Four types of personalities

Four types of personalities

I have had a weekend to do nothing, I wanted to gather new ideas and as it was raining constantly I stayed inside at home reading. I found a still unread book on my bookshelf about personality types – a book by Helen Fisher originally written about the laws of attraction – and gave it a try. There a lot of different explanations for the origins of our personality and the influences on it and I am not going to go into much detail – behavioral psychologist, a biological psychologist, a neuroscience psychologist each will have a different explanations and I am sure there is not only one. I had heard about the Greek and later Roman description of four basic temperaments: sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric, melancholic (noted down by Galen).

Personality temperaments

All four types can be present in us, but for most people one dominant trait prevails. The temperament are described as innate capacities or tendencies, an innate sense of response we have. Innate means that it is present within us from birth (or even before for some) but that it is influenced through our environment and our experiences.

Helen Fisher came to similar conclusions through her research for the dating website and She starts off by explaining that there are four chemicals in our brain that influence our personality traits: Dopamine, Serotonin, Testosterone and Estrogen. Most likely you’ve heard about the last two – testosterone and estrogen – as they are prominently associated to men and women. She associates four fictional characters to these four chemicals. A high level of dopamine makes an Explorer, a high level of serotonin makes a Builder, a high level of testosterone makes a Director and a high level of estrogen makes a Negotiator. She choses these four nouns to symbolize the temperament of each individual with high hormone levels. Most commonly a person has one very dominant and an additional strong personality trait. I for example find myself a Negotiator and Explorer. Let’s see what that means.


An Explorer is characterized by his high propensity to seek novelty. He seems always on the run from one experience to the next. He’s willing to take risks, is spontaneous and very curious. Most Explorers have a heightened energy level, they never tire and are always bouncy. They are creative and optimistic. Enthusiastic and mentally flexible.


A Builder is more calm than an Explorer. He is a highly social person who loves to be around others. A builder is cautious but not fearful. He is persistent, loyal and fond of rules. In fact, Builders love rules and specific information. He is orderly. As convention loving as a Builder is, he could be titled the Guardian of our tradition. A Builder seeks relations and is very skilled at building networks and at managing people – be it in management, in family or in any social situation.


A Director is as the name states it a direct person. He is decisive, focused, analytical and logical. A typical Director is very tough-minded, exacting, good at strategic thinking and emotionally contained. A Director gets to the point. He is bold and competitive. He excels at figuring out machines, mathematical formulas and other rule-based systems.


A Negotiator tends to seek and see the big picture, connecting disparate facts to think contextually and holistically, expressing what Fisher calls ‘web thinking’. A Negotiator is imaginative and displays superior verbal skills. He excels at reading postures, gestures, facial expressions and tones of voice. He is an intuitive, sympathetic, nurturing mentally flexible, agreeable, idealistic altruistic and emotionally expressive person.

As Helen Fisher originally wrote this book for the match-making platform, she also looked at compatibility within one and another personality type. Rather than experiment, she took an empirical approach, interviewing couples that had found each other through the site years ago. Were they still in the relationship? Were they happy? What skills or trait were they most fond of in their partner? Through all these interviews she found out that an Explore seeks an Explorer to go exploring, discovering new cultures, new literature, new recipes with the partner, a Builder seeks another Builder to maintain traditions and to create a strong social net around them. Whereas these two types look to each other, the Director is attracted by the Negotiator and vice verse. These two personality types complement each other. The Director completes the Negotiator with more analytical parts and the Negotiator helps the Director interpret the social or emotional signals around them.

I found this categorization rather useful! It’s an interesting way to look at ourselves and at our team. We might not be looking for a mate when starting to work in a new company, but in some way I am sure that a Builder might not be very happy surrounded by Directors and Explorers who are boldly trying new things and pivoting from one day to the other. The Myers-Briggs indicator might be one of the most known personality classification tests as it is widely used throughout business school, consulting and companies. This test helps us abstract how we perceive the world and how we make decisions. It is based on four dichotomies that mixed together make up your personality type.

Extraversion (E) (I) Introversion
Sensing (S) (N) Intuition
Thinking (T) (F) Feeling
Judging (J) (P) Perception

Looking at our fellow team members in this very abstract way I think it makes it easier to understand one another (Why did he do that? Why did she say that?) and find our strengths more easily. If you want to discover more about yourself and find out how you fit the schema, take the online Myers-Briggs test!

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