Temperamental Politics

In a prior blog, I suggested that those of us attempting to change political hearts and minds should heed 500-year-old advice from Blaise Pascal  regarding the art of persuasion:

Eloquence is an art of saying things in such a way — (1) that those to whom we speak may listen to them without pain and with pleasure; (2) that they feel themselves interested, so that self-love leads them more willingly to reflection upon it.

It consists, then, in a correspondence which we seek to establish between the head and the heart of those to whom we speak on the one hand, and, on the other, between the thoughts and the expressions which we employ.

All too often, however, we fail to adequately embrace the fact that we must convince folks who just don’t think like us – much less agree with us. Our particular ways of acting, thinking, and talking seem so natural to us. It’s difficult to comprehend that others can be so different. But they are.

I have found David Keirsey’s take on temperament to be a useful way of thinking about interpersonal differences in a relatively simple, straightforward, and rational way. Some might argue that the Keirsey scheme is flawed. And perhaps it is. But it’s still a useful way to think about differences.

Temperament can be thought of as a person’s fundamental nature, encompassing their modes of communication, action, attitudes, values, and talents. Temperament is expressed in how we interact with others in the workplace and in our everyday lives.

Keirsey’s protocol is based on personality types expressed in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) that many may be familiar with.

The MBTI is a system of 16 personality types based on four dichotomies derived from the psychological understandings of Carl Jung, briefly summarized here:

  • Extraversion (E) vs Introversion (I). Extraverts draw energy from acting. They’re focused on the external world. Introverts prefer to reflect and contemplate. They reflect more on their inner thoughts.
  • Sensation (S) vs Intuition (N). These functions describe how information is understood and interpreted. Sensation types trust information that is tangible and concrete. Intuitive types tend to be more focused on meaning, underlying principles, and possibilities.
  • Thinking (T) vs Feeling (F). These are the decision-making functions. Thinking types make decisions based on logical rules and facts. Feeling types make decisions based on their effect on themselves and others.
  • Perceiving (P) vs. Judging (J). These are functions that describe how one lives their life. Judging types generally prefer a more structured life, while perceiving types prefer a more flexible and adaptive lifestyle.

No judgment should be place on the value of any of these ways of being. Carl Jung famously said something to the effect that if you were to make all your decisions out of either the Thinking or Feeling function, you’d make the wrong decision half the time.

Though based on Jungian ideas and the MBTI typology, David Keirsey takes a slightly different perspective, identifying four fundamental human temperaments that he labels the Artisan, the Guardian, the Rational, and the Idealist.

Keirsey brings this simplification to human temperament in a very practical way by focusing on: 1) what we say, and 2) what we do. Concrete people tend to talk more about reality, while Abstract people talk more about ideas.  Utilitarian people, for the most part, do what works, while Cooperative people tend to do what’s right.

From Kerisey’s website:

As Concrete Cooperators, Guardians speak mostly of their duties and responsibilities, of what they can keep an eye on and take good care of, and they're careful to obey the laws, follow the rules, and respect the rights of others.

As Abstract Cooperators, Idealists speak mostly of what they hope for and imagine might be possible for people, and they want to act in good conscience, always trying to reach their goals without compromising their personal code of ethics.

As Concrete Utilitarians, Artisans speak mostly about what they see right in front of them, about what they can get their hands on, and they will do whatever works, whatever gives them a quick, effective payoff, even if they have to bend the rules.

As Abstract Utilitarians, Rationals speak mostly of what new problems intrigue them and what new solutions they envision, and always pragmatic, they act as efficiently as possible to achieve their objectives, ignoring arbitrary rules and conventions if need be.

In Myers-Briggs terminology,

Guardians are SJ types (40-45% of the US population). Most of our Presidents have been Guardians, including George Washington, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, and Harry Truman.

Artisans are SP types (30-35% of the US population). Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Lyndon Johnson, George W. Bush, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson were all Artisans.

Idealists are NF types (15-20% of the US population). There have been no Idealist Presidents.

Rationals are NT types (5-10% of the US population). John Adams, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln were Rational Presidents.

For those interested in more in-depth study, Keirsey’s system addresses the differences within each of the four temperaments as well, by addressing the characteristics of the four classes of personalities based on the MBTI dichotomies.

One of the things you’ll notice about this discussion is that 70-80% of the US population is likely Guardians or Artisans. Both are sensation types who tend to focus on the concrete over the abstract, the here and now over future possibilities.

Many of us working outside the duopoly tend toward the intuitive, meaning that we’re either Idealists or Rationals. We see possibilities. We see where change could take us. But that’s not how Guardians and Artisans see things. It’s what’s in front of them that they’re focused on.

No matter what your temperament, effective communication should begin by recognizing how different people see the world, especially when they’re different from you. If you want your message to be heard, learn to translate.

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