Temper Temper Temperament

As I've talked about before, one of my current areas of study is personality types. In particular, of late I've been reading up on the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator and Keirsey Temperament Sorter. Isabel Myers herself noticed large similarities between sets of the sixteen MBTI types: the iNtuitive Feelers, iNtuitive Thinkers, Sensing Perceivers, and Sensing Judgers. David Keirsey terms these four groups "temperaments" and thinks of them as one-half of a person's personality, the other half being character. Think of your temperament as your particular set of inclinations, whereas your character is your particular set of habits. Or temperament as your hardware and character as your software.

The big difference between Myers' four groups and Keirsey's four temperaments is the rationale behind the groupings: Keirsey sticks to things that can be observed - words and tools (note that just about every part of civilization is tool, from the hammer you use to build a house to the building codes that house must meet) - whereas Myers felt the most fundamental difference between types was a person's introversion or extraversion. Keirsey grouped the types like this:

Abstract Concrete
Tools Cooperative NF - Idealist SJ - Guardian
Utilitiarian NT - Rational SP - Artisan

Artisan SPs are concrete utilitarians. The words they use tend to be very descriptive, they tend to focus on what is happening Right Now, and they talk about what they can see and touch and feel much more than they do things they can only visualize in their mind. Artisans consciously craft their dialogues to have a specific form and feeling and flow. They use their tools in a very pragmatic fashion; rather than searching around for exactly the perfect tool, they will take whatever is at hand and modify it to work well enough. Artisans are master tacticians, so-so at logistics and strategy, and not so hot at diplomacy.

Guardian SJs are concrete cooperators. As with the Artisans, Guardians lack interest in fanciful subjects of conversation. Guardian conversation is quite associative, with one topic reminding them of something else, which reminds them of something else, and so while you may have started out talking about the upcoming beta release you may find yourself discussing penguins being shot into space. Guardians full-on believe that rules should be followed because they exist for the greater good. Guardians are top-notch logisticians, okay with tactics and diplomacy, and generally poor at strategy.

Idealist NFs are abstract cooperators. They are much more interested in topics which must be imagined - love and hate, heart and soul - than items which can be seen and touched. They seem to always being reading between the lines or acting on hunches as they zoom from a few particulars to what may seem to others as premature generalizations. Like Guardians, Idealists are cooperative in their tools, but whereas Guardians focus more on doing things the way society has decided they should be done, Idealists follow the rules because that's what everybody else has decided to do. Idealist place much more importance on their tools being acceptable to everyone than being exactly right for the job. As you might expect, Idealists are born diplomats, fair at strategy and logistics, but often struggle with tactics.

Rationalist NTs are abstract utilitarians. They talk more about ideas than objects, and tend to be rather parsimonious in their conversation, but they pick the words they do use very carefully and intentionally. Rationals approach topics quite opposite from Idealists, moving from generalities to specificities rather than the other way round. Rationalists care more about the usefulness of their tools than their social acceptability. They aren't opposed to following the rules, so long as doing so doesn't prevent them from doing their work in the most efficacious manner possible. Rationalists are premier strategists, acceptable at diplomacy and tactics, and mostly stay as far away from logistics as they can.

Me, I'm a Rationalist. But I'm also close to being a Guardian and an Artisan. And pretty far from being an Idealist - I'm about ninety percent thinking, and that ten percent feeling part of me has a tough time making itself known.

All this matters because people tend to assume that other people are just like them, but of course most people are very not just like them. Rationals and Guardians are polar opposites and thus are likely to be mystified and/or offended by the very different way the other person thinks, the words they use, and the general approach they take to life. Even a basic understanding of these four distinct temperaments - let alone the many dissimilarities between the full sixteen MBTI types - can reduce misunderstandings and help you get decisions made and work done.

Let me know if you'd like more details about all this! David Keirsey wrote entire books on this subject; I promise to keep it to rather fewer posts. <g/>

David Keirsey's book Please Understand Me II is my primary source for all this. I highly recommend it.

*** Want a fun job on a great team? I need a tester! Interested? Let's talk: Michael dot J dot Hunter at microsoft dot com. Great coding skills required.

Comments (10)

  1. BlakeHandler says:

    That was very interesting — it’s nice to learn more about the world from Microsoft blogs, than just Microsoft stuff.

    But then again I’m an "Idealist" (^_^)

  2. Jason Yip says:

    Don’t remember where I got this from… but some other blog recently posted this link:


  3. sonal says:

    Good one! Over time I have grown to realise that the first step to dealing with different personalities successfuly is learning and identifying their existance. Keep them coming!

  4. PsychSkeptic says:

    You might expect folks who deal with complex software systems to find an overly simplistic tool like this to be somewhat hard to believe.  Humans are a lot more complex than the M-B model implies.  When folks are administered this test several times over a year, they tend to score differently each time depending on a number of factors such as time of day, season of the year, current emotional state, whether they are dealing with issues in their personal or professional life, etc.  So a tool like this appears to be non-deterministic and not really useful.  

    Do you find software tools like code analyzers that label your code as "complex" or "too loosely coupled" useful?  Some folks do, but for really large software systems, it may not apply.  Under what circumstances would the M-B labels not be relevant or useful?  In my opinion, it seldom is.

  5. phil kirkham says:

    I read Please Understand Me II a year ago and found I was a Guardian, read the description and didn’t think I was but then people who knew me said it was exactly what I was.

    It taught me a lot about myself and how I think and a lot of things started to make sense.

    Highly recommended

  6. PyschSkeptic: I certainly know at least one person whose MBTI results fluctuate each time she takes the test. However, she would tell you that her personality does change dramatically from day to day, so that her MBTI type changes as well would seem to make sense. Oh the other hand, my results, and those of many other people I know, have held steady over many years.

    I find MBTI, static code analyzers, and many other tools helpful, but only when I keep context in mind and use the tool as a guide rather than an absolute. Rating code by its cyclomatic complexity highlights code that is complex. Whether any of those chunks of code are *overly* complex, however, is a decision I must make. Blindly modifying code in order to get it lower than some complexity boundary not only is silly but may result in actually making it harder to understand. But *reviewing* each flagged code chunk to determine whether it could be simplified, is all goodness.

    Likewise, making assumptions about someone based on their MBTI type is silly. One of my colleagues is a strong Guardian, but contrary to type is also very strong in strategy. If I were to interact with him solely based on his type I would miss out some of his unique talents.

    I find personality types – MBTI, Human Dynamics, Enneagrams, or What Star Wars Character Are You? – useful as a decoding ring, a starting point for understanding people. Definitely not as a substitute for getting to know them and learn what they are really like, what they really enjoy, and what they really think.

  7. Emptiness says:

    My F/T tends to be T at work and F at home, because I’ve adapted to society not valuing F that much.

    I think that’s what led me to personality theory in the first place.  I felt like two people.  I can’t tell you the number of times while reading Please Understand Me that a chord would ring true.  But the funny thing is I almost always saw tiny slivers of myself in each type.

    Remembering that I’ve got a little bit of Guardian/Artist, I approach my testing by trying to mentally re-arrange my goals.  Of course, it’s not possible to do this with any degree of accuracy, but I figure that trying to see with SP/SJ eyes is better than blindly assuming everyone is a rational.

    I’ve had a few interesting conversations with the rational programmers I work with trying to show them how such-and-such implementation of a feature is bound to confuse some users, only to be met with a blank stare or looks of scorn.  And then I realize that I’ve stepped on their own outlook… why would anyone ever do it _that_ way?  It makes me smile.

  8. Allan Clark says:

    It’s interesting that the FOAF rdf format includes a M-B code 😉

    The interesting thing is when two idealists are at direct opposites in their abstractions and goals, and their passible diplomacy steps on each other!

  9. The last of Keirsey’s Four Temperaments is the Idealist.

    Recall that Idealists – or NFs – tend to be…

  10. Sunday was a warm-up tutorial by Don Gray and Steve Smith . This was an all-day session meant to introduce

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