Summary of Contents
The author provides a thorough historical background of temperament theory, beginning with Plato (4th century BCE) and culminating with the work of Isabel Myers (1958). Having established a basic schema of four temperaments, Keirsey distinguishes his categorizations (Artisan, Guardian, Idealist, Rational) from the Myers-Briggs groupings (SP, SJ, NF, NT) and discusses each of the temperaments at length. The author emphasizes the danger of what he calls the “Pygmalion Project.” This is the tendency to interpret others’ differences from one’s own way of acting or approaching reality as “wrong” and as something to be corrected. This leads to furtive attempts to change other people’s natural personality and temperament, which can only exacerbate problems. The author provides a discussion of how each of the temperaments approach mating (chapter 7), parenting (chapter 8), and leadership (chapter 9). This edition features an updated temperament sorter (4-11) which allows the reader to determine his or her MBTI type. For those interested in simply discovering temperament, the author provides a sixteen question “type sorter” (341).
Please Understand Me II is an update of the author’s 1978 work (Please Understand Me), which was one of the first books to bring the Myers-Briggs concept to a broad, general audience. This second edition is likewise based is based on the works of Myers, Briggs, and Carl Jung, with the author distinguishing his approach from the former on the basis of how exactly to frame the types. The author contends that while Myers, Briggs, and Jung set “out to define different people’s mental make-up—what’s in their heads—something which is snot observable, and which is thus unavoidably subjective, a matter of speculation and occasionally of projection” (30), he has taken a better approach. “To take some of the guesswork out of temperament theory, I base my type definitions of what people do well, their skilled actions—what I call their ‘intelligent roles’—which are observable, and which thus can be defined more objectively” (30).
The author points out that “the reason for Meyer’s and my differences is that we start from widely different premises. Myers unwittingly adopted Jung’s 19th century elementalism, which assumed that personality could be pieced together from independent elements. On the other hand I was imbued with the 20th century organismic wholism. . .So I have long believed that personality, like anatomy, comes about not by an integration of elements, but by differentiation within an already integrated whole, emerging gradually as an individuated configuration” (31).
While the MBTI bases psychological type on internal mental functioning, Keirsey suggests it is more useful to stick to what can be observed as people use words and tools. “I would argue that the four types are most likely derived from the interweaving of the two most basic human actions, how we communicate with each other, and how we use tools to accomplish our goals” (26).
The author then locates the four Myers-Briggs temperaments in relation to their use of “words” (abstract or concrete) and “tools” (cooperative or utilitarian). “Observing people’s use of words and tools gives us a convenient and remarkably accurate way of determining their temperament. . .our observations of concrete or abstract word usage and cooperative or utilitarian tool usage enable us to determine whether ware watching or interacting with an SP Artisan, an SJ Guardian, an NF Idealist, or an NT Rational” (29).
Keirsey gives a thorough description of each temperament on the basis of his observations, and then devotes a chapter each to three important areas where temperament issues easily manifest: mating (Chapter 5), parenting (Chapter 6), and leading (Chapter 7).
In Chapter 5 (Mating), the author tags the Artisan (SP) as the “playmate,” the Guardian (SJ) is the “helpmate”, the Idealist (NF) is the “soulmate”, and the Rational (NT) is the “mindmate”. While acknowledging the reality that people marry across the temperament spread, Keirsey argues (209-211) that people tend to be attracted to their opposite, hence Artisans with Guardians, Idealists with Rationals. He provides his thoughts on how each temperament will likely interact with each of the other temperaments and each of the four types within the opposite temperament. Kiersey interjects his cautions in regard to the “Pigmalion impulse” to change potential mates into one’s own reflection (212-214).
In Chapter 6 (Parenting) chapter, the author describes how children impact each of the four temperaments and describes each of the combinations of temperament of parent and child. Keirsey identifies “the root of the problem is that parents tend to assume that their children are pretty much the same as they are—extensions of their own personality who will naturally follow in their footsteps. But the temperament hypothesis suggests that, in many cases, children are fundamentally different from their parents and need to develop in entirely different directions” (254). Keirsey describes the Artisan parent as “liberator” (275), someone who is tolerant of a child's behavior. The Guardian parent (287) understands parenting as the process of socializing the child. The Idealist parent (280) desires harmony in the relationship, and the Rational parent (283) wants children to stand on their own, to become individuals. Keirsey sees the primary responsibility of each of the types is to encourage their children develop their potential.
In Chapter 7 (Leading), Keirsey sees leadership as a function of intelligence, arguing that each temperament has a main intellectual skill with lesser ability in the other areas. He suggests that Artisans are best at tactics, Guardians at logistics, Idealists at diplomacy, and Rationals at strategy (chart on 292). He provides examples of military and political leaders in each of the categories (294) and makes the point that each of these types are needed and each is equally valid.
This reviewer was first introduced to the MBTI while serving in the military. The unit commander had all of the commissioned officers “typed” in order to better understand his subordinates and improve his ability to exercise command leadership. At that time, this reviewer didn’t understand temperament theory and found the process to be invasive and a “waste of time.” Years later, this reviewer was “re-introduced” to the MBTI while being trained as a spiritual director and “something like scales” fell from his eyes as he finally “got it!” He was able to easily recognize himself as an INFJ, whether being described by Kiersey or Isabella Myers or Carl Jung. As he became more practiced at observing people and looking for indicators of temperament preferences, this reviewer found it very useful in his own ministry as a parish pastor, especially when operating in administrative and leadership roles.
This reviewer resonated with a key point that Kiersey makes in that his system (or any system for that matter, ie. enneagram) is not to be thought of as a way of pigeon-holing people. Because the human person is simply too complex to be reduced to a four-letter description, personality and temperament systems operate best as a “rule of thumb” and a useful starting point for further exploration and discussion without need to affix “better” or “worse” to the types. This reviewer very much appreciated the authors point that trying to change others rather than simply appreciating and embracing their uniqueness is dangerous. The real point that must be emphasized to someone interested in this material is that temperament theory is only an intuitive look at broad categories of people (16 types for the MBTI, 9 types for the Enneagram) and can be useful as such, but one should not mistake the “map” for the “territory.”