What is the Keirsey Temperament Sorter?

The Keirsey Temperament Sorter is a means of classifying personality types across four scales of behavior. The model was introduced by David Keirsey, and is based on the earlier work of Carl Jung and then later the additions of Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers.  It is designed to help us to understand ourselves, and others, a little better.

In this article, we will first explore the history of the various related personality models that we collectively call the “16 Personality Types“. We will then look at each of Keirsey’s four temperaments, and how they impact career-fit and work-style. Let’s dive in!

Precursors to The Keirsey Temperament Sorter

The idea of personality typing is not new or novel. Since the dawn of time, humans have tried to describe, understand and explain our unique and individual personalities. As such, there are several important precursors to the Keirsey Temperament Sorter that are important to understand as a baseline of knowledge in the study of personality typing.

Carl Jung’s “Psychological Types”

Perhaps one of the most influential personality typing theories is that of Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Published in 1921, Jung’s Psychological Types introduced the concept of distinct psychological types, and has inspired numerous different theories that further built on his framework. One of Jung’s key contributions to what is now often referred to as “personality typology” was the development of the concept of introversion versus extraversion. Jung theorized that our cognition tends to skew either towards our internal world (introversion) or our external world (extraversion).

Another influential notion of Jung’s was the proposal that we have four main cognitive functions. There are two perceiving functions (Sensation and Intuition), and two judging functions (Thinking and Feeling). We can then leverage each of these functions from a perspective of introversion (internal-focus) or extraversion (external-focus).

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers later popularized their own model which is partly based on Jung’s work, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Briggs and Myers used the Jungian scales of Extraversion-Introversion and the dimensions pairs of Sensing-Intuition and Thinking-Feeling. But rather than viewing the Sensing-Intuition and Thinking-Feeling pairs as being expressed inwardly or outwardly, they considered the individual’s overall preference as an introvert or extravert and thus considered that its own separate scale. They then also added a fourth dichotomy: Judging-Perceiving, which reflects how a person implements the information he or she has processed.

Myers and Briggs also proposed that each of us tends to favor one of the two possible values in the four different scales.  That is to say, while any one individual will use both Thinking and Feeling, they will generally display an overall preference for one of those dimensions.  Many online personality tests that are available today will evaluate this and provide the test-taker with a score that tries to encapsulate this: Bill has a 63% skew towards Feeling versus 37% Thinking, for example.

With 4 different dimensions in Myers-Briggs’ MBTI there are thus 16 combinations of possible personality types (2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 16). One thing that helped make the MBTI so popular was the birth of the four letter acronym to identify these 16 types – which can then serve as both a name and also a key for each type’s particular range of cognitive dimensional preferences. For instance, those with Extraverted, Sensing, Thinking and Perceiving preferences can easily identify themselves as ‘ESTP‘. And those with Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling and Judging preferences can identify as the ‘INFJ‘.

Overview of The Keirsey Temperament Sorter

A later contribution to the world of personality typing is a model introduced by David Keirsey, namely: The Keirsey Temperament Sorter. Using the same 4 lettering model as introduced by Myers and Briggs, Keirsey explains how our behavior is impacted by our personality preferences. Keirsey proposed the following four scales:

  • The mind scale (I-E) describes how we interact with our surroundings. The scale runs from Introverted (those who prefer to be alone) to Extraverted (those who are energized by social interaction).
  • The energy scale (S-N) describes how we see the world around us and process information. We either have a Sensing preference and are practical, pragmatic and focus on facts and details. Or, we have a iNtuitive preference and prefer to focus on ideas and concepts.
  • The nature scale (T-F) describes how we make decisions and cope with emotions. The scale ranges from Thinking (those who are objective, rational and make decisions based on logic and reason) to Feeling (those who are emotionally expressive, empathetic and make decisions based on feelings and values).
  • The tactics scale (J-P) describes our approach to work, planning and decision making. We either have a Judging preference, where we are decisive and make plans. Or, we have a Perceiving preference and prefer to be spontaneous and flexible.

An individual who: 1) is Introverted on the mind scale; 2) is Sensing on the energy scale; 3) is Feeling on the nature scale; and 4) is Judging on the tactics scale would have the acronym ‘ISFJ’. Whereas, someone who is Extraverted, iNtuitive, Thinking and Perceiving would have the acronym ‘ENTP’.

So while Keirsey used the same 16 type acronyms, he then grouped the types into four (4) different temperaments that focus more on behavior and actions than on “inner-life”.

The Four Temperaments in the Keirsey Temperament Sorter

Keirsey noticed, after his initial work, that some of the 16 types were alike in many ways. Expanding on the ancient work for Hippocrates and Plato, he clustered the personality types together.  Thus the four temperaments of artisan, rational, idealist and guardian were born.

A ‘temperament’ describes how people who belong to a specific personality type are likely to behave. It is a combination of observable personality traits (e.g., communication style and patterns of action) and sets of characteristics attitudes, values and talents. Temperaments also include personal needs, which are crucial to understanding ourselves in the workplace, and in society.

Each of the four temperaments has its own unique qualities, shortcomings, strengths and challenges. From this, it is possible to make predictions on what careers each temperament may be best suited to. However, it is important to remember that these categories are designed to be suggestions, indicators and tendencies. They are not definitive answers as to how we behave, what kind of parent we will be or what career we should choose. There are other things, outside of our personality, that influence our behavior (e.g., environment, experiences, individual goals).

Temperaments and Communication

Keirsey categorized his four temperaments based two things. The first is our communication. We all talk and communicate about things that interest us personally. However, there tends to be two broad, but distinct, areas of subject matter that people discuss.

  • People are either concrete in their communication. These types of people (artisans and guardians) communicate about everyday realities, such as the weather or their work.
  • Or, people are abstract and are concerned with theories, conjectures, philosophies, beliefs and fantasies. Idealist and rational temperaments tend to communicate in this way.

Temperaments and Action

The second thing the temperaments are categorized on is their action. People are always trying to accomplish their goals. However, there are two fundamentally opposite ways in which we do this.

  • Cooperative people act in a primarily socially acceptable manner. They try to do the right thing, and only at a later date will they concern themselves with the effectiveness of their actions. The types of people who behave like this fall into either the idealist or guardian temperaments.
  • On the contrary, other people will achieve their goals in a utilitarian manner. Rationals and artisans behave in this way and tend to do what gets them results and achieves their objectives as efficiently as possible. Only after will they stop to consider whether they are observing rules or going through proper channels.

Overview of Each Temperament

Below is an overview of each of the 4 temperaments in David Keirsey’s model, with links to further information on each.

1. The Artisans

Categorized by utilitarian actions and concrete communication, the artisan temperament is comprised of the ESTP, the ISTP, the ESFP and the ISFP. These personality types all share the same perceiving (P) preference, meaning that they prefer to be spontaneous and flexible. They also share a Sensing  (S) preference, meaning they tend to focus on facts and details, opposed to ideas and concepts.

As a whole, artisan are fun-loving and sensation-seeking risk takers. They are the types of people who want to live in the present and seek flexibility, creativity and adaptability. Often, these types are good with their hands and are found in creative careers, or other careers (e.g., carpentry, cheffing or construction) where they can use their senses.

2. The Guardians

The guardian temperament is comprised of the ESTJ, the ISTJ, the ESFJ and the ISFJ. Categorized as cooperative in their actions and concrete in their communication, guardians are community-focused and dependable.

Each of the four personality types within this temperament share a Sensing (S) preference, meaning they focus on facts and details. Guardians are grouped because of their Judging (J) preference, which means that they tend to prefer to be planned and organized.

In general, these types are factual, dependable and law-abiding. They have a great sense of right and wrong, and are often found in careers that allow them to practice this (e.g., law or policing). Guardians also thrive of helping others, and as a result, can be well suited to people-oriented roles, such as human resources, nursing or other healthcare roles.

3. The Rationals

Categorized by those with abstract communication and utilitarian goal achievement, the rational temperament is comprised of the ENTJ, the INTJ, the ENTP and the INTP. Each one of these types share an iNtuitive (N) and Thinking (T) preference meaning that rationals tend to prefer to focus on ideas and concepts and make decisions based on logic and reasoning.

The rational types, who seek to understand the world and gather knowledge, tend be natural born problem solvers. More often than not, we find these types in ambitious roles where they are free to explore their ideas independently, solve complex problems and produce results! Such careers include in engineering, computing and science.

4. The Idealists

The idealist temperament include those with abstract communication styles and cooperative actions. The ENFJ, INFJ, ENFP and INFP all fall under the idealist temperament. Idealists share an iNtuitive (N) preference, meaning that they focus on ideas and concepts, rather than facts and details. Idealists also share a Feeling (F) preference. They make decisions based on emotions and values – often following their heart and not their head.

Idealists tend to have an open-mind, understand others and have a tendency to seek novelty over stability. As a result, lots of idealists can be found in creative careers that promote individuality, for example acting or filmmaking. Idealists also like to work in careers, such as counseling, that align with their values of helping and protecting others.

Conclusions & Next Steps

The Keirsey Temperament Sorter is related to other “16 types” personality models, yet it focuses more on behavior and action than internal personality. It sorts each of the 16 personality types into four digestible categories, based on their communication, action and preference.

For more information specifically on each of temperament, head to our helpful pages:

If you don’t already know your personality type, why not head to our personality tests page and find out about the different personality tests available? We also have career tests to help you identify possible career matches based on your personality.

Loving the topic of personality? Check out one of our recent posts on the debate between personality traits and personality types. 

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