One lesson I learned early in life, which helps me navigate conflicts in my personal and professional life, is one about the four temperaments in Tim LaHaye’s book Why You Act the Way You Do. In the book, LaHaye discussed the four temperaments which explain people’s natural disposition to act a certain way.

The four temperaments are broad categories of personality types recognized since ancient times. While there are other various systems of classifying temperaments, the four-temperament categorization developed by the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates and repopularized in modern times by Tim LaHaye has proven prevalent. The four temperaments, sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic, are discussed below.


People with a sanguine temperament tend to be outgoing, talkative, and friendly. They are typically optimistic, enthusiastic, and enjoy being around others. Sanguine individuals are often creative, playful, and spontaneous and have a positive outlook. They are adaptable and can handle change well, but they can also be impulsive and struggle with following through on commitments.


An assertive, decisive, and goal-oriented personality characterizes the choleric temperament. People with this temperament are often confident, ambitious, and natural leaders. They can be competitive and tend to take charge and dominate others. Choleric individuals are typically focused and driven but may also be prone to anger and impatience.


People born with a melancholic disposition are reflective, reserved, and thoughtful. They often have a deep sensitivity and can be highly attuned to their own emotions and the emotions of others. Melancholic individuals tend to be analytical and detail-oriented and may be perfectionists with high standards for themselves and others. They may struggle with self-doubt and experience moodiness and depression.


A person with a Phlegmatic temperament is calm, composed, and easy-going. They are good listeners and can provide stability and balance to those around them. Phlegmatic individuals tend to be diplomatic and avoid conflict, and may have a strong sense of empathy and compassion. However, they can also be passive and struggle with making decisions or taking action.

While knowledge of these temperaments can provide a valuable framework for understanding personality, they are not rigid categories, and individuals may exhibit traits from multiple temperaments. Additionally, personality is complex and influenced by various factors, including genetics, upbringing, and life experiences.

By understanding the different temperaments and their weaknesses, we can understand why a sanguine individual, who tends to be restless, weak-willed, and forgetful of obligations, is more likely to breach a contract than a melancholic individual who is typically conscientious and steadfast. Additionally, this insight may explain why a choleric, who exhibits classic Type A personality traits and impatience, is more likely to create a hostile work environment that can lead to lawsuits than their phlegmatic colleague, who is easygoing and tends to avoid conflict.

While we cannot excuse every bad behavior because we know people are sometimes predisposed to act a certain way, knowledge of the four temperaments can be helpful in conflict management by providing insights into individuals’ preferred communication styles, motivations, and ways of processing information. Understanding these temperaments can enhance empathy, communication, and collaboration, leading to more effective conflict resolution.

Moreover, there’s the saying, whose author is disputed, which goes thus: There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it ill behooves any of us to find fault with the rest of us. For example, while a person with a choleric temperament is impatient and prone to anger, their natural ability to organize, prioritize and delegate tasks make them effective, efficient and productive leaders. Because they voice their opinions, take risks, assert their needs and boundaries, and are self-assured, they often earn respect and influence of others. While a phlegmatic colleague may be easier to get along with and a phlegmatic a leader can use his conflict resolution and diplomatic skills to excel, a choleric’s assertiveness may be needed when an organization needs to take a decisive stand between obvious good and evil.

Therefore, when we are having garden-variety misunderstanding with others, it helps to give them the benefit of doubt, seeking to understand where they are coming from, before seeking for them to understand us. (Thank you. Stephen Covey). And this is exactly what alternative forms of dispute resolution provide. Whereas in litigation, a judge is charged as the arbiter to determine who is “right” or “wrong” or who is liable, in alternative dispute resolution, for example, mediation, there is no judgment, every body comes with an open mind, seeking to collaborate with the other party and to do what benefits every member of the group. So next time, before you head to court, first see if there are better ways to resolve the dispute.


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