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The Difference Between Behavior, Personality, and Temperament - HRDQ

The Difference Between Behavior, Personality, and Temperament

Psychometric assessments are becoming increasingly popular in the human resources field, where these tools are used for leadership development, talent management, succession planning, and recruitment.

Despite how common these types of tests are, terms like personality, temperament, and behavior are often used interchangeably despite the fact that they are distinct yet interrelated concepts.

What exactly is the difference between behavior, personality, and temperament? How can our understanding of these terms influence leadership, management, and recruitment?

Let's break down what each of these terms means and examine how they are different, along with where they overlap.

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What Is Temperament?

Temperament is the word used to describe a person's nature– the combination of physical, mental, and emotional traits that a person is, for the most part, born with.

It is believed that a person's temperament is primarily influenced by genetics. According to one study, somewhere between 20% and 60% of our temperament is hereditary.

That being said, early external environmental factors can impact a person's temperament.

A Good-Natured Person

The dominant theory surrounding temperament states that there are four distinct types of temperaments. Working to understand the disposition of individuals is a field of study that stretches back thousands of years, with Hippocrates proposing that a person's behavior is determined by four bodily "humors."

Let's break down the four primary types of temperament.

Sanguine

If you've ever known someone that seems to always see the glass as half full rather than half empty, they would most likely be classified as having a sanguine temperament.

These individuals are sociable and extroverted– full of energy and quite talkative.

A Sanguine Individual Speaking

Though sanguine people are often the life of the party, they can also lean towards being indecisive and impulsive. In some individuals, this can result in being something of an adrenaline junky or thrill seeker. In the most extreme cases, people with sanguine temperaments can be susceptible to drug use and addiction.

This temperament type is known by different names, with Adler categorizing sanguine individuals as Socially Useful, the DISC assessment calling them Influence/Inspiring, and Riemann naming the group Hysterical.

Choleric

While sanguine people are outgoing and energetic, choleric individuals are assertive and dominant. High achievers to the max, these people are frequently selected to be leaders of teams, whether at work or in school.

Driven and goal-oriented, choleric people are highly decisive. At the same time, this can lead to them being both stubborn and impatient. One of the potential drawbacks of this temperament is the proclivity to be focused on reaching their goals at the expense of other aspects of life, such as building relationships and social connections.

A Choleric Leader Speaking

In Adler's system, the choleric temperament type is known as Ruling. Riemann categorizes them as Obsessive, while the DISC assessment uses the descriptor of Dominance.

Phlegmatic

A phlegmatic person is easygoing, empathetic, and laid back. Patient and dependable, the phlegmatic individual is typically very at home and comfortable with a steady– and even mundane– routine.

On the other hand, phlegmatic people can also come off to other people as passive during conversations or social interactions. Often highly motivated to avoid conflicts, people with this type of temperament can miss out on opportunities due to a lack of assertiveness.

A Phlegmatic Individual

Adler gives the name of Leaning to the phlegmatic temperament, while Riemann calls this group Schizoid, and the DISC assessment categorizes them as Steadiness/Supportive.

Melancholic

Melancholic people are sensitive, thoughtful, and reserved. This type of individual can be quite useful in the workplace, as they tend to be methodical and analytical.

People with this kind of temperament tend to prefer to work alone and can sometimes struggle to be a part of a team. Though they can excel when everything is going right, they can become anxious and moody when events don't unfold as planned.

A Melancholic Individual

Melancholic people are known in Adler's system as Avoiding, in Riemann's system as Depressed, and in the DISC assessment as Conscientious/Cautious.

What Is Personality?

Personality is the combination of qualities or characteristics that create an individual's distinctive character. While a person's personality is influenced by their temperament, personality traits are acquired over the years of an individual's life.

There are many different theories about how personality is formed, including influence from experience, genetics, and a person's environment.

What is Personality

While a person cannot change the temperament they are born with, personality can be changed by altering one's behavior over time. Though a common notion is that people's personalities are fixed in childhood and cannot change, recent research suggests that most people experience an evolution in their personalities throughout their lives.

Knowing your personality style is a prerequisite for ensuring you use the most effective communication style. This post looks at how personality influences communication and how a greater awareness of personality style can help you improve your communication style.

Personality Type Theories

Various theories have emerged over the years to help understand the different types of personalities that individuals typically have. One such theory is the Myers-Briggs theory, which uses four continuums to identify a person's personality type.

These continuums are:

  • Introversion-extroversion
  • Thinking-feeling
  • Sensing-intuition
  • Judging-perceiving

There are sixteen potential personality types that can emerge from taking a Myers-Briggs personality test. These include ESTJ (extroverted, sensing, thinking, and judging,) INFP (introverted, intuitive, feeling, and perceiving,) ENFJ (extroverted, intuitive, feeling, and judging,) and ISTJ (introverted, sensing, thinking, and judging.)

Employees With Different Personalities

Another theory describes personality in four primary categories– Type A, Type B, Type C, and Type D. You've likely heard of the concept of a "Type A" person, but the others might be less familiar to you.

  • Type A: Achievement-oriented, perfectionist, work-obsessed, competitive, impatient, stressed, aggressive.
  • Type B: Flexible, even-tempered, patient, low stress, procrastinator, adaptable.
  • Type C: Perfectionist, highly conscientious, struggles to express emotions.
  • Type D: Irritable, sad, worrying, pessimistic, low self-confidence, fears rejection, avoids social situations, appears gloomy and melancholy.

For a deeper dive into some of the different personality assessments, take a look at this guide that compares Enneagram, Myers-Briggs, and DISC personality tests.

Personality Trait Theories

Personality "type" theories have fallen out of favor in the world of psychology as they have garnered a great deal of criticism over the years. Some posit that personality trait theories are better predictors of personality disorders and that type theories are too limited to describe the full range of human personality.

One popular trait theory is the five-factor model. This is a personality theory that groups personality traits into the following categories:

  • Conscientiousness (careless and extravagant vs. organized and efficient)
  • Openness to experience (consistent and cautious vs. curious and inventive)
  • Agreeableness (critical and rational vs. compassionate and friendly)
  • Extraversion (reserved and solitary vs. energetic and outgoing)
  • Neuroticism (confident and resilient vs. nervous and sensitive)

In addition to personality type and trait theories, there are many other noteworthy concepts, including psychodynamic theories, behavioral theories, and humanist theories of personality.

Employees Interacting With One Another

Psychodynamic theories, also called psychoanalytic psychotherapy, emphasize the importance of drives– particularly unconscious drives– and other forces that influence human functioning. These theories stem from the ideas of Sigmund Freud and include the theories of Erik EriksonCarl Jung, and Anna Freud.

Behavioral theories are based on the idea that a person's personality results from how they interact with their environment. According to these theories, a person's personality can be predicted by pinpointing and connecting their behaviors and habits.

Humanist theories of personality begin with the presumption that people are born with an innate drive to make themselves better and that all people are intrinsically good. A number of notable concepts emerged from the humanistic movement, including Maslow's hierarchy of needs and person-centered therapy.

What does conscientiousness look like in the workplace? Here are eight excellent examples of organization, thoroughness, dependability, and other traits associated with conscientiousness at the office.

What Is Behavior?

Behavior is the way that a person conducts themselves or acts. It is believed that an individual's behavior is partly influenced by the nervous system and the endocrine system and that organisms with more complex nervous systems are better able to adjust their behavior by learning new responses.

The term behavior covers a wide range of actions– everything from breathing and blinking to being polite and cleaning up after oneself are behaviors.

What is Behavior

In psychology, the different types of human behavior are commonly broken down into three categories: molecular and moral, overt and covert, and voluntary and involuntary.

  • Molecular and moral: Molecular behaviors are behaviors that an individual does without thinking about them, such as flinching when one believes something is being thrown at them. Moral behaviors occur as a result of thinking, such as responding to criticism after giving it some thought.
  • Overt and covert: Overt behavior is an action that can be perceived outside of an individual– it's visible to others. For example, riding a bike or swimming are considered overt behaviors, along with eating and drinking. Covert behaviors aren't visible to other people and instead occur within the individual, such as patterned ways of thinking.
  • Voluntary and involuntary behavior: Voluntary behavior refers to the behaviors that an individual has control over, such as walking, talking, and writing. Involuntary behaviors occur with little thought or control, such as breathing and blinking.

What's the Difference Between Behavior and Personality?

A person's behavior can be included in the understanding of their personality, along with their thoughts, feelings, and other characteristics. The patterns of a person's behavior constitute a large chunk of what is considered personality. At the same time, personality tests and theories are often used to try and help explain and predict an individual's behavior.

Man Making a Decision

Personality significantly influences what we decide to do and how we respond to our environment. It is believed that personality drives us to act in specific ways, thus dictating our behavior in some circumstances.

At the same time, it isn't just through our behavior that our personalities are displayed. Social interactions, close relationships, feelings, and thoughts– to name a few– are also places where our personalities are expressed.

What's the Difference Between Personality and Temperament?

Temperament is something that you are born with, while personality is something that you develop gradually over time.

Though you might hear the terms temperament and personality used interchangeably, they describe different aspects of an individual.

Sometimes referred to as disposition, a person's temperament is composed of the in-born physical, mental, and emotional traits they were born with.

Employees With Different Personalities and Temperaments

Personality, on the other hand, involves characteristics and qualities that are acquired throughout life, such as:

  • Thoughts
  • Preferences
  • Behaviors
  • Traits
  • Beliefs
  • Interests
  • Drives
  • Values
  • Abilities
  • Emotional patterns
  • Self-concept

One of the primary distinguishing factors between personality and temperament is that temperament isn't influenced by life experience, while personality is. As a person gets older, their personality continues to develop and change. Temperament, on the other hand, stays the same throughout one's life. 

What's the Difference Between Behavior and Temperament?

Many factors influence how people behave, and temperament is one of them.

Two Employees Interacting

One could roughly define temperament as the complete collection of our behavioral tendencies that inform how we react to the things that occur around us.

Understanding Character in Relation to Personality, Temperament, and Behavior

Another concept that is often discussed in relation to personality, temperament, and behavior is character. A person's character is distinct from these other terms, representing a person's moral, ethical, and social beliefs and attitudes.

Employees With Positive Character Traits

Researchers and experts have yet to come to a firm conclusion regarding whether a person's character develops in phases and when their character begins to develop. Some state that character starts to develop as soon as an individual confronts environmental challenges in their life.

Character can be understood to be an aspect of a person's personality. It can have a significant influence on some of the predominant sectors of life and often has an impact on a person's life choices. 

Personality Style and Leadership

Understanding your unique personality style can help you improve interpersonal interactions and people skills. By gaining a deeper understanding of how personality style affects behavior, you are building a solid foundation upon which to develop several crucial soft skills, including leadership, communication, team building, and supervisory skills. 

A Team Leader

Our What's My Style assessment is a part of HRDQ's best-selling Style Suite and is the perfect addition to a management development training program.

If you have any questions about behavior, personality, temperament, or anything else we discussed in this article, be sure to leave a comment down below, and we'll get back to you within a day or two! We do our best to reply to every comment we receive, and we'd be more than happy to assist you.

Recommended Assessment
What's My Communication Style
  • Improve communication skills
  • Simple yet powerful
  • Practical and easy to facilitate
Learn more
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About our author

Bradford R. Glaser

Brad is President and CEO of HRDQ, a publisher of soft-skills learning solutions, and HRDQ-U, an online community for learning professionals hosting webinars, workshops, and podcasts. His 35+ years of experience in adult learning and development have fostered his passion for improving the performance of organizations, teams, and individuals.