Thoughts on Emotional Intelligence, Temperament and Humility

Have you heard the term ‘Adulting?’ Apparently a verb has been assigned to the subset of activities carried out by those known to young people as ‘responsible adults.’ Things like getting up on time without outside help, showing up to work clean and dressed appropriately, paying bills in a timely manner, keeping track of where you parked your vehicle and feeding yourself on some kind of reasonable schedule. The list goes on. I would like to add emotional intelligence to the list of activities mastered by those practicing “adulting,” but I think that would be a bit of a long shot.

Emotional Intelligence, according to Psychology Today, is “the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others.” Basing my opinion solely on the reactions and overreactions of those encountered in traffic in a given week, it can be surmised that the level of emotional intelligence in the current population of freeway drivers in Phoenix is less than admirable. Emotional awareness of both oneself and others, as well as the ability to harness that emotion and channel it into problem solving is part of the skill set for the emotionally intelligent. Self regulation of emotions in conjunction with the ability to consciously intervene to brighten the day of one who is sad or to assist in calming one who is agitated or upset are ways that emotional intelligence can be evidenced.

What better way to work on emotional intelligence than increasing depth of self knowledge and discernment of others through the study of temperament? Even an incomplete understanding of temperament can open doors to greater communication and improved relationships with co-workers, spouses, children and even those crazy drivers on the streets of Phoenix.

Temperament has been studied for a long time in human history, from it’s beginnings in the ancient world as the study of “Humors” by Hippocrates to the more recent attempts by Keirsey and Briggs and Meyers, among others. They have given us tests to help us discern our temperament with in-depth explanations as to what it all means. Even more recently, the idea has been developed into seminar type programs such as Real Colors or True Colors. Real Colors also presents ideas on how to tell what someone else’s temperament may be based on the way they speak, interact and manage conflict. Being able to discern temperament through observation of behavior and reactions of others then allows one to adjust one’s own actions and reactions through an altered lens; a lens modified by the input of others.

Many people have studied the four temperaments of Hippocrates: Sanguine, Choleric, Melancholic and Phlegmatic. For the sake of brevity, I will generalize: The Sanguine is social and optimistic, energetic and carefree; the Choleric is task oriented, solution oriented with organizational skills and a get it done attitude; the Melancholic is reserved and analytical, introverted and thoughtful; the Phlegmatic is peace loving and relaxed, concerned with relationships and a harmonic existence. These general categories match up with the Colors Temperament designations as follows:

  • Sanguine = Orange
  • Choleric = Gold
  • Melancholic = Green
  • Phlegmatic = Blue

Each human being possesses attributes of each of the temperaments. We are naturally endowed with some combination of these characteristics. Each person has a different distribution; each person learns through life experience which attributes come naturally to them; these are their innate strengths. Some people will have a more even distribution, enabling them to adapt readily to different situations. People with a heavier concentration of one temperament over the others may find new situations more stressful and adaptation more difficult. Emotional intelligence is boosted when paired with a knowledge of one’s own temperament and the patience and self discipline to attempt discernment of the temperament of one’s associates.

Overuse of natural strengths will lead to discord. Learning how and when to leverage the parts of one’s temperament that are deeper, the less dominant characteristics, will allow the person to become a more versatile, and I would argue, a happier human being. Adapting to inputs from others and responding in a way that they understand more readily leads to better communication. Emotional intelligence grows out of the practice of putting others first, making a concentrated effort to process how best to deal with each person according to his or her needs and abilities.

Exercising emotional intelligence through considering temperament in order to better understand and respond to one’s fellow man is a form of humility. Humility is the “quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people,” according to Merriam Webster. Taking time to contemplate our actions and reactions is an act of humility. Forging ahead with our opinions and unedited reactions without regard for our fellow man is living life like the fierce and forceful Phoenix freeway drivers. In the words attributed to C.S. Lewis, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.” So, armed with the tools of emotional intelligence and a basic understanding of temperament, I go forth to live more humbly, more happily and with greater harmony.

Bette Hamann