Last week, I wrote about how knowing the different Keirsey Temperaments, could help you interact with different people you encounter. This week, I want to give you a basic understanding of how you could spot these different types.

There are four basic Keirsey Temperaments — SJ, SP, NT, NF — created by psychologist David Keirsey, who built on the work of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

S stands for sensing, and the S’s are usually “concrete” in their approach. They concern themselves with things they can see, hear, feel, taste, and smell. N is for intuitive, and they focus on things they can imagine or things that could be. J and P refer to judging and perceiving, while T and F refer to thinking and feeling. (Read more about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to learn more about each of these categories.)

The four temperaments break down as follows:

  • SJ (Sensing-Judging): The Guardians, the left-brained, the conservative black and white thinkers who prefer things remain safe, secure, and the same.
  • SP (Sensing-Perceiving): The Artisans live in the right brain. They’re creators, and they love change and new situations. The SJs and SPs each make up 38% of the population.
  • NT (Intuitive-Thinking): The Rationals/Thinkers. They love details, are very analytical, and pursue knowledge for knowledge’s sake.
  • NF (Intuitive-Feeling): The Idealists. Interested in changing the world and making life better for others. NTs and NPs each make up 12% of the rest of the population.

Generally, the SJs and NTs find themselves on the left side, or analytical side, of the brain, while the Artisans and Idealists occupy the right, creative side.

In last week’s post, I also talked about how you can communicate with each of these types. But how do you tell which they are, without handing them a MBTI or Keirsey temperament sorter first?

Working Left Handed With Your Temperament

Before I go on, let me point out that I am only making generalizations. You will find that not all people fit into their temperament type just based on these few observations.

For example, you wouldn’t expect to find an NF or SP working as an accountant or a project manager, but that doesn’t mean they can’t. For some people, it may not come naturally, but with hard work, they can get the job done. And you might not find too many SJs and NTs working as creative types, but if they really push it, they can get it done.

Chris Gibbons (@egman) of the National Center for Economic Gardening calls this “working left handed.” It means that if you’re right handed, you may be able to get some things done as a lefty, but it’s never your natural state. The more you work at it, the easier it gets. You’ll never be as effective as with your right hand, but at the same time, you can learn to do a pretty good job writing, throwing a ball, or doing delicate work with your left hand.

So, too, some temperament types work in “left-handed” jobs, like the SP accountant or NT graphic designer. There won’t be many, but you can’t assume that everyone has the job that suits them perfectly. What that means is that while you think you may have figured out a temperament type based on one or two observations, that person may be working left-handed. So be careful when making snap judgments.

Here are a few factors to consider when trying to spot different temperament types:

  • Political affiliation: When you hear people talk about their political affiliation, the SJs and NTs tend to use the language of the Republican party, while the SPs and NFs tend to use the language of the Democratic party. That’s because the Conservatives talk about maintaining the status quo, while the Liberals talk about embracing change. If you ever want to understand why the SJ/NTs and SP/NFs don’t get along, lock them in a room and have them discuss universal healthcare.
  • Reading material: For enjoyment, the SJs and NTs will most likely read more concrete material, like history, biographies, autobiographies, and business/technical books. The NFs and SPs will gravitate more toward the abstract “what if” books — fiction, poetry, science fiction, and escapist materials. (Having said that, I, an NF, co-wrote three biz-tech books, all based on the idea that “your life could be better if you do X.”)
  • Occupation: SJs tend to be guardians of the keep, and think in black and white; you’ll find them serving in the military, as police officers, in government, or in certain corporate roles. NTs love knowledge, and they often work as scientific researchers, statisticians, or even engineers (creative thinkers), but may also be CEOs. SPs like to do artsy-fartsy stuff, like being artists and writers, but may also work in sales, as a chef, a consultant, or in other continually-changing jobs. NFs are idealists who want to change the world and help people better themselves. They’re nurses, social workers, newspaper columnists, and teachers.
  • Workspace: Sensing (S) types tend to be more orderly, while the intuitive (N) types tend to be more messy and unorganized. This may run counter-intuitive, because we think of Artisans (SP) as being the messy types, and Rationals (NT) as the orderly types. But SPs are focused on getting their art done without distraction, and NTs are too busy working on new things to bother cleaning up. Chris Gibbons has said he is an NT who used to be unorganized, but learned he was much more effective if he knew where everything was. So he learned to organize his workspace. And while it’s difficult — it’s left-handed for him — he knows he can be better at his job if he does it.
  • Small Talk: I’ve done enough sales that I’ve learned to recognize when a person wants to chat and when they want to get down to business right away. The S’s want to get to work immediately; the SJs have work to do, and the SPs want to get to the end results with as little effort as possible. Neither type necessarily wants to do small talk. On the other hand, the N’s are happy to shoot the breeze. The NTs are still amassing knowledge, and the NFs just want to get to know you better. If you’re an S selling to an N, suck it up and talk to them. If you’re an N selling to an S, get straight to the point.

There are hundreds of books and thousands of articles written just about temperament types. The website is a great resource and overview of these four temperament types. To get a full understanding of your own Myers-Briggs type and Keirsey temperament, take the official test from a fully trained and licensed professional. (Of course, you can take some of the unofficial tests in the meantime. It’s fun to start reading and learning about your personality type, as well as those of family and friends.)

It’s a good idea to start learning which temperament you are, and which jobs may end up being your passion. It’s also a good way to figure out where your colleagues and co-workers are, and how you can all work together. Once you can figure this out, then the world can be a better and happier place, and we’ll all live on rainbows with puppies and kittens!

(Did I mention I was an NF?)


Erik Deckers is the owner of Professional Blog Service, and the co-author of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing. His third book, The Owned Media Doctrine, will be available this summer.