Personality Plus

There have been times in my professional life (and personal as well) when I really wondered if I could communicate and work with certain other individuals. For example, in my incarnation as a Real Estate agent, I always went into a meeting well prepared, with all of the pertinent information and a comprehensive report. Problem was, a certain number of people could never sit through my presentation, asked questions that I thought were off the wall and generally seemed to be in another dimension than I was. Then I read a book that explained it all, and relations with others became much easier.

The book is Personality Plus: How to Understand Others by Understanding Yourself, by Florence Littauer*. In the book, Littauer explains the four personality types that she has observed: choleric, sanguine, melancholy, and phlegmatic. It did not take me long to understand the problem once I understood the four basic types that Littauer described. In particular, my own type stood out quite clearly and I knew right away that those that did not listen to me didn’t for a reason, me! Here are the four types:

Choleric: this is a description that is not hard to imagine; a choleric is a person that always wants to be out in front of the parade and knows exactly where they are going. Of course, the choleric assumes that everyone else can see the correctness of their thinking and will just fall in line. Some do, but when there are two or more cholerics in the group watch out; sparks will fly!

Sanguine: a sanguine is the exact opposite of the choleric; they just want to have fun! A sanguine must always be the center of attention, has lots of energy and does not seem to focus for very long on a single topic. Here was the second inkling of my problem; most of those that I did not connect with were sanguines! According to Littauer, I needed to change my manner in order to work with them.

A sanguine is not hard do identify (as you read this, I am sure at least one sanguine that you know has come to mind!), and it is possible to adapt. In the Real Estate setting, when I began to talk to sanguines more about the excitement of finding a new home or the difficult emotions of leaving a home, my business with them increased.

Melancholy: this is not a sad person, just a well organized one. For a melancholy, planning is everything, and they absolutely must have all the details in place before making a move. Do you know anyone that spends a long time rolling up their sleeves, so to speak, but has a hard time getting going? Probably a melancholy.

Phlegmatic: this personality type is quiet, does not make waves and is slow to make up their mind about something. Once they have made up their mind, try and get them to change it! They can be very stubborn once they have made a decision.

In order to get along better, Littauer states that you must not only know yourself, but the other person as well. Her system of personality type makes it easy to get an idea of where a person is coming from, and then fun to adapt your style and see results. As a choleric (read bulldog) I have had to learn how to step back sometimes and let another choleric lead the way; often to great results. I highly recommend Personality Plus: How to Understand Others by Understanding Yourself, an interesting read and down to earth guide to getting along with others.

* Revell; Revised and Expanded edition (July 1, 1992)

4 thoughts on “Personality Plus

  1. Kevin, I whole-heartedly second your recommendation.

    My company started as a family business in 1989. My father had used the original Personality Plus in a variety of other settings, so it was natural for him to bring it into the workplace. Most applicants, and all employees, receive a copy of the book. We share our personality profiles so that we are each aware of others’ natures. Since most workplace conflict is caused by “conflicting natures” rather than “conflicting values” we instituted a simple rule: If you are visiting someone else (either in person or electronically) then it is your obligation as the visitor to be sensitive to the nature of the other person, and it is your obligation to spend “mental energy” to make the transaction fit the other person’s nature as much as possible.

    The classic example: A salesperson bounces into Manufacturing and says, “I’ve got a sale if we can get the system delivered next week. Can we do it?” Typical response from Manufacturing: “No way. The standard lead time is 4 weeks.” … and then the fur starts flying.

    What happened here? A Sanguine+Choleric just invaded the turf of a Melancholy, asked a non-specific question, and wanted a firm commitment! The Melancholy feels besieged, and defends his carefully-laid plan. How does this same transaction work when the requester is sensitive to the Melancholy nature?

    Salesperson: “I have a prospect in Dallas, Texas who will buy if we can deliver before next Thursday. I understand it’s short-notice, and it will disrupt your entire plan. Maybe it’s impossible. Can you think of any way that we could do this?”

    Manufacturing: “Let me look at what’s in the pipeline. If we can . Yes, I think we can make it.”

    By providing details, acknowledging that it will cause change, and admitting that it’s a hard problem, the salesperson has now engaged the Melancholy as a teammate whose detail-oriented nature is essential to finding an answer to a tough problem.

    Bottom line: If you make an effort to understand your nature and the nature of others, and apply that knowledge throughout your organization, your organization will be more effective and have fewer internal conflicts.

    • Kevin R Callahan


      A great illustration of how to use Personality Plus in the workplace! Thanks for contributing.


  2. It is easier to understand these personality types in terms of two variables:

    1. Task-oriented vs. Person-oriented
    2. Outgoing vs. Reserved

    These variables create four basic personality types:

    a. Person-oriented & outgoing (“Sanguine”)
    b. Person-oriented & reserved (“Phlegmatic”)
    c. Task-oriented & outgoing (“Choleric”)
    d. Task-oriented & reserved (“Melancholy”)

    It’s much easier to understand these types because they’re not represented by a somewhat abstract word, rather, by the description of the personality itself.

    It is so important to understand your audience – whether you’re a speaker on stage, a salesman, or giving a presentation in a board room. When you know where the others are coming from, you know where to go to get the result.


  3. Interesting to see the Ptolemaic terms back in use again – last time I saw these I was reading Chaucer! These were obviously so good they entered our normal language, so why not use them?

    Thanks for the article, I enjoyed it.

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