By Professional Development team, British Council in Singapore

17 October 2016 - 12:25


If you've spent any time on social media in the past decade, you'll be familiar with online personality tests. Unless you're a robot, you probably have some kind of interest in learning about yourself, including your strengths, weaknesses and character traits. 

Learn more on Corporate training

The Four Humours

Greek physician Hippocrates narrowed down personalities into four major types:

  • Black bile, which was associated with the Melancholic person who is despondent, quiet, analytical and serious
  • Yellow bile, which was associated with the Choleric person who is ambitious, leader-like, restless and easily angered
  • Blood, which was associated with the Sanguine person, who is courageous, hopeful, playful and carefree
  • Phlegm, which was associated with the phlegmatic who is calm, thoughtful, patient and peaceful

Hippocrates purported that our bodily fluids contained these four distinct humours that when balanced, produced perfect health, and when unbalanced, produced diseases and disabilities in our bodies.

This belief has been carried over into the present day as a literary tool, and a means of understanding personality traits. 

Known today as The Four Humours, or Four Temperaments, this psychological theory originating in Ancient Greece influenced everything from the creation of the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator test, to the Keirsey Temperament Sorter popularly used in team building today.

Kiersey’s Four Temperaments

David Kiersey re-interpreted the humours into the following temperaments

  • PHLEGMATIC: Guardians speak mostly of their duties and responsibilities, of what they can keep an eye on and take good care of, and they're careful to obey the laws, follow the rules, and respect the rights of others. 
  • MELANCHOLIC: Idealists speak mostly of what they hope for and imagine might be possible for people, and they want to act in good conscience, always trying to reach their goals without compromising their personal code of ethics. 
  • SANGUINE: Artisans speak mostly about what they see right in front of them, about what they can get their hands on, and they will do whatever works, whatever gives them a quick, effective payoff, even if they have to bend the rules. 
  • CHOLERIC: Rationals speak mostly of what new problems intrigue them and what new solutions they envision, and always pragmatic, they act as efficiently as possible to achieve their objectives, ignoring arbitrary rules and conventions if need be.

How then, does this affect team building, you may ask. Well the best way to do this is to have a look at some of the greatest team-ups we know of:

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Michelangelo (the Sanguine) - being the one of the four turtles to constantly crack jokes. Sanguine is the temperament associated with blood and the element of air. The temperament is commonly the most child-like and carefree; they are often the more extroverted and sociable of the bunch. Michelangelo represents this personality perfectly, often more relaxed than his brothers and looking to party more than train.

Raphael (the Choleric) - The hot-headed Raphael falls under the Choleric temperament, represented by yellow bile and the element of fire. Choleric personalities are the more ambitious and leader-like, but easily angered. Raphael is the angriest of the turtles, often fighting with his brother Leonardo and choosing the most aggressive path in any situation.

Donatello (the Melancholic) - The quiet Donatello represents the Melancholic temperament, associated with black bile and the element of earth. Melancholic personalities are often more introverted and brooding, being extremely pragmatic and susceptible to depression. Donatello, while not often seen as depressed, is definitely the quietest and most cautious of the bunch, using his many gadgets and his reasoning skills to find the most effective way out of a conflict.

Leonardo (the Phlegmatic) - The lead turtle, Leonardo, has a personality based around the phlegmatic humour, represented by phlegm or the element of water. The Phlegmatic personality tends to be steadfast and honour-bound, while calm and introverted. They tend to be content with themselves, and more compassionate than the other three humours. Leonardo, while presenting an assertive personality, is often seen trying to break up more fights than he starts, even to the point of trying to reason with villains such as Shredder.

Learn more on Corporate training

Harry Potter Series – The Four Houses of Hogwarts

Gryffindor (The Sanguine) comprises of extroverts who are sociable and charismatic. Confidence is something that the sanguine never lacks. That is why the main and most influential characters that are not villains all reside in Gryffindor. Notable Gryffindors: Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley, Albus Dumbledore.

Slytherin (The Choleric), like Gryffindor are also extroverts and are very influential individuals who love to be in control. They are proud leaders and pride is incredibly important to them. We see plenty of this misplaced pride in the Malfoy family. Slytherin’s love of pureblood wizards can be attributed to this pride. Notable Slytherins: Tom Riddle, Draco Malfoy, Severus Snape, Lucius Malfoy, Regulus Black.

Ravenclaw (The Melancholic). Melancholics are introverted and usually intelligent and creative. They are the thinkers as well as the dreamers. Notable Ravenclaws: Luna Lovegood, Marcus Belby, Cho Chang.

Hufflepuff (The Phlegmatic) tend to be quiet and introverted. They are perceived by others as rather sluggish but they are loyal and dedicated. They are observers and prefer to watch from afar. Notable Hufflepuffs: Pomona Sprout, Nymphadora Tonks, Cedric Diggory.

Scooby Doo – The Scooby Doo Gang

Daphne the Sanguine - the most enthusiastic, emotional and outspoken of the group.

Velma the Choleric, exhibiting brains when solving the mystery, also getting rather pushy, and tends to brood when things don't go her way.

Fred the Melancholic — although he is the leader of the team, he is obsessive (when it comes to traps) and emotionally high strung (when Daphne is in danger).

Shaggy and Scooby the Phlegmatics - Shaggy is the Non-Action Guy who runs from anything spooky, is only there to react to the situations and makes jokes. Scooby is the heart of the team.

And if that’s not enough to tell you that a diverse team of individuals, each with their own strengths, is a prudent starting point for any project team, here’s a real-life example that will change the way you see team-ups forever:

The Beatles

Yes, the Fab Four are the ultimate dream team, and they clearly fall under the four temperaments:

John Lennon the Sanguine - Plant and Shaper - Wildly imaginative, willful, pre-occupied 

Paul McCartney the Choleric - Coordinator and Completer Finisher, Implementer, Specialist - A versatile, technical musician who could refine ideas, present his own and finesse things in the studio 

George Harrison The Melancholic - Specialist, Teamworker - Sober, mild and skilled at his instrument. Highly imaginative, but often sidelined by the personalities of Lennon and McCartney. 

Ringo Starr The Phlegmatic - Resource Investigator, Teamworker - Garrulous, extrovert, witty and social. Good at diffusing tension in the group. 

So the next time you’re assembling your dream project team, take a closer look at your team members, and you might just see a Ringo Starr or Harry Potter among them!

Learn more on Corporate training

Team Building 

To learn more about Team Building and other skills for the workplace in small, manageable sessions, visit the British Council's Bitesize 90 programme and send us your details, and may the Force be with you, always.