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Article Written by Jack Falt, INFJ

Temperament - Using Keirsey-Berens Terminology


About a couple of thousand years ago Hippocrates saw that people behaved in roughly four basic patterns that are known as temperaments. In more modern times David Keirsey began investigating temperaments again. He called the four temperaments: Artisan (SP), Guardian (SJ), Idealist (NF), and Rational  (NT). (The letters represent the preferences based on the work of Jung and Myers: S-Sensing, N—iNtuiting, T-Thinking, F-Feeling, J-Judging and P-Perceiving.) One of his students, Linda Berens, developed a program called the Self-Discovery Process® to help people determine their own temperaments. She has an accompanying booklet called: Understanding Yourself and Others: An Introduction to Temperament.

When reading descriptions of the temperaments, it is important to realize that these are very general descriptions. Not everyone will fit the descriptions all the time. In fact we have elements of all four temperaments within us that we can and do use. However, one temperament tends to be dominant just as we tend to have one hand that is dominant. It doesn’t mean that is the only hand we use. It just means that all things being equal our dominant hand is likely the one we will use first. So it is with temperaments. Our dominant temperament is the one we mainly use, but there are times when we use the other three as well. In a given day we are likely to be able to identify times when we have used all four temperaments. In fact part of our uniqueness comes from how the four temperaments combine in our personalities.
Our temperament determines our behaviour, and our behaviour is the instrument for getting us what we have to have. It is a hunger that must be fed daily. Artisans hunger for the freedom to obey their inner impulses. Guardians hunger for status, knowing where they belong in the grand scheme of life. Rationals hunger for knowledge, for with knowledge comes power over their world. Idealists hunger for meaning and understanding of what life is all about.

When determining your temperament you are given descriptions of the four temperaments and you choose the one you feel is most like you. Another way to determine your temperament is to go through these temperament descriptions using a highlighter and mark all the sentences that describe your behaviour generally. You will also find that at certain times in your life you seem to be in a specific temperament phase. You may find you just want to take off and let go of your responsibilities and be an Artisan for a while. At other times you may want to settle down and take care of business and be in your Guardian phase.Sometimes your curiosity gets the better of you and you go into a Rational phase. You can spend enormous amounts of time researching a topic and finding out all you can about it. There will be times when the potential of people seems so important. You want to help them be all that they can be and this triggers you into your Idealist phase.

Temperament is separate from intellectual ability. Each temperament will have the full range of intelligences from the developmentally handicapped to the genius. Overall, no one temperament is more intelligent than any other.

We are much too complex to fit neatly into four pigeon holes. But having some general concepts help us understand ourselves and others better. It is useful to know what your dominant temperament is. You can better understand your strengths and biases. For example, knowing that you like everything to be very orderly, can help you be a little more tolerant of those who are messy. You may realize that their temperament is not too concerned about always having things arranged neatly all the time. Now you have a choice. Instead of seeing them as having a major character flaw that needs some serious modification, you can either be more charitable towards them and accept them as they are, or you can remind them that you would prefer if they picked up after themselves. Sometimes they may be quite agreeable to do just that if it makes you happy. The important thing is to appreciate the differences in each other.

Of the four temperaments, the Artisan temperament is probably the one that stands out the most. These include actors, sports players, singers, crafts people, as well as the trades people, builders, repair workers, and sales people. Their world is tools. The tool they use might even be their body in the case of a boxer or a singer. They have an instinctive knowledge of how to use a tool to its best advantage. They use tools in very practical ways. If a tool will get the job done, they’ll use it even if that wasn’t its original purpose.

Another characteristic of this temperament is how Artisans use words. Their words are very concrete and factual. They tend to talk about cars, clothing, how fast something will go, or how two colours match. If you've been to a party where one group talks about skidoos and hockey, and another group talks about babies, cooking and fashion, you are likely in Artisan conversations. It's not that Artisans aren’t interested in world peace. It is just that it is not the first topic that comes to mind when they gather together.

The fox is the animal metaphor representing the Artisan temperament. A fox does not plan its day. It just goes out each morning knowing that it has to survive. It is constantly scanning the countryside to see if any opportunities present themselves. Artisans function in a similar way. They don't like to plan. They want to see what turns up, and they have the confidence to know they can deal with any situation.

When we are discussing temperament, we are looking at overall behaviours and what motivates them. A core need for Artisans is the ability to act on impulse. That doesn’t mean being immature and irresponsible, but rather there is that impulse of energy to do something right now. They just know what has to be done and the now is the time to do it! This can be a playful and fun-loving kind of behaviour, but it also means being able to solve very practical problems, such as how to fix a car, put a dress together, or solve a complex engineering problem.

It is thought that over 90% of school dropouts are Artisans, and only 2% of the teachers are Artisans. Artisans have the same range of intelligence as any other temperament. They often find formal learning rather tedious and may not like to be bothered reading the books to master an academic subject. When they do go on to higher education, they tend to go into areas such as engineering or the fine arts. When they want to, they can have the discipline to do the amount of studying needed to achieve their goal.

When Artisans are in a restrictive environment, they get bored, restless and stressed. This is very evident in school. When Artisan children have to sit for long periods of time listening to the teacher or having to do repetitive work, they turn to mischief to liven things up. Many get mis-diagnosed as being hyperactive. Lots of variety and hands-on activities can often calm these students down and are much more effective ways for them to learn. At home parents are advised to get them into lots of activities such as sports or just getting them out and playing in a rough and tumble manner.

AdultArtisans need lots of variety as well. They tend to avoid committee work but will take on a short term project such as fund raising. When the job is over they move on to something else. When they do get on a committee that is running very smoothly, they have even been known to create a few problems just to liven things up.

Another core need of Artisans is to have impact on people. They want recognition for how well they perform which can be very graceful and impressive. This could be how well they hit a ball, repair a toilet, act in a play, or write a song. They do things because it is fun to do. Artisans will practise hitting baseball flies for hours. They do not think of it as drill. It's just fun to do. Other temperament might also want to be great ball players, but will do the practice because they knows it has to be done.

When Artisans are too confined and controlled, they follows the motto: “Don't get mad. Get even.” This is particularly noticeable in the teen years. Most teens rebel to a certain extent, but Artisan teenagers can become quite vindictive when thwarted from their freedom. They still need firm guidelines, but confrontation is not always the best way to handle them.

As lovers and spouses Artisans prefer a freewheeling lifestyle. There is often a mutual attraction between the Artisan and the Guardian temperaments. Artisans want the traditional, organizational part that Guardians bring to the relationship. However, as frequently happens with all of the temperaments, they try to change their spouses to be like them. If they do succeed, they may find that their spouses no longer interest them. The answer is for them to love what they have and appreciate their differences. Artisans have so many gifts everyone can enjoy.

Guardian individuals have the temperament with the highest percentage in the total population— nearly half. They are the ones who act as the steadying element in our society. Today, our society is in an ever-accelerating state of change. Without the Guardian's stabilizing effect, can you imagine the chaos our lives would be in?
Guardians tend to use more concrete words rather than abstract ones. At social gatherings they tend to talk about their everyday lives, the happenings at work and about their families rather than new and different ideas.

Guardians tend to find satisfaction in doing work that involve details. They do well in accounting. They are good at assembly work where quality control is important. Much of the detail work of an architect would be Guardian in nature. They fill jobs from the most basic to the highest level of intellectual capacity. They just feel more comfortable with what they can see and touch.

The animal metaphor representing Golds is the beaver that industriously keeps working the whole day long. “Be prepared” is their motto. When thinking of the future, they want to be prepared for any contingency.

The main thing that separates the different temperaments is their behaviour which is in turn influenced by their core needs. One core need of Guardians is to belong. They need to know where they stand in the hierarchy of a group. Even being at the bottom of the ladder is better than being an outsider. They form the backbone of institutions. They fill the places of worship, the service clubs and businesses. Having a title is important and they respect the office even though they may not particularly admire the person holding the position. That is why family is so important to them. They know they belong to that clan or tribe.

As learners Guardians are more interested in the facts rather than ideas. They want the details. They prefer that the teacher just tell them what they need to know. Having to do research and find out on their own can leave Guardians feeling that they might miss out on something that the teacher expects them to know. They like learning in groups but expect the group to conform so that the task is completed. The majority of elementary teachers are Guardians and they get along well with their Guardian charges that follow the rules.

During their teen years Guardians take on increasing responsibility. They will want to get jobs to save for their future such as their further education. They will have their rebellious times but these don’t tend to last as long as they might for other temperaments. They need to feel grown up and they want to take their place in society.
As adults Guardians like the predictability of life patterns. They grow up, get a job, find a mate, raise a family, and if all goes well, they'll live long and prosperous lives with a loving family at their bedside when they pass on. Another aphorism they live by is: “Hope for the best but expect the worst.”

Guardians expect to be held accountable and to take responsibility. They cheerfully shoulder the load that they know needs to be done. They just know someone is going to come along and ask them if they have finished some specific project and they want to be able to say that it is done. They are not going to be found wanting. They take on serious responsibilities even though they may grumble about being put upon by others; but when it is suggested that they should let others do it, they will say it's all right, they'll do it. They want to see that it gets done when it should and it gets done right.

This temperament is concerned about the welfare of people and will look after the physical needs of one another. It's not that the other temperaments don't also share. It is more that they don't always see the physical needs of others. Some societies have elevated sharing as a sacred duty. Not to provide shelter to even their enemy is considered a grievous fault in some cultures.

As lovers and spouses Guardians value family life and take pride in caring for their families both by earning money to maintain the home and by looking after the needs of family members. Often they are attracted to Artisan lovers who provide a vicarious excitement in their lives. The Artisan lover benefits by having a stabilizing partner. Unfortunately, Guardians like to make their lovers over in their own image. The partner will only tolerate this to a certain level and then quarrel or leave. Guardians would be better off if they could learn to appreciate the differences of others and accept them as they are. This allows people to become all that they can be rather than wasting their energies trying to live up to someone else's standards.

Rationals are constantly trying to figure out the world and why it is the way it is. Knowledge means power to them. If they know how something works they can control it. They are constantly striving to better themselves, so they are their own main competitor. They may be satisfied with what they have done today, but tomorrow they will have to do even better. They want logical answers to everything. They do not access their feelings easily. They much prefer to deal with the world in a logical rather than a values-based way.

They tend to use more abstract words that deal with theory, concepts, and ideas. They are more interested in the big picture than in the everyday details. The details can be filled in later although they are very good at taking care of all the details so as to produce the perfect outcome.

Their special skill is strategy. Strategy is the ability to look at a long range project and see all the possible situations and choose the right solutions to bring the project to completion in the best possible manner.

The animal metaphor that represents Rationals is the owl. The owl sits high up in a tree so it can observe what is going on below it. It can sit quietly and then swoop down at the right moment. Because the owl is quiet for the most part, it has the reputation of being wise. Wisdom comes from knowledge and experience. Rationals are continually acquiring knowledge and using it to produce better results each time.

Rationals love to master anything that comes their way. Then they may lose interest in it and move on to another challenge. They may take on a sport until they have mastered it and reached their physical limit in that sport. They tend to play sports giving their total effort and haven't much patience with those who don't give it their best. They need to feel competent. However, their definition of competence far exceeds that of any other temperament. What was competence for them today becomes mediocrity tomorrow.

In school they look up to the competent teacher. They quickly write off teachers whom they deem incompetent. They can often grasp a concept quickly and soon get bored with lessons that go at a slower pace for the less gifted. Of course Rationals have the full range of intelligence from the mentally handicapped to those who are gifted as do the other temperaments. The intellectually challenged Rational can become very frustrated at not being able to understand a concept.

During their teen years Rationals are often involved in intellectual activities such as computer or debating clubs, or school newspaper production. Socially, their friends may be a bit on the eccentric side. Rationals are the temperament with the fewest numbers in the population, with males being three times more numerous than females. Being a Rational can sometimes be difficult for young women because of the stereotype that females should be more feeling and emotional. It is helpful for a young Rational woman to have an older Rational woman to be a model for her.

Rationals need to be achieving. Even a vacation is a time to accomplish something. They have to read X number of books. They want to able to cross the country in a specified amount of time. Even relaxing for Rationals has to be done in an efficient manner.

They can be very resolved. When something attracts their interest, they tend to follow it up to its full conclusion. They may multi-task with each task being worked on if only at the intellectual level. They are not ones to start things and then just abandon them without giving maximum effort, although they may skim over a number of topics to see what interests them.

Adult Rationals live more studious lives. If their work falls into the intellectual category, it can be the main focus of their lives. If their work is more mundane, they will often have outside mental pursuits to satisfy their needs. Justice issues are often a concern for Rationals. They can become very passionate when they see others being treated unfairly. Other temperaments respond to the situation itself: poverty, lack of water, etc. Rationals are more likely to compare how one group has all the resources while others have little or nothing, and try to bring about changes to the overall system.

As lovers and spouses Rationals can be quite critical. They don't see themselves that way. They see their comments as being helpful. Most partners don't really appreciate the error of their ways being pointed out to them, even if the remark was right on the mark. Rationals don't need the same amount of emotional connectedness that other temperaments do and so may appear to be cold or aloof. However, once Rationals realizes what their partners need, they can use their skills to be very attentive lovers. It is just that it tends to be a more intellectual procedure rather than a spontaneous emotional heartfelt gesture. It doesn’t mean that Rationals are any less capable of love. It is just that they express it in their own way. They have to learn to appreciate the differences in other temperaments. Rationals are often attracted to Idealistss because of their more nurturing nature.

The people having a Idealist temperament tend to be future oriented. They are interested in new ideas particularly ones that relate to people. They are eternally optimistic that the world is going to get better and that everyone will live in peace and harmony. While they are concerned about everyday things like seeing that everyone is fed, they are more concerned about seeing that everyone has the opportunity to develop their full potential. For Idealists, rules are only guidelines. If there are special circumstances then rules are made to be bent a little or even broken.

Often their speech is peppered with abstract concepts such as truth, love and peace. They can rhapsodize over a good theory. They are less concerned about the details of day-to-day living. The details have to be taken care of, but seeing the big picture is much more fascinating.

The animal metaphor associated with Idealists is the dolphin. Dolphins are very gregarious mammals. They have a complex means of communications. They are playful and fun-loving animals. There have been numerous stories of dolphins rescuing humans in distress. Some people have found it very exciting to swim with the dolphins and hitch a ride on their dorsal fins.

Idealists long to be authentic. They don't like to pretend they are something they are not as it is usually very stressful for them.. They are not very interested in social position and just want to be accepted for who they are. Wearing a uniform or following a dress code is not comfortable for them, although they will do so to please others who are important to them. They don't see the need to dress in certain ways just to impress others, e.g. teachers wearing suits and ties to set them apart from their students.

As learners Idealists are most interested in subjects that promote personal growth—theirs and others. They like helping others to learn. They enjoy small group discussions. In their writings they tend to focus on the big picture and like to use metaphors to get across their points of view.

In school Idealists, above all, like to please and they want to know that the teachers really care about them. They may take subjects that are of no particular interest to them, but they perceive the subject to be important to a parent or a mentor. Some Idealists have even followed careers that were of little interest to them personally just to please a parent.

During their teen years Idealists are often drawn to creative activities such as drama, the arts and writing for the newspaper. They can be unconventional in their behaviour and their dress. They may have a deep need for privacy, using their time to sort out the meaning of life.

As adults Idealists are warm and caring for those around them with the emphasis more on the development of others rather than their physical needs. Their intuitive sense is very strong. They have the knack of knowing what motivates another person. Idealists can excel at diplomacy and use this intuition to their advantage.

Another core need is to be empathic to those around them. Often Idealists end up in work that involves counselling, teaching and psychology. Even if they are working as an accountant, Idealists bring that element of human compassion that belies the more usual bottom line approach to the job.

Above all, life must have meaning for Idealists. What is the meaning of life and what is their part in the grand scheme of things is a lifelong quest for Idealists. They strive all their lives to “become.” Some even become workshop groupies, believing they have found the Holy Grail, that is until the next new exciting idea comes along.

As lovers and spouses Idealists are very caring and considerate. They are usually more aware of their partners' needs and will do everything they can to satisfy those needs. They are more likely to suffer in silence if they cannot get their partners to understand what the problem is between them. Above all they want a harmonious relationship. They will put up with a great deal before admitting a relationship has come to an end. Idealists are often attracted to Rationals particularly for their intellectual approach to life. Even Idealists have to learn to appreciate the differences of others.

You have permission to copy this handout as long as you acknowledge the author. You can pull it into a word processing program and reformat it if you prefer. If the animals don't reproduce to well, you probably can use some from another graphics package.

Go to where you can take the Keirsey Character Sorter online that will help you determine your temperament.

Jack Falt is a trained facilitator in the use of Personality Dimensions®, True Colors®, MBTI® and Self-Discovery Process®. He leads an ongoing Appreciating Differences group that studies personality types including the Enneagram and Emotional Intelligence in the Ottawa area. You may reach him at (613) 256-3276 or by e-mail at (To use the e-mail address, replace the # with an @ symbol. This will help reduce the amount of spam mail received.) He has further information on his web site at

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