enjoyable. Don’t forget this one, especially in light of the former two. Life with a sanguine is not a sentence to picking up after them, it’s an invitation to great adventure, magical stories, and constant excitement. We have a niece with a lot of sanguine in her, and there’s nothing that brings me more joy than hearing here scream, “Aunite Lila!” as she runs and jumps into my arms. Make sure to take time to enjoy the sanguines in your life.
How to be loving as a sanguine:
- Talk half as much – As much as we love your stories (and we do!), we have some stories too! In a conversation, practice talking half as much. Try to remember that others (ex. melancholies) like to think before they speak. So make sure you give them a chance to think, formulate a response, and share their thoughts – as painful as that waiting process might be!
- Chill – Sometimes the excitement of a sanguine can be a little overwhelming. When I was in high school, we were leaving for a mission trip very early in the morning. I as extremely excited, and way to peppy for that hour of the day. I remember people being annoyed with my exuberance, and now I get it. Certain decibels should not be exceeded before 7am. Sanguines, to be more approachable, I’d invite you to chill so that the calmer personalities don’t get overwhelmed in your presence – and not just early in the morning.
- Give yourself reminders – If you know you are likely to be forgetful or late, lean heavily on reminders. Put sticky notes up where you can’t miss them, set labeled alarms in your phone, put notes on your car door, etc. While memory and punctuality may not be your natural strong suit, that doesn’t mean that you can’t compensate for it and become just a reliable as anyone else!
How to be loving toward a phlegmatic:
- Give them time – A phlegmatic cannot and will not be rushed, so plan to give them time. This applies to all things, whether it’s getting out the door in the morning or big life changes. Make sure they have plenty time to go at their own speed to shower, get ready, come to decisions, eat their dinner, process changes, and really anything else you can think of. Attempting to rush them will truly only slow down the process, so it’s better to plan to give them the time they need. I learned this lesson when dating Ken. I was ready to marry him well over a year before he was ready, but I was patient and now I’m living the life of my dreams. Patience pays tremendous dividends when it comes to loving phlegmatics.
- Stay calm – Phlegmatics are emotional sponges. If you speak in angry or frustrated tones, they will no longer hear your words and will instead just focus on stopping your anger. In addition to being calm toward them, you also need to stay calm around them. I was an explosive child/pre-teen/teen, and it wasn’t unusual for me to scream about my petty woes or how my parents were the worst (for the record – they weren’t). I didn’t recognize how damaging it was to the phlegmatics in the house that I robbed the whole household of calm for a decade. Now being married to Ken and realizing how important a peaceful household is, I would give anything to be able to go back and give that to my family. Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and protect the phlegmatics in your home.
- Let them be excited in their own way – If a phlegmatic says that they’re excited, they are excited – even if they say it in a monotone voice. Don’t expect a phlegmatic to get visibly or vocally enthused; they’re happy on the inside. If there’s a phlegmatic sitting alone at a party, that doesn’t mean they’re having a bad time. They might just be taking it all in, and that’s okay. Let them be excited in their own way, and don’t be disappointed if it’s not the same way you express excitement.
How to be loving as a phlegmatic:
- Say no – If you can’t do something, or even simply don’t want to, it’s okay to say no. Most of my frustrations with phlegmatics have come from them agreeing to do something for me – because they love me and want to help! – but then not being able to follow through at the end. The loving thing to do is say no from the beginning so that we can make alternative arrangements. (For help saying no, I’d recommend Lysa TerKurt’s book The Best Yes)
- Start – “Why put off to tomorrow what you can put off ‘till next week?” could be the mantra of the phlegmatic. Phlegmatics, I’d encourage you to start. You have an amazing ability (I’ve seen it in my husband!) to make slow and steady progress once you get going, but beginning is often the biggest roadblock. So whatever it is that you’re trying to do – start. And then lean on your natural “tortoise” strengths, and you’ll outrun the hare every time – but not if you don’t start.
- Put a little pep in your step – People like it when others are excited about what they’re excited about. Sometimes, we’re not sure that you’re excited, even if you say you are. To help us out a little, put a little pep in your step, smile, and maybe even change your vocal intonations a bit. We don’t expect you to jump and scream, but we’d sure appreciate a little help knowing that you’re happy.
So that’s it!
I hope that you’ve learned a little, laughed a little, and have some new ideas about how to help yourself improve and give grace and love to others.
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8
P.S. If you had any “ah-hah!” moments from this post or thoughts you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them! This took a humorously long time to write (because I wanted to do a good job!), so let me know if it was worth it to you!