The Keirsey Temperament Sorter (KTS) is a type of self-report personality test not unlike the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the Enneagram test, and other similar quizzes, though the KTS is more often used for professional applications than personal ones. The general idea behind all of these measures is to give individuals a glimpse into their strengths and personality tendencies based on their answers to a specific set of questions. If you’re interested in taking the KTS or have been asked to do so for work or another project, you can see below for an overview of this test, its framework, and what each possible result may indicate, along with other things to try if you’re aiming to get to know yourself better.
What Does “Temperament” Refer To?
Temperament is a term used to refer to a person’s nature and their characteristic ways of responding emotionally to various situations. While your temperament isn’t meant to be a holistic summary of who you are as a person, it may provide insight into some of your typical patterns. Human temperaments have been of interest to many throughout history. For instance, the Ancient Greeks commonly referred to “the Four Temperaments,” which included the sanguine temperament, the phlegmatic, the choleric, and the melancholic temperament.
The Keirsey Temperament Sorter, Defined
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 and, eventually, the Keirsey Temperament Sorter came from his studies. He introduced the KTS in his 1978 book co-written with Marilyn Bates, called Please Understand Me. The book contains the 70-question KTS test itself along with detailed descriptions of each potential result.
To create the KTS, Keirsey drew on the work of Ernst Kretschmer, who had previously developed a model of four temperament types. His work also used elements of the Myers-Briggs eight function types. Unlike the Myers-Briggs test, though, the KTS focuses on behaviors more than thoughts and feelings.
The Four Keirsey Temperaments
The Artisan Temperament
For Keirsey, the Artisan temperament is defined by adaptability and a tendency to favor concrete action. According to him, artisans want stimulation. They strive to be virtuosos and they want to make an impact on their world. They're usually strong tacticians who excel at troubleshooting and the use of tools, instruments, and equipment. Their mental agility increases their ability to adapt to changing environments.
The Guardian Temperament
Those with the Guardian temperament tend to prefer things that are concrete, like the Artisans do. However, a Guardian’s behavior tends to be more organized than intuitive. They seek safety and have a great desire for belonging. Duty and responsibility are extremely important to a Guardian. They're best at logistics, making them great organizers, checkers, and facilitators, and they're usually very supportive of others.
The Rational Temperament
People who are Rationals usually prefer abstraction, like Idealists, but they tend to be more concerned with objectivity. They aim for self-control. What typically 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 usually great at strategy and excel in tasks that involve engineering, theorizing, coordinating, and developing concepts.
The Idealist Temperament
Idealists tend to prefer the abstract to the concrete. What's typically most important to them is meaning and significance. They seek their true identities and strive towards personal growth, all while being very compassionate towards others. Their greatest natural ability is often in diplomacy. They tend to be the type of person to clarify, unify, or inspire.
The 16 Keirsey Subtypes
Keirsey further broke his four temperaments down into 16 subtypes in order to more closely describe individual tendencies. He imagined temperament as a tree with four rings showing its growth. These rings are:
Inner ring: abstract versus concrete
Second ring: cooperative versus pragmatic
Third ring: proactive versus reactive
Fourth ring: expressive versus attentive
Keirsey used the same letters Myers and Briggs had used to label their personality types in his description of temperament types. Just as they did, he put them together in four-letter strings to describe each type. In the KTS, the individual letters stand for:
E: extroversion (expressive)
I: introversion (attentive)
Here’s how he formed these letters into sixteen subtypes, with four of each per overall temperament type.
Performers (ESFP) are skilled entertainers, best at improvising and demonstrating
Composers (ISFP) are talented performers, best at improvising and synthesizing
Promoters (EFTP) are operators, best at expediting and persuading others
Crafters (ISTP) are operators, best at expediting and using instruments
Providers (ESFJ) are conservators, best at supporting and supplying
Protectors (ISFJ) are conservators, best at supporting and keeping resources
Supervisors (ESTJ) are administrators, best at managing and enforcing
Inspectors (ISTJ) are administrators, best at managing and certifying
Inventors (ENTP) are engineers, best at constructing and devising
Architects (INTP) are engineers, best at constructing and designing
Field Marshals (ENTJ) are coordinators, best at arranging and mobilizing
Masterminds (INTJ) are coordinators, best at arranging and entailing
Champions ((ENFP) are advocates, best at mediating and motivating
Healers (INFP) are advocates, best at mediating and conciliating
Teachers (ENFJ) are mentors, best at developing and educating
Counselors (INFJ) are mentors, best at developing and guiding
What Is The KTS Intended To Reveal?
Although the KTS and the MBTI use groups of the same set of letters to sort between individual preferences, they use them differently. The MBTI focuses on the interior life of the person—what they think or feel, for instance. However, for Keirsey, what mattered most was behavior. His primary focus was on the concrete rather than the abstract. In other words, the KTS is ultimately intended to reveal your preferred or habitual behaviors—those that come most automatically to you, those you tend to value most in yourself, and those that typically cause you the least stress. It’s designed to reveal your strengths, though it’s limited in that it, of course, does not take into account the skills you personally have developed or the knowledge you’ve acquired. It can point to your ideal role in a work or community setting, though this is not necessarily the only role you can play well.
The KTS is often used for professional applications. For example, it may help you come to understand why you’re facing challenges in a certain area of your career or highlight new areas you may be interested in growing into in the future. Organizations and corporations—including Coca-Cola, AT&T, and Bank of America—also use the test for employees. In fact, a 2022 report suggests that as many as 80% of Fortune 500 companies use personality tests for hiring. Note however, that this practice is sometimes criticized for negatively impacting candidates by assuming traits are fixed. Companies may use the KTS in particular to do things like:
Recruit, hire, and retain the best people for their teams
Match an individual’s strengths with the responsibilities they’ll be given
See problems from different perspectives
Improve communication within the organization
Understand the contributions of various team members
Provide a foundation for team-building
Other Ways To Better Understand Yourself
Learning more about yourself has the potential to help you in many ways, from figuring out next steps in your career to understanding conflicts in your relationships. Taking personality tests like the KTS or the Myers-Briggs is one way to do this. Journaling, trying new things, practicing mindfulness, and spending time with different types of people can all help you unearth parts of yourself and develop self-awareness as well.
Therapy is another resource some people turn to to try and understand themselves and their patterns better. A trained therapist can provide a safe, supportive space in which you can explore your likes, dislikes, values, preferences, and feelings to get to know yourself better over time. You can even attend these types of therapy sessions virtually, if commuting to and from regular in-person appointments isn’t feasible or comfortable for you. With a platform like BetterHelp, you can meet with a licensed therapist online from the comfort of home. Since research suggests online therapy can be as effective as in-person sessions in many cases, this format may be worth considering for those who prefer it.
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