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Understanding the Four Personality Styles

In This Article

(Click the links below to move easily to sections of this article)

History of the Four Personality Styles
Social Research on the Four Personality Styles
Understanding the Four Personality Styles
The Dominance Personality
The Influence Personality
The Steadiness Personality
The Conscientiousness Personality
Why Personality Style Matters


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History of the Four Personality Styles

No matter when or where the human race has lived, what language was spoken, what culture they had, human beings have always had more in common with each other than the differences that separated them. Human personality is no different.

The truth is that the patterns of human personality can be explained across our various cultures. And, this understanding of what we value and why we act in a certain way is not new information. In fact, for over 25 centuries, human beings have observed that there are four basic personality styles.

Since the earliest times, human society has known that there are four primary personality styles. Click To Tweet

Egyptian, Persian, and Greek civilizations categorized behavior into elements of water, earth, air, and fire. The Greek philosopher Hippocrates described four temperaments that are labeled as choleric, phlegmatic, sanguine, and melancholic. A summary description of these historic four personality styles is as follows:

  1. an outgoing task-oriented personality that is quick to act (choleric)
  2. an outgoing people-oriented personality that is quick to act (sanguine)
  3. a reserved people-oriented personality that is slow to act (phlegmatic)
  4. a reserved task-oriented personality that is slow to act (melancholic)

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Social Research on the Four Personality Styles

In modern times, social researchers like Carl Jung (Jungian Typology), William Marston (Emotions of Normal People), David Keirsey (Please Understand Me), Isabel Briggs Myers and Katharine Cooks Myers (MBTI*), and David Kolb (Experiential Learning Theory) all provide further insights on the four basic personality styles. Their findings show that personality is complex. Further, while we have a core element to our personality that always remains the same, our personality is also always evolving through new experiences.

The collective work of these researchers and others show that personality is formed from a variety of sources including: genetics (we’re born that way); environment (our life experiences); and context (situations we encounter).

Knowing a person's primary personality style can give you valuable information to improve your interactions with him or her. Click To Tweet

Other key findings from the collective work of these and of other social researchers show the following about the four personality styles:

  1. All styles have value in human society and no particular style is inherently better than another.
  2. Everyone is a blend of the four personality styles. We display elements of the four personality styles as we interact with our environment (the different people and situations that we encounter). Despite the fact that we are a blend of the four personality styles, most of us have a preferred style (among the four) that we display more often than the other three when we interact with our environment. In fact, when describing our typical behavior, people will use descriptors from our preferred style to explain our behavior. You can hear elements of personality style in the following common descriptions of people’s behavior: she’s driven to reach her goals, he’s passionate about what he believes, she’s a facts only person, he dislikes conflict.
  3. It takes less energy to operate from our preferred personality style. It takes more energy to operate from the other personality styles that we use less often.
  4. Each personality style has its own values and expectations. These differing values and expectations are often the source of different conflicts that we experience in the workplace.

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Understanding the Four Personality Styles

The four personality styles are based on classifications of human behavior in four dimensions. These dimensions are as follows:

These dimensions are organized into two preference scales: a Watching versus Doing scale and a Feeling versus Thinking scale. Preferences on these two scales form personality styles that are Doing/Thinking, Doing/Feeling, Watching/Feeling, and Watching/Thinking.  For this article, I am using the classification system created by William Marston for the DISC Personality Assessments.* He labels the four personality styles as Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness.

(Note: There are many personality based assessments that are sold in the marketplace that are built on the understanding of four personality styles. Some classify the four personality styles using labels that are based on different colors, different animals, things in nature, specific words, etc. Don’t let this alphabet soup labeling system confuse you! Most of these models use some — if not all — of the principal understanding of the four personality styles to develop their products.)

Workplace conflict is not always personal! Some interpersonal difficulties are the result of natural tension between different personality styles. Click To Tweet

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The Dominance Personality (Doing & Thinking)

Word URGENT spelled out

The Dominance Personality is similar to the Choleric Temperament used by Hippocrates (460 BC to 370 BC). It is an outgoing, task style whose motto about most things is usually, Let’s Get It Done Now.

People with the Dominance Personality are big-picture people who are quick to act. You’ll find that they are controlled, independent, and strong-willed.

In general, the Dominance Personality wants to get tasks done first and attend to relationships second. This style is an ask-forgiveness personality. This means that individuals with a Dominance Personality are quick to forge ahead and take action on a matter that they believe will give them their desired outcomes.

In summary, the Dominance Personality is an outgoing, take-charge style whose primary concern is results.

The Dominance Personality is an outgoing, take-charge style whose primary concern is results. Click To Tweet

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The Influence Personality (Doing & Feeling)

The Influence Personality is similar to the Sanguine Temperament used by Hippocrates (460 BC to 370 BC). It is an outgoing, social style whose motto about most things is usually, Let’s Get It Done Together.

People with the Influence Personality are big-picture people who are quick to act. You’ll find that they are enthusiastic, friendly, and opinionated.

In general, the Influence Personality wants to attend to relationships first and get tasks done second. This style is an ask-forgiveness personality. This means that individuals with the Influence Personality are quick to forge ahead and take action on a matter that they believe will enhance their social acceptance.

In summary, the Influence Personality is an outgoing, talkative style whose primary concern is recognition.

The Influence Personality is an outgoing, talkative style whose primary concern is recognition. Click To Tweet

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The Steadiness Personality (Watching & Feeling)

The Steadiness personality is similar to the Phlegmatic Temperament used by Hippocrates (460 BC to 370 BC). It is a reserved, social style whose motto about most things is usually, Let’s Get It Done Peacefully.

People with the Steadiness Personality are detailed-oriented people who are slower to act. You’ll find that they are calm, supportive, and empathetic.

In general, the Steadiness Personality wants to attend to relationships first and get tasks done second. This style is an ask-permission personality. This means that individuals with a Steadiness Personality are reluctant to forge ahead and take action until they believe that a matter works out well for all parties involved.

In summary, the Steadiness Personality is a reserved, cautious style whose primary concern is stability.

The Steadiness Personality is a reserved, cautious style whose primary concern is stability. Click To Tweet

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The Conscientiousness Personality (Watching & Thinking)

The Conscientiousness Personality is similar to the Melancholic Temperament used by Hippocrates (460 BC to 370 BC). It is a reserved, task style whose motto about most things is usually, Let’s Get It Done Right.

People with the Conscientiousness Personality are detailed-oriented people who are slower to act. You’ll find that they are questioning, skeptical, and detached.

In general, the Conscientiousness Personality wants to attend to tasks first and relationships second. This style is an ask-permission personality. This means that individuals with a Conscientiousness Personality are reluctant to forge ahead and take action until they believe that a matter can be completed correctly.

In summary, the Conscientiousness Personality is a reserved, analytical style whose primary concern is quality.

The Conscientiousness Personality is a reserved, analytical style whose primary concern is quality. Click To Tweet

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Why Personality Style Matters

So, with all of the priorities that you have as a manager, why is it important for you to understand personality styles to get your unit’s work done?

Personality style is important because it reflects a person’s values (the things that are important to them).

As I learned myself years ago, there is no substitute for knowing your people. Understanding a person’s preferred personality style and adapting your interaction approach accordingly to find common ground can take you miles to improving workplace motivation and employee accountability.


Video: Understanding Personality Styles

As a manager, you are better able to gain the cooperation of your employees when you understand them — when you understand their personality style. Click To Tweet

*Disclosure: I am a certified practitioner of the MBTI and DiSC personality assessments.

 

Written by Robert Tanner | Copyrighted Material | All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Robert Tanner, MBA

Welcome to my leadership blog. I'm the Founder & Principal Consultant of Business Consulting Solutions LLC, a certified practitioner of psychometric assessments, and a former Adjunct Professor of Management. As a leadership professional, I bring 20+ years of real world experience at all levels of management.

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