“You’re so lazy! You can’t finish anything you start!” Sue shouts at her best friend, Melissa. “Well, you’re a total killjoy!” Melissa retorts heatedly. “That was my cousin from Chicago calling; I just wanted to hear about her soccer game. It doesn’t hurt to take a break now and then!”
The girls glare at each other, each convinced that she is right.
When we look at this scenario through the lens of temperament theory, we can see how the girls are reacting according to their natures. Sue is highly task persistent, she likes to keep working at something until she is done. Melissa is low in task persistence and high in approach. She likes to socialize, and has a hard time remaining on task.
When you know your temperament, you have a better handle on what type of things are easy for you and what things are challenging. Very often, conflict between people can be reframed in terms of temperament. That means, looking at a situation and asking yourself, “What’s my temperament? What’s her temperament? Is it possible that we disagree because our brains are naturally set to handle these things differently?”
Thinking this way can help you avoid a lot of blaming and hurt feelings. Is your mother the sociable type who loves to introduce you to millions of people at a wedding, while you’d rather just chat with your cousins from out-of-town? Maybe she’s not controlling, maybe it’s just a temperament mismatch. Someone who’s high in approach enjoys meeting new people and doing new things, and may find it hard to understand that cautious people find new situations threatening and scary.
Does your sister promise to do her job, only to run around doing seventeen other things instead? Maybe she’s not flighty; maybe she’s just really high in activity and needs to be in constant motion to keep herself motivated. Does your brother lose his temper over really minor things, like when you accidentally use his pen? Maybe he’s just high in negative reactivity, instead of a grouch who is choosing to yell. After all, it’s not fun to be the type of person who gets upset easily.
Look around at your family members, your classmates, your friends. Can you spot some temperament types? Do you notice any conflicts that occur when people are mismatched? Think of the people you tend not to get along with. Are there any similarities amongst them? Whenever you are in conflict with someone else, it’s useful to think about your temperament mismatch. Once you understand how different people’s brains are “wired” differently, it’s easier to maintain good relationships with people of all types of temperament.
Task Persistence – How long you will stick to a task in order to finish it.
Approach/Withdrawal – What is your reaction to new situations? People who are high in approach are excited about new experiences or meeting new people. People who are high in withdrawal act shy, withdrawing from new situations or new people.
Activity – How active are you? Some people need to move, and others can sit quietly for a long time.
Negative Reactivity – How strongly do you react to disappointment and frustration?