How To Effectively Recognize and Manage Different Personalities


Our life journey can be very complex. Understanding who we are can seem like a daunting task. Why do we react the way we do in certain situations, why are we prone to negativity, why do other people think we are bossy or brash? These are all great questions, right? Determining the answers is another story altogether. There are very few people who instinctively have the desire to become self-aware. Most individuals tend to have an attitude that conveys, “This is just the way I am, deal with it!” Unfortunately, this type of attitude can result in numerous misunderstandings, conflicts, even broken relationships. Let’s take a journey into understanding some basic personality types and specifically how they can affect our career.

Personality profiles have been around for a long time using various terms to identify personality types. In fact, many industries use or have used personality profile tests as a way to ensure that individuals are well-suited for employment positions they are seeking to fill. It is important for managers and co-workers to understand how to promote a healthier work environment by understanding the personalities represented within the workplace. Each personality brings to the table strengths and weaknesses. The key is to always work toward our strengths and minimize our weaknesses.

In my quest for better understanding, I discovered numerous resources on personalities, some with very complicated analytics. I did come across one particular book written by Florence Littauer called Personality Plus that seemed to simplify the profiles and offer great insight into how different personalities can impact the workplace, individual careers and personal relationships.
In my career as an instructor in the healthcare industry, I share the lessons I learned in hopes that others, whether personally or professionally will understand that everyone is unique and different. Let’s make an effort to understand the “person”. When we do this we can use this information to have better relationships and ensure success rather than failure.

Let’s take a look at four basic personality traits, Sanguine, Melancholy, Choleric and Phlegmatic:

• Sanguine: An extrovert, a talker and ever the optimist.
• Melancholy: An introvert, a thinker and ever the pessimist.
• Choleric: An extrovert, a doer, and ever the optimist.
• Phlegmatic: An introvert, a watcher and ever the pessimist.

As you can see there are some similarities that you recognize immediately, Melancholies and Phlegmatics are introverts and pessimists. Cholerics and Sanguines are extroverts and optimists.

• The Sanguines are very engaging. They love to have a good time. They also make friends very easily.
• The Melancholies are detailed-oriented and perfectionists, with a tendency toward negativity.
• The Cholerics are goal-oriented, the “get’er” done people, the driven “movers and shakers”.
• The Phlegmatics are easy-going, always looking cool and calm, not liking any type of conflict with panache for procrastination.

I am sure that as you read through these descriptions you probably picked yourself out along with several friends and/or co-workers. Certainly, you can see how the different personalities can either be easy to work with or create challenges.

While some personalities are bossy, some detailed oriented, some party animals, some loners, it is possible for you to have a combination of various traits. With each personality type you get a different skill set. Regardless of the environment, friendship or workplace, our success is driven by how well our personality traits sync up. Therefore, it stands to reason that if an individual with a party animal (sanguine) personality is asked to perform a detail-oriented task (which would be more suited to the melancholy personality), they would possibly fail. Why? because they are more people-oriented, they thrive on interaction not details.
Each personality type has both strengths and weaknesses. To better understand ourselves we must be honest and recognize that we are not 100% perfect all of the time. Yes, we have flaws! Let me start with the most obvious negative aspects of these:

• Sanguine: Flashy, absentminded, interrupt, short-tempered, wants credit, chatty, disorganized, show-off, loud, careless, and impatient.

• Choleric: Domineering, blunt, impatient, stubborn, confrontational, workaholic, authoritarian, insensitive, quick-tempered, willful, superior attitude.

• Melancholy: Shy, picky, self-doubting, difficult, alienated, loner, solitary, Too thin-skinned, distrustful, vindictive, depressed, cynical.

• Phlegmatic: apprehensive, unsure, tentative, directionless, worrier, timid, doubtful, leisurely, lazy, sluggish, hesitant.

Now for the more positive aspects:

• Sanguine: Vibrant, outgoing, lively, supporter, spur-of-the-moment, positive, talker, popular, cheerful, funny.​
• Choleric: Adventurous, determined, self-sufficient, positive, competitive, creative, honest, forceful, confident, tenacious, productive.​​​
• Melancholy: Analytical, persistent, selfless, thoughtful, polite, sensitive, planner scheduled, neat, sophisticated, faithful, perfectionist.
• Phlegmatic: Adaptable, peaceful, submissive, controlled, reserved, satisfied, shy, friendly, patient, tolerant, pleasant, reliable.

Most people will have a primary personality profile; some will have a primary profile with a secondary or lesser profile. Some individuals may be somewhat evenly split between all four profiles. Typically, you are going to identify with the personality trait in which you score the highest and carry the some of the traits of those categories as they fall in the ranking. The benefit of knowing what your personality traits are is the fact that you now have a picture of both your good and not so good qualities. When you are satisfied with understanding your own profile, take time to study the other profiles so you are better equipped to relate to those around you.

I hope you are beginning to see how different personalities can have an impact on our workplace, our home, our parenting skills, and our friendships. With understanding we can help eliminate or reduce conflicts. Take the workplace; it creates, if you will, its own culture, its own family-type dynamic. Have you ever wondered why you just don’t “jive” with some people at work or within your group of acquaintances and friends? Have you ever heard the term personality conflict? Well, personality conflicts are very common between individuals. The problem is the majority of time we take these conflicts personally and automatically think that individual doesn’t like us. In reality, that may not be the case at all. Our personalities play a big role in how we are perceived by and interact with others.

Let me give you a personal workplace example:
I was the office manager for a medical practice. I would always dread it when a certain employee would approach me with an issue. She would always start with, “I really hate to bother you….” statement. I immediately knew I was in for a story which would “eventually” lead to the bottom line of her issue. As she would begin to talk, I would feel myself sink into this half-listening mode, nodding occasionally, waiting for her to get to the point. When she finally got around to the issue she needed help with, I had mentally checked out, so I was reaching back into the conversation, asking questions that about things she had really already explained during the process of the story-telling. Needless to say, I would give her my advice, line out the things she needed to do. Basically, I gave her a to-do list, expected her follow my instructions and report back to me. When she reported back, the issue was solved. Great right? Well, yes and no. She did not follow my to-do list. My thoughts; why did she even bother me in the first place? In my frustration, I am sure my displeasure was very evident.

This one experience is the reason why I became interested in personality types. So, first, I took the personality test for myself. My personality profile results were pretty evenly split between two types, the Melancholy was my primary trait, and the Choleric was the second or the lesser trait. As I learned more about my personality type, I began to see where many of my frustrations originated. I soon gave everyone in the office this test. Each employee found the exercise to be eye-opening on a personal level. Of course, I made it a point to read each personality profile and for me it opened up the possibility that this new found information could be used to improve our workplace environment.

Now, back to my example; the employee I had the exchange with ended up being a Phlegmatic/Sanguine/Melancholy personality type. In a nutshell, she was not someone who liked confrontation, she loved to visit/talk, and a little on the negative side, not to mention very sensitive. Now, you take my Melancholy/Choleric personality which is geared toward negativity as well, in addition to wanting things done the right way and done MY way, it was very obvious why I felt so frustrated in dealing with her. Choleric personalities need things presented to them in bullet points; they don’t like stories….get to the point! The take away is this; our communication was not at all what it needed to be. She dreaded bringing stuff to me because of possible confrontation. I dreaded seeing her approach my desk because it took so long to get to the bottom of what she really needed. I realized, as her manager, I was not treating her fairly.

I use this example to encourage office managers and co-workers alike to understand that not all conflicts are because someone just doesn’t like us. Understanding the personality types of others will help you understand why certain people never have anything joyful to say, understand why that person comes across as bossy and brash, why some seem to never stop talking or why some individuals are always procrastinating. Learning your own personality traits will help you, eliminate or curb weaknesses and cultivate other traits that will benefit you personally and professionally.

Here are some tips to consider when you analyze your strengths and weaknesses and to help you relate to others better:

If you are a Sanguine:
You are a: Great front-door person, enthusiastic and expressive, you make friends easily—never met a stranger type, creative and fun, you volunteer for jobs, you are very talkative, and a great storyteller.
Your weakness is in: remembering names, not following-through, talking too much, exaggerating, you have more fans than friends, being self-centered, being disorganized, and manipulation through charm.
Improvements to make:
• Talk ½ as much
• Stop exaggerating
• Learn to listen
• Write things down
• Focus on developing deep friendships
Tips for relating with Sanguine:
• Recognize they talk without thinking first
• Recognize they have a hard time accomplishing tasks
• Help them keep from accepting more than they can do
• Remember they are circumstantial and emotional
• Recognize they mean well

If you are a Melancholy:
You are: Analytical, genius prone, you plan and organize, you are neat and orderly and can be counted on to finish a job, very detail-oriented, economical, compassionate, a perfectionist, and creative.
Your Weaknesses are: You are easily depressed, assume the worst in people and situations, low-self image, tend to procrastinate through planning, have unrealistic expectations, can bring a cloud into a room.
Improvements to make:
• Realize no one likes a gloomy person
• Don’t take things so personally
• Look for the positives
• Plan less, do more
• Lower your standards
Tips for relating with Melancholy:
• Know they are very sensitive and get hurt easily
• Recognize they are naturally pessimistic
• Try to keep a reasonable schedule
• Realize necessity of neatness
• Accept that they like it quiet sometimes

If you are a Choleric:
You are (a): Born leader, driven, goal-oriented, strong-willed, a person who can run anything, not afraid of opposition, independent, someone who makes split-second decisions, problem-solver, usually right .
Your weaknesses are: You don’t see your own faults, a compulsive worker, a control freak, you can come off bossy, not so good with your people skills.
Improvements to make:
• Learn to relax and not feel guilty
• Allow others to take charge
• Admit faults
• Practice patience
• Tone down approach
Tips for relating with “Powerful” Choleric:
• Recognize they are born leaders
• Insist on two-way communication
• Know they don’t mean to hurt
• Understand they are not naturally compassionate
• Understand they may see things black and white, not many shades of gray

If you are a Phlegmatic:
You are: Easy-going, low-key, inoffensive, patient, calm, cool, collected, realistic, mediator, a good listener.
Your weaknesses: you are not enthusiastic, you dislike change, tend procrastinates, can seem lazy, indecisive, emotionally closed, you avoid conflict, and have a hard time with discipline.
Improvements to make:
• Show some enthusiasm!
• Try something new
• Learn to communicate feelings
• Practice making decisions
• Learn to say no
Tips for relating with Phlegmatic
• Realize they need direct motivation
• Help them set goals and make rewards
• Don’t expect enthusiasm
• Force them to make decisions
• Don’t heap all the blame on them

I have listed some traits that will help you recognize how personalities can either bring harmony or chaos to a work environment, take a look at some best fits for these types:

• Sanguines: dealing with people, expressing thoughts, conveying excitement, best in positions that deal with the public, that don’t require too much attention to detail.
• Melancholies: dealing with details, analyzing problems, keeping records, charts and graphs, best in positions that require minimal interaction with people, accounting and bookkeeping positions.
• Cholerics: taking charge, making quick decision, quick assessment of situations, best in positions of authority like process management where maintaining control is important.
• Phlegmatics: like routine and calm environments, promotes unity, best in jobs that provide routine activities, not high pressure.

Remember understanding personalities in the workplace is not about putting people in “square boxes”. It is about placing individuals in jobs that they can be successful in. The same applies in our personal lives as well, when we understand we are better equipped to accept people as they are and realize they are not intentionally “out to get us”, to “hurt our feelings”, or “just being mean”.

I hope you have enjoyed this introduction into the four basic personality types, how they can impact us on a daily basis and that you are encouraged to embark on a personality self-awareness adventure.

Resources: Personality Plus by Florence Littauer

About The Author

GeoJan Wright


  1. Lucy Gibson | 30th Mar 18

    Craig, you make an excellent point about how understanding your own personality type can help your curb or eliminate weakness and benefit you. I would assume that business owners could benefit from getting trained about the different types of personality types. This might help when it comes to matching the right employee to the right team or position.

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