What Can the Keirsey Temperament Sorter Reveal about Me?
By Julia Thomas
Updated February 25, 2020
Reviewer Nicole Gaines, LPC
If you've been asked to take the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, you might greet the idea with a strange combination of happy anticipation and trepidation. You want to find out what the test has to say about you, and you hope it will prove what a great person you are. At the same time, you fear that it might reveal something you don't want to know and don't want others to notice either.
What is this test about, should you take the test, and what could it potentially reveal? To understand, you need to know a bit about temperament as Keirsey has described it.
A General Definition of Temperament
Temperament has been defined and described many different ways. You can think of it as the characteristic ways of responding emotionally. Some people are said to have a nervous temperament, for example, meaning that their habitual reactions are anxious and fearful.
The word "temperament" can also refer to that certain distinguishing mental and physical character that sets you apart as an individual. You may say someone has an artistic temperament, meaning that they think and react in ways that are more associative than directly logical.
Keirsey's view of temperament is similar to this second definition, although his is more specifically refined and narrowed.
Who Is Keirsey?
So, who is this Keirsey? David Keirsey, born in 1921, was an American psychologist who specialized in conflict management and family counseling. He began researching human behavior and personality in the 1940s. He eventually developed the Keirsey Temperament Sorter. This KTS is a test that was designed to discover the temperament of individuals. He introduced the Keirsey Temperament Sorter in his book, "Please Understand Me," which he published in the 1970s.
What Is the Keirsey Temperament Sorter?
Keirsey drew on the work of Kretschmer, who had developed a model of four temperament types. His work also used elements of the Myers-Briggs eight function types. Unlike Myers-Briggs, though, the KTS focuses on behavior rather than thinking and feeling. He then created a test to determine which type of temperament the person who takes the test displays.
The KST is a 70-question test that gives you a choice between two answers for each question. It's very easy to take using pencil and paper or online. It measures preferences but not abilities.
Keirsey's Four Temperaments
Although Keirsey used the word "temperament," his work is often referred to as a personality theory. Keirsey took his four temperament type names from Plato. These are Artisan, Guardian, Idealist, and Rational.
For Keirsey, the Artisan temperament was defined by adaptability and tendency to favor concrete action. Artisans want stimulation. They strive to be virtuosos. They want to make an impact in their world. They're strong tacticians who excel at troubleshooting, the use of tools, instruments, and equipment. Their mental agility increases their ability to adapt to changing environments.
The Guardian temperament shares a love of the concrete with the Artisans. However, Guardians' behavior is more organized than intuitive. They seek security. They have a great desire for belonging. Duty and responsibility are extremely important to a Guardian. They're best at logistics. They're great organizers, checkers, facilitators, and they're very supportive to others.
Idealists, of course, prefer the abstract to the concrete. What's most important to them is meaning and significance. They seek their true identity and strive towards personal growth. At the same time, they're very compassionate. Their greatest natural ability is in diplomacy. An idealist is the best choice if you need someone to clarify, unify, or inspire.
People who are Rationals prefer abstraction like Idealists, but they are more concerned with objectivity. They aim for self-control. What matters to them is knowledge and competence. They want to be good at what they do, and they work towards mastery without being pushed. They're great at strategy and excel in tasks that involve engineering, theorizing, coordinating, and developing concepts.
Keirsey's 16 Subtypes
Keirsey broke down his four temperament types into 16 subtypes. He imagined temperament as a tree with four tree rings showing its growth. These rights are:
- Inner ring: abstract vs concrete
- Second ring: cooperative vs pragmatic
- Third ring: proactive vs reactive
- Fourth ring: expressive vs attentive
Keirsey used the letters Myers-Briggs had used before to label personality types in his description of temperament types. These were put together for a 4-letter string for each subtype. The individual letters stand for:
- S: sensing
- T: thinking
- P: perceiving
- J: judging
- N: intuiting
- F: feeling
- E: extroversion (expressive)
- I: introversion (attentive)
Further, Keirsey used these four rings together with his four temperament types to come up with 16 subtypes. When you reach the level of these 16 subtypes, you can begin to see how companies utilize the information from the Keirsey Temperament Sorter. The subtypes are:
- Performer (ESFP), who is an entertainer, proficient at improvising and excels in demonstrating.
- Composer (ISFP), who is a performer, a great improviser and excels at synthesizing.
- Promoter (EFTP), who is an operator, best at expediting and persuading others.
- Crafter (ISTP), who is an operator and excels at expediting and using instruments.
- Provider (ESFJ), who is a conservator, best at supporting and supplying.
- Protector (ISFJ), who is a conservator, great at supporting and excels at securing.
- Supervisor (ESTJ) who is an administrator, best at regulating and enforcing.
- Inspector (ISTJ), who is an administrator, best at regulating and certifying.
- Inventor (ENTP), an engineer who excels in constructing and devising.
- Architect (INTP), an engineer who is great at constructing and designing.
- Fieldmarshall (ENTJ), a coordinator who is good at arranging and mobilizing.
- Mastermind (INTJ), a coordinator who is best at arranging and entailing.
- Champion ((ENFP), an advocate who is best at mediating and motivating.
- Healer (INFP), an advocate who excels in mediating and conciliating.
- Teacher (ENFJ), a mentor who does best in developing and educating.
- Counselor (INFJ), a mentor who is best at developing and guiding.
Keirsey vs Myers-Briggs
Although Keirsey and Myers-Briggs uses the same 4 pairs of letters to sort between individual preferences, they use them differently. Myers-Briggs focuses on the interior life of the person - what the think or feel, for instance. However, for Keirsey, what mattered most was behavior. His primary focus was on concrete vs abstract, which are shown by the sensing/intuiting pair.
Who Uses the Keirsey Temperament Sorter?
The Keirsey Temperament Sorter is used by individuals, and you can take the test on your own if you choose. It's also used extensively in government, education, and corporations such as Coca-Cola, AT&T, and Bank of America.
How Is the Information Used?
You can use the information from your own KSI report to choose a profession, understand what you want from relationships, or discover your leadership potential. Organizations and corporations usually use the test to:
- Recruit, hire, and retain the best people for their team.
- Appreciate an individual's strengths and differences.
- See problems from different perspectives.
- Improve communication within the organization.
- Resolve conflicts
- Understand the contributions of all.
- As a team-building exercise.
What Does It Reveal?
The KTS test reveals your preferred behaviors. These are the behaviors you value in yourself, but they're also those that come most automatically to you and the ones you choose most often. They're the behaviors that cause you the least stress, as well.
The Keirsey Temperament Sorter shows your strengths, but it doesn't say anything about the skills you have actually developed or the knowledge you've acquired. So the test does have its limitations. The test shows your ideal role, but that isn't necessarily the only role you can play.
Administrators who use the test in the best possible way use it to match strengths with responsibilities. They may also use it to find problem areas that need extra attention. These are all positive things for the organization, but they can also be positive for you. You may come to understand why you're having trouble in your career or a certain aspect of it. This can lead you to making better decisions about what to do and how to do it.
Should You Take the Keirsey Temperament Sorter?
The KSI delivers a lot of really useful information. The question is, should you take it?
You may be in a position where you have to take the test to have a chance at a job you want. If so, it makes sense to take the test to find out whether that is really the best type of job for you. You'll not only clear the path to employment, but you'll discover whether you're on the right track or not.
If you aren't required to take the test by your employer or prospective employer, though, is there any other reason to take it?
You may find benefit in the test if you feel confused about what to do next with your life. When you receive the test results, you may reject the conclusions you read. Even if so, you may discover something important about your reactions and behaviors. And because the test only reveals your preferences and not your skills and knowledge, you may still be able to find work doing what you originally intended to, even if it's with another corporation.
Most people, however, feel that the Keirsey Temperament Sorter results describe them very well. They may feel they understand themselves for the first time in their lives. They might go on to pursue their dreams with more vigor and excitement.
Does everyone need to take the KSI, though? The truth is that, while it can be very helpful, it isn't essential to success in any area of life. Think of all the great thinkers and doers of the world who have made monumental impacts without ever having taken the test. What's important is that you understand yourself in your own way, know what you want in life, and appreciate your own personal strengths.
If you feel out of touch with who you really are, another option is to talk to a therapist about your confusion and uncertainty. They can help you identify your strengths and preferences. While in therapy, you can also identify your weak areas and learn ways to bolster them.
You can speak with a licensed counselor at BetterHelp.com, an online platform for mental health counseling. A therapist will be matched to you, one who can help you in your situation. Online therapy is a convenient and affordable way to discover what makes you tick, overcome weaknesses, and adjust your life journey to more fully encompass your deepest strengths!