Using Temperament to Deepen Work Relationships

January 19, 2023 David Witt

We recently finished a webinar on Developing a Deeper Understanding of Yourself and Others, which explored the core content of Blanchard’s new Essential Motivators™ program. It’s based on decades-long research from Dr. Linda Berens and asks people to consider how they see themselves through the lens of four temperaments:

  • Air—Strategic, theoretical, and focused on designing solutions. People with an Air temperament want to be competent and achieve mastery.
  • Earth—Hungry for responsibility, accountability, and predictability. People with an Earth temperament want to be involved and have a place to contribute.
  • Fire—Want the freedom to choose the next action and respond to the needs of the moment. People with a Fire temperament seek solutions to have impact and get results.
  • Water—Want to be authentic and caring and develop meaningful relationships. People with a Water temperament seek to develop potential and foster growth.

The roots of these concepts can be traced back to ancient times. They are the basis for many self-discovery and self-awareness tools used in business today.

One of the things that really stood out for me in participating in the recent session was how helpful the content can be in developing, repairing, and strengthening relationships among work colleagues. I first got a feel for this late last year when my department participated in a pre-release version of the content. Twenty of us were given a chance to self-select one of the four temperaments, then gather into groups and discuss strengths, weaknesses, possible conflicts, and strategies for working together effectively. It was eye-opening—which surprised me. As a self-professed assessment nerd, I’ve used both Myers-Briggs and DiSC in the past, but there was something about this approach that made it stick and feel especially useful.

Going through the content a second time gave me a chance to pay careful attention to what made this model so effective. Here’s what I found out.

People need something that is easy to describe. This model uses the identifiers Air, Earth, Fire, and Water. I really appreciated knowing my type and my behavioral style through the DiSC and Myers-Briggs assessments; still, I realized that, except for a few of us who go around talking about how we are an NF, SP, SJ, or NT, we rarely spoke about type the way I would have expected. These elemental labels feel more tangible and help make the knowledge stick.

Essential Motivators focuses on your core needs—not your personality or learned behaviors. This really came out in the more recent presentation when our facilitator shared three concentric circles identifying our Core Self, Developed Self, and Contextual Self. This was important for two reasons. First, it helped explain how someone with great learned communication skills could be seen as an extravert (a high “I” in the DiSC model) when it was simply a learned behavior. Second, it explained the frustration people sometimes feel when, because they’re organized, careful, and thorough, people believe that’s who they are. Essential Motivators suggests this may be a response to their current role and duties—but we can’t let it blind us to who they might be at their core.

It helps you identify your temperament’s shadow. Essential Motivators explains shadow as the type that is least like you and most likely to rub you the wrong way. Understanding your temperament’s shadow can shed some light on the question of why some perfectly likeable, professional, and competent people don’t click with you. This can be extremely valuable in helping to build or repair an important relationship that you want to work but just isn’t happening. If you are experiencing this, a good place to explore together would be the concept of shadow: perfectly okay, just the opposite of your type. A little conversation can go a long way if both people learn the same language.

Better Work Relationships

Essential Motivators can be an important addition to self-awareness skill development. How are your relationships at work with your boss, colleagues, and teammates? For any relationships that are a little strained or that could be even stronger, consider how a better understanding of temperaments could help.

Interested in learning more? Check out this recording of the session I attended (it’s free) or participate in a deeper dive for leadership, learning, and talent development professionals on January 27.

About the Author

David  Witt

David Witt is a Program Director for The Ken Blanchard Companies®. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast Company, Human Resource Development Review, Chief Learning Officer and US Business Review.

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