Understanding the Keirsey Temperament Sorter

“Whenever two people meet there are six present. There is the man as he sees himself, each as the other person sees him, and each man as he really is.” – William James

 Temperament and personality shape the way that we see ourselves and others, the way that we choose to interact with others, our styles of communicating, our idea of “fun,” and much more.  According to Dr. David Keirsey, educational psychologist and creator of the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, temperament is “a configuration of observable personality traits, such as habits of communication, patterns of action, and sets of characteristic attitudes, values, and talents.”

Keirsey divided the 16 personality types defined by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator into four groups based on observable differences in temperament.  He noticed that some of the Myers-Briggs personality types were alike in many ways… enough to cluster them into four groups based upon their temperamental differences: the SPs (the “Artisans”), the SJs (the “Guardians”), the NFs (the “Idealists”), and the NTs (the “Rationals”).

Keirsey understands these differences in temperament to be based upon what we say and what we do.  There are two basic styles of communication: concrete and abstractSome people tend to focus on facts, details, and the concrete external nature of reality (concrete), while others focus more on the internal abstract world of ideas, theories, dreams, and philosophies (abstract).  Keirsey breaks down the basic temperamental difference in communication by pointing out that concrete people tend to talk about reality and abstract people talk about ideas.

Temperament is further understood through an examination of the way that we go about accomplishing our goals: what we do and how we do it.  Utilitarian people tend to act in a pragmatic manner, preferring to involve themselves in tasks and behaviors that are most likely to get results.  Their primary focus is on achieving their goals in an efficient and effective manner, with later reflection upon whether or not all of the “rules” were followed.  At it’s most extreme, the idea here is that “the ends justify the means.”

Cooperative people generally prefer to act in a socially acceptable manner with a focus on maintaing harmony in the pursuit of goals.  There is a consistent focus on doing what is right and keeping their behavior in accordance with social norms, conventions, and codes of conduct.  There is later reflection on whether or not they acted in the most effective manner possible.  Keirsey explains that the fundamental difference in this behavioral dimension of temperament is that utilitarian people do what works and cooperative people do what’s right.

As with all discussions of personality and temperament differences, it should be noted that there is no “right” way of being or “best” way of communicating.  The beauty behind understanding personality and temperament differences is that it enables us to appreciate each other’s strengths and individual styles of being in the world.  If we were all “alike,” the social world that we live in would lack a great deal of its richness, nuance, and complexity.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

In my next post, I look forward to exploring the specific differences between Keirsey’s four temperaments by explaining the basic profiles of the SPs (the “Artisans”), the SJs (the “Guardians”), the NFs (the “Idealists”), and the NTs (the “Rationals”).

If you are interested in taking the official MBTI personality assessment, you may take it at MBTI Complete for $59.95.  For an unofficial version of the Jung Typology Test, you may take it for free at HumanMetrics.

If you are interested in taking the official Keirsey Temperament Sorter (KTS-II), you may take it for free at Keirsey.com.

Keirsey, D. (1998). Please understand me II: Temperament, character, intelligence. Del Mar, CA: Prometheus Nemesis Book Company.

Keirsey Temperament Sorter. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.keirsey.com/

The Myers & Briggs Foundation. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.myersbriggs.org/

Featured image: Luck is … (explored) by kaibara87 / CC BY 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.

What's On Your Mind?