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Communicating With The Four Personality Types

Monday 7 April, 2008
For a leader to have significance, the message must have significance. Significance to the audience (the follower) - not just the leader!

The leader is the broker of a message. The manager is a broker of information. And yet, managers can be leaders. It all depends on the significance of the message and what they do with it. Adept managers can take an old message, re-tool it and then leverage it into greater influence.

That is what leaders do. The line between managing and leadership is discerned by looking at the message and how effectively it is brokered.

Is your message information or vision? Is it cold facts, or does it have passion and life? How much do you believe in the message and identify with it?

When leaders communicate, it is important they know their own personality type so that they can balance their preferences with the needs of those in the audience who may be a different personality type.

What do you need to know about the audience?

I always recommend doing a written audience analysis. Do it as simply as possible without putting its effectiveness in jeopardy. If you are familiar with the audience, it may be as simple as sitting down and breaking the audience into segments, and listing characteristics of each segment. Then find connecting points between the segments and the message.

Audience segmentation can be based upon a combination of cultural characteristics, gender characteristics, educational background, economic background, etc. These and others may give insight into what stories, illustrations, or metaphors might effectively help the audience focus and listen.

What does psychology have to do with it?

You should probably consider the psychological aspect of audience analysis. The personality types of the audience. Since the time of the ancient Greeks, four distinct personality types have been recognised.

Most people are a combination of more than one type and may exhibit characteristics of other types. Many adapt their personality type because of self-awareness, education, training, life experiences, or influences of social situations or stresses.

You will often be more effective as a leader when you design your message to include connecting points for all four personality types.

How do you target messages for each personality type?

The first thing is to understand the type. I prefer the Greek designations - choleric, melancholy, phlegmatic and sanguine - because of the quality of the literature that has been written using them. I think it is worth the effort to learn them.

Communicating with Cholerics

In alphabetical order, the first type is the Choleric personality. This type of personality is extroverted, tends to see the big picture, and has no trouble taking charge. Cholerics tend to get upset when people do not do what they want.

Cholerics tend to make quick decisions and delegate work. They are more goal-oriented than they are people-sensitive. Timid people sometimes see choleric personalities as rude or overbearing. Cholerics lead through taking charge.

To convince cholerics, you have to gain their respect. If they view you as uncertain or unprepared, you lose. They like winners.

If you want to convince cholerics to attend a function, tell them all the leaders will be there. Let them know how what you offer will make them a better leader. Cholerics lead through the force of their personalities.

Communicating with Melancholies

Melancholy is the next type. Melancholies tend to be introverted and see the details. Melancholy personalities like rules to follow. The like to know that they have done things right. They get upset with rule-benders.

Melancholies make decisions based upon facts and rules. They are always hungry for more information and are sometimes paralyzed by their analysis. They are sometimes seen by other people as nit-picky. They lead through detailed policies and procedures.

To convince melancholies you need to have details. They want to see all of the points on the PowerPoint and have them explained. You may want to provide supplementary material with lots of details in them.

If you want to convince melancholies to attend a function, tell them that they will get all the information they want.

Communicating with Phlegmatics

Phlegmatics are highly relational. They like lots of time to make decisions and don't like to be rushed. They are not as rules-driven as Melancholies, but like to weigh the relational impact of decisions. They look out for others and are willing to sacrifice their own interests to help others.

Because they tend to be non-confrontational they may not verbalize their feelings, but they often resent those who run roughshod over them or hurt others.

They will often go along with a strong personality, but when they reach their limit they often break away completely to avoid on-going conflict. Sometimes there is no reconciliation.

To convince a phlegmatic you have to show them how things are in the best interest of the group. You often need a format where they are asked their opinion. You may need to communicate in a way that levels the playing field and keeps them from being dominated. They lead by forming alliances.

Communicating with Sanguines

Sanguines want to have fun. They are people-sensitive but use that sensitivity to manipulate to place themselves as the centre of attention. Sanguines are often so concerned about having fun that they are disorganised.

Sanguines relate well with people. They are often seen as winsome and charming. They are usually uninhibited in social settings and get over their own mistakes and those of others very quickly. After all, it ruins the fun to hold grudges.

If you want a Sanguine personality to attend an event, tell them how much fun it will be or give them a position up front where they will be noticed. A sanguine would probably make a great master or mistress of ceremony for an event. Sanguines lead by using their ability to be winsome.


Personality type is a pre-disposition. Everyone has to learn to compensate for the weaknesses of their preferred mode. 

It is a good idea to look at your communication and ask, "What is in it for each of the different personalities?". When combined with a segmented audience analysis, it will help you create powerful communication strategies.

Author Credits

Rick Hubbard - B.A. in Communication and Organizational Leadership and an M.A. in Instructional Systems/e-Learning He is a instructional technologist at a Florida university and does consulting in communication and instructional design. http://www.ALeadershipRevolution.com
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