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Finding the right temperament

Five thousand years of knowledge might help you become a happier nurse, writes Peter Kieseker.

Why is it there are so many unhappy nurses around? So many nurses that have dedicated years of training and study yet find themselves in a job that is unfulfilling. Well let’s face it – some nurses have done their training only to realise that the role really isn’t for them.

Unfortunately by the time the realisation comes they are in the mortgage and kids trap and lack the courage to leave the ‘only job they can do’. Off course that is not true. Nurses pop up in all sorts of jobs from pharmacy reps to massage therapists to public servants. Still this erroneous cry ‘I am trapped’ issues forth from tea rooms and wards of many hospitals – too many hospitals – throughout the country.

But there is another type of nurse that experiences a similar unhappiness and sense of unfulfillment. This nurse still loves the profession but is not finding the joy expected in their current work, and can’t understand why this should be. It seems contradictory and often creates stress and a form of cognitive and emotional imbalance. It is this nurse that might find assistance from knowledge that is over 5000 years old. First though, a small insight from the business world.

Back in the 60s, two guys Joseph Luff and Harry Ingrham, were sitting around – possibly smoking something we would not recommend today - and came up with a concept that is used in team building and counselling worldwide; the Johari window (no points for figuring out how they came to this name). From Google this is their Window (see above).

The open side is what you and I both know about someone. It is knowledge out in the open such as you are male or female, or you work as a nurse. The Blind side others know about you, but you yourself, don’t realise; sometimes called the bad breath area. Remember you thinking why that person doesn’t realise how moody/petty/sloppy/beautiful/sexy they are; well they don’t because they are blind to it. Like giving your bad breathed friend some toothpaste, if you really care about a person – or the impact of their actions – you will give them some feedback. It can improve their life.

Off course we also know things about ourselves no one else knows. We hide and keep secret many of our beliefs, fetishes, dreams and ‘mucky’ stuff. And then there is the unknown self. I don’t know it about myself and you don’t know it about me. It might be how I would react when shot at, or in a plane crash, or facing my first Cat. 1 DEM emergency – in fact most anything we have never experienced. Some people – like a first time parachutist – test themselves and ‘open’ this window because in the words of Carl Jung, this is where angels live and devils dwell. It is the place of growth and potential; and it is also the place which can explain why many nurses are so unhappy with their work.

Five thousand years ago the ancient Mesopotians and Egyptians realised that there were four basic human personalities. Think of this like there are four types of trees. If you happen to be a pine tree you are different from every other pine tree that has ever been, or ever will be. But in certain critical areas you are also the same as every other pine, as it is with people. The early Greeks attributed Gods to each personality type and long before them they were likened to the elements of earth, wind, fire and water by ancient Hindu scholars and the American Plains Indians.

Throughout the ages great thinkers like Hippocrates, Paracelsus, Kretschmer, and Spränger have all noted, studied and written about these four human personalities. Thousands of volumes exist on this work. What all this study and research, and these days neuroscience, has shown is that deep within us all, in the hidden and unknown depths of our inner selves, one of these four personalities not only exist but exerts a pervasive influence in every aspect of our lives.

Off course they are modified by many internal and external factors but at our core is one of these personalities; and each has its own essence. In the simplest of terms if you are in a job, or a relationship, or a life, that doesn’t honour this core essence and doesn’t meet its needs, your happiness will be suboptimal. You might be successful, but you won’t experience true happiness; it will always feel as if something is not quite right, that something is missing. You won’t find what the mystics and psychologists call ‘the flow’. Sadly many nurses are in the type of nursing role that fails to meet their core essence.

The central concept here is that if you find the type of nursing that honours your core and meets its needs, you may well rediscover the passion and joy that first brought you into the profession.
Known today as Temperaments, these four core personalities have had many names, some of which are listed in the table (right).

We will focus on those used by Linda Berens (2006 Understanding Yourself and Others: An Introduction to the 4 Temperaments 3rd edn) nomenclature of Improviser, Stabilizer, Theorist, and Catalyst. And this is what they mean in nursing:

So if you love the idea of nursing but just can’t seem to find the joy and fulfilment you expected think about setting out to open your undiscovered window.

Knowing your Temperament and its core essence may also give you insight to the Blind aspect of your Johari Window, especially habits you have that may annoy others. With such self awareness you can, if you choose, self regulate your own behaviour – both of which are corner stone’s for being emotionally intelligent. Common Temperament blind spots are

For an Improviser with their need for action will often interrupt people by finishing their sentences, be easily distracted, tangent off in meetings, be poor at follow though and may be considered unrealistic, a show off, undisciplined and perhaps even reckless.

For a Stabilizer with their need for order and stability may be seen as an overly detailed nitpicker, a procrastinator over out of norm decisions, obsessively tidy, picky, a poor brainstormer and backward looking.

For a Theorist, with their demand for competency and mastery are often quick to unfairly judge people, can be considered cold, insensitive and heartless with little emotional involvement, nerdy and too business like placing more store in logic than feelings.

For a Catalyst on their quest for unique identity and meaning are often seen as overly emotional tree huggers, too soft, lots of talk but no action, procrastinators on decisions ( because if you decide in favour of one another might be hurt), unable to make tough decisions, a ‘rescuer’ and overly trusting.

When you discover your temperament try the style of work that will meet your core essence. It can be a wonderful experience to rediscover you joy. And it’s also helpful for every aspect of your life; from parenting to loving to... well everything. Good luck.

Peter Kieseker is third year Bachelor of Nursing Science (University of the Sunshine Coast) and has a Master of Health and International Development (Flinders University).


This is only a tiny introduction to the rich and elegant world of Temperament. If you would like to read more you might like to find a copy of (listed in the order that the writer would recommend).
• Renee Baron 2004 The Four Temperaments.
• Linda Berens 2006 Understanding Yourself and Others: An Introduction to the 4 Temperaments 3rd edn.
• Stephen Montgomery 2002 People Patterns: a modern guide to the four temperaments.
• David Keirsey 1998 Please Understand Me II: Temperament, Character & Intelligence.
• Randy Rolfe 2002 The Four Temperaments: a rediscovery of the ancient way of understanding health and character.
• Carolyn Kalil 1998 Follow Your True Colors to the Work You Love; The popular method for matching your personality to your career.

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