Continuing the 2nd principle of Permaculture, ‘People Care’, is this month’s highly important topic which is an understanding of the four different human temperaments. In plain English……why we do what we do, and why those other annoying people do things differently and can’ be more like us! (Written slightly tongue in cheek).

But in seriousness, the topic and book I am referring to is a book by a lady called Florence Littauer called Personality Plus.

It has been the single most enlightening book on how to get along better with people that I have ever read.

And if you are in business, it puts big bucks in your pocket!

In a nutshell, she suggests there are four different personality types or more accurately called temperaments, and the concept goes back past Shakespeare to even Roman days.

We can be mainly one temperament, but often we are a combination of them, which can be a little confusing until you learn the differences.

They are as follows……

  1. Choleric
  2. Melancholic
  3. Sanguine
  4. Phlegmatic

I shall explain one by one.


No doubt we are the best temperament.

Our life motto: Just do it!

We are decisive, born leaders. We naturally show leadership in any situation. Always free to pass an opinion (and occasionally we have access to some facts to back up the opinion), we see the big picture in a situation. We are focused, we achieve things, we make things happen, persevere through difficulties (some would say bulldoze ), and we are great in emergencies. We run businesses, empires, American govt’s, and organisations.

Unfortunately, as with all the temperaments, there is a down side. And it is crucial to understand this. Because our weaknesses is what we need to address to make our lives work better and more importantly, for those around us who may not function the same way we do. I heard it said once and it made me crack up but sadly it is true. If you are a choleric, it is actually possible to consider other peoples feelings!

Cholerics can be bossy, brassy, stubborn, demanding, dictatorial, single minded, rude, abrasive and numerous other social attributes to guarantee if you are sitting next to one at a xmas party, you’ll soon wish the Turkey carver would do your wrists once the turkey is done!

However, if you are involved in a motorway pile up, it will be the Choleric who will immediately start giving orders, assess the whole situation in an instant, and quite likely save as much life and limb as possible.

Perhaps you can think of one or two people like this……


No doubt we are the best temperament.

Our life motto: If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing….properly!

We are the people who are detailed, precise, accurate, no room for error. We are neat, organised. We have our shit together. You can find things in our houses. Because everything is in its correct place. The logical place, as it should be. And if you are having trouble finding something, just check the index, which will also be in the correct place, in the top drawer! Melancholies are fantastic. We take care of all the little details in a job which others tend to bypass. And even though we strive for perfection in everything we do, other people sometimes suggest we too have a down side.

Which is….

We can be too detailed for our own good. Sometimes good enough is good enough. Not everything needs a micrometer on it. We are worriers. Worrying if something will turn out perfectly. Worrying what others will think of what we do, what we wear, what we said or didn’t say. We worry we might even worry. Mellies can therefore be very sensitive people, easily offended. Usually because we are so focused on the details of a job, we fail to see the big picture. And that can clash with….guess whom?

So if you are about to eat the xmas feast, be prepared to wait until the melancholic cook has everything perfect including the cutlery. But it will be worth the wait, and you won’t get food poisoning.

And, if you are wanting brain surgery, you REALLY want a melancholic surgeon.

Perhaps you can think of one or two people like this……


No doubt we are the best temperament because, well, simply because we are!

Our life motto: Life’s too short not to be having fun! With everything!!!

We are always the best people to have around. We are fun. We make things fun. It doesn’t matter if things go great or badly, so long as we can have a party!

House burning down….fantastic! How soon will those gorgeous firemen arrive? Maybe they could bring some sausages and wine and we can have a BBQ in the embers!

Where are the car keys? Who knows! They’ll show up. We’ll just look under the….what are we looking for again?

Sanguines are great. They are the life and soul of any party. They make a dull office seem alive and vibrant. They simply add a sense of fun to every occasion, even losing your car in a multi level car park. And that lightens up everyone else. (Except for the Melancholy who is thinking, how embarrassing), and the Choleric who is making a mental note (don’t employ that idiot).

The down side is Sanguines often do not complete tasks. They enjoy the fun of starting a project, coming up with wild ideas, but once the fun of the moment passes, they are looking for the next fun thing to amuse themselves with. They can be forgetful, disorganised, flippant, not up for deep and meaningful conversations, and seriously, you never want to trust them with the car keys! Life can be a shambles but that doesn’t bother them.

Perhaps you can think of one or two people like this……


We might be the best temperament, but we’re not bothered either way.

Our life motto: Chill!

We are the easy going people. The ones who get along with everyone. We never ruffle feathers. Rarely upset people. (Unless we are married to a go-getter). We are great in organisations to create harmony in the workplace. We make easy going parents. We simply enjoy life and can be quite happy doing nothing.

The downside is sometimes we can be a little lazy, unmotivated, can take a while before we finish a job. Though we will make the effort to ensure that we are surrounded by a harmonious environment.

Perhaps you can think of one or two people like this……

How this pans out…

Fundamental to a healthy community is people with a good self image, people who value themselves, and are aware of their strengths and weaknesses.

We understand ourselves. Accept ourselves for who we are even if we are working to address some of our weaknesses.

And on from this is the ability to appreciate others for their strengths and accept them for their weaknesses. And to understand why they sometimes do things differently to us. See things differently.

In relationships:

Vitally important in a relationship where there is a natural tendency to want to ‘fix’ our partner, to make them more like us.

I can remember explaining the reasoning to an ex g/f why if you put your house keys in one place each time you came home, then they are exactly there whenever you have to leave the house(often in a hurry). I might as well been talking Dutch! All she could think of was, ‘well that’s no fun’.

A choleric husband may have the tendency to treat his partner like an employee.

I remember at a meeting, Florence explaining a doctor came up to her and said’ he’d just divorced his 3rd sanguine wife. He kept marrying these fun exciting sexy women but after a while would attempt to ‘fix’ them and finally give up in frustration and wonder why they weren’t fun anymore.

Can you imagine a Melancholy wife who likes everything in the perfect place married to a fun sanguine husband? I actually met a woman once whose husband was banned from the kitchen! I’ve met people who have every can, tin, bottle in the kitchen cupboards with the labels facing the front (great fun to swap the salt n pepper shakers around and hide the sugar…)

Two phlegmatic…. Yeah one day we’re gonna build a house.

A choleric wife married to a phlegmatic husband. Big challenge cause of the sexual polarity issues going on. Who wears the boots???

Yet with a deep understanding of these temperaments, we can make things work.

In business:

For some years I ran a cabinetmaking business. Our motto was ‘Perfection is standard, Excellence will be tolerated!’

That made us a lot of money working for people who wanted excellence.

The understanding of the temperaments also made a huge difference.

When I would walk in for a quote, a quick glance around and I could guess the temperament of my client.

Cholerics, well, I’d know that from the phone call in the first place. They wanted something well done, practical, that would make their life work more easily. Simple.

Melancholics, home was neat, tidy, everything in its ‘proper’ place. They valued my expertise. With a choleric, I could say ‘how about we make the wardrobe about 2400mm wide?’ They’d say fine, whatever you think. Whereas a mellie, NEVER EVER EVER say the word ‘about’! Id ask them if they think it would be better to be 2385mm wide or 2410mm wide. We’d give it some thought, discuss pros n cons, the arrive at the ‘perfect’ width. And they would love my attention to detail. I was speaking…..their language!

The Sanguines….the house would be diabolical. Have you ever heard the expression ‘Excuse the mess’? It’s always a mess, but they just don’t see it.

So the natural question to ask them is…. “What colour would you like it” and off they go. A rainbow wardrobe! Awesome. Internal layout, not important, you just know it’ll be a shambles and the toaster will be jammed in there too, for some reason which you should never ask.

Phlegmatic, well really, why would they ever bother phoning a cabinetmaker, really? The existing hanging rail is fine and a cheap set of Ikea drawers will do the job.

With children:

It’s a case of recognise who they are. What would be the point of bullying a child to keep a tidy bedroom if they were a Sanguine or Phlegmatic child. What’s more important? Your melancholic need for neatness or family love and harmony. I’m not saying kids shouldn’t make an effort to learn the importance of some neatness and order, but to punish a sanguine child for lack of perfection is simply pointless. Learn their language. Make tidying the room into a fun game. Buy the melancholy and choleric children decent wardrobes and drawers so they can make it function for them. And chill with your beautiful phlegmatic child.


You’re strengths are your own personal fantastic attributes. Celebrate them.

Your weaknesses…

If you are a choleric, learn people skills. Speak with a kinder tongue. Value other people’s ideas even if not as ‘correct’ as your own. Allow others to take responsibility for doing things and chill if they are not done as well as you would do them. You can still achieve your great plans and allow others to enjoy being a valued part of the process.

If you are a melancholic, also chill a little. Be perfect as is appropriate but don’t be too pedantic about things. Don’t let fear of not doing something perfectly, stop you from starting a project. Mistakes are great opportunities to learn better ways!

And don’t demand perfectionism from those around you, unless you are doing brain surgery on me!

If you are a Sanguine, try, just try, to be a little more organised. If finishing a project is a challenge, gather a team of people who will finish it whilst you make sure they all have fun.

Try not to start too many projects at once and for F sake, please stop putting the toaster in the wardrobe! Wash the damn dishes!!! (Or get a dishwasher, and remember to turn it on!)

If you are a phlegmatic, maybe just learn a little more self discipline to finish tasks. Maybe become a little more proactive in various areas of your life.

So that’s it. This can be life changing for some people.

The book is called Personality Plus by Florence Littauer.

Next month I will be addressing the greatest problem facing humanity. No, not climate change, not terrorism, not stock market collapse but the collapse of happy family relationships. And whilst it’s a very complex subject, there are some simple rules, simple guidelines, which if we were taught in schools, might make a world of difference to a lot of people out there. Stay tuned…

Vic B

PN Pres.