When my firstborn daughter was three years old, I found myself in an odd situation. It seemed like every time I asked her to do something, we ended up arguing. I said to myself, “There’s something wrong here… I’m arguing with a three-year-old!” That realization was the catalyst for my discovering the truth about temperament in the pages of Your Personality Tree by Florence Littauer.
You may have encountered a variety of personality tests, some more informative (and accurate) than others. Personality polls are often popular on Facebook. Indeed, there are many useful ways to categorize and identify personality and personal strengths. I have found that one of the most useful things about them is that it helps me to recognize and appreciate the attributes of others that are different from my own.
In Your Personality Tree, Florence Littauer presents temperament using the Hippocratic method. In other words, this isn’t something new. These four temperaments were originally recognized by Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician. He named the temperaments based on terms used in Greek medicine and philosophy: Sanguine, Melancholy, Phlegmatic and Choleric.
Littauer describes how temperament – that part of the nature that is inborn and inherited – differs from personality. Personality is what people see. Although based on temperament, personality is modified by many factors such as culture, experience, beliefs and the choices we make.
Florence Littauer writes in an easy to read style and provides many true-life examples that illustrate the differences in temperament. As you read her work, you will begin to recognize telling traits of temperament in yourself and others.
For me, the most valuable truth gleaned from Your Personality Tree was that temperament not only defines the outward attributes of personality we see in people, but it also defines fundamental inward ways we relate to the world, including temperament-based differences in our emotional needs, desires, and approach to projects. We tend to expect others to view and approach life from the same perspective we do, but the truth is, that is not God’s design. And when we recognize that and look for those differences in others, we learn to communicate and work together more effectively.
In my own situation, I discovered that my eldest daughter and I were about as opposite in temperament as we could be: she is Sanguine-Choleric, I am Phlegmatic-Melancholy. So, while I wanted to “keep the peace” and make sure things were done the right way, my daughter just wanted to have fun. When I injected a little fun into the work, she responded with enthusiastic energy!
When my second daughter came around, I discovered how accurate Littauer’s decriptions were for recognizing temperament in young children. I had read her description of the Melancholy child lining up toys in neat rows, and to be honest, I chuckled doubtfully. But sure enough, one day I found my younger daughter lining up all her toys along the edges of the living room shelves.
I highly recommend Your Personality Tree or one of Florence Littauer’s other works on temperament. Some of her books focus more specifically on using the tools of temperament to enrich relationships in marriage and with children.
About the author: Florence Littauer shares in her books that she came to the study of temperament through her marriage. Florence and her husband Fred had opposing temperaments, and as often happens in a marriage, differences that first attracted them to one another eventually led to issues. Through temperament, they discovered the root of their differences, how to work with and relate to one another in more meaningful ways, and how they could capitalize on their differences to build a stronger marriage.
Florence Littauer is a public speaker, author, and founder of C.L.A.S.S. (Christian Leaders Authors Speakers Seminars) ministry. Using tools of temperament, the C.L.A.S.S. ministry equipped leaders, speakers, and authors to communicate the gospel more effectively.
Florence and Fred Littauer retired from C.L.A.S.S. in 1996 and their daughter Marita took over the ministry. In 2018, the equipping ministry was passed to others and C.L.A.S.S. ended. However, materials are still available through www.classervices.com.