Personalities: we all have them. They all vary. Some we click with, and some we don’t. As health practitioners, the art of communicating effectively with all of our practice members is essential. This can mean the difference between having an important health message hit home and potentially seeing a life changed for the better, or having the person misunderstand or disengage potentially at the cost of their health.
Kim Morrison has studied the art of communicating with personality types and developed some keen insight into what makes each of us tick. It hails back to the work of Hippocrates some 2500 years ago, and is echoed in nearly every personality test that we see today. “We all come at it in different ways, but my way is a little more playful.” says Kim, who stresses this is about understanding and connection rather than boxing anyone in.
You might have heard of Hippocrates Four Humours, or the Four Personality Types by Florence Littauer that grew out of that doctrine. To Kim, understanding these key personalities and being able to speak to the needs in each of them is a huge asset to any health or wellness practitioner, as it helps health messages hit home and helps people and practitioners connect.
“I personally believe that we were born with one dominant personality type. So 60% of who we are is made up of that. You only have to look at families with more than two children to learn that you can be raised in the same home and yet vary on discipline and what we have to have as part of the family unit. It’s always different.
The last 40% is based on upbringing, circumstances, behaviours, teachers, coaches or experiences we have had in life. What can happen through life is that we can grow and develop into a personality that’s actually not us – based on pleasing others. We all have this fundamental desire to please people. That’s human nature.”
It is this 40% that gets interesting, and can sometimes make it hard to see or connect with the person in right front of you.
“Sometimes our personalities become what we call masked. It’s not until we get older that we are having these dysfunctional relationships, unhappy times, feelings of not being ourselves or what some call the mid life crisis or mid life awakening. We have all these things that suddenly rattle us to the core, that cause us to really search within and find out who we are.”
Hippocrates originally theorised the four humours based on the presentations of his patients. Centuries on, we still see the pressure of masked personalities (or more likely the stressors that lead to that) wearing down on people’s health. Each personality type has certain tendencies and fundamental needs that, if understood, can help us connect better.
What are the key personality types?
The Powerful Personality:
Hippocrates called it the ‘black bile’ humour. Littauer called it ‘Choleric.’ Kim calls it the powerful personality. This is the born leader – dominant, decisive and driven to get things gone. This personality type is clearly seen in the Donald Trumps and Oprah Winfreys of the world. They are outgoing and happiest at the helm, often crossing over into bluntness or arrogance as they focus on the outcome they are after. If this person were to be involved in a stage play, they’d be the director.
The Playful Personality:
Hippocrates called this the ‘blood’ humour. Littauer called it ‘Sanguine.’ Kim calls it the playful personality. This type of person is predisposed to socialise, connect and entertain. They chat, love a good story, and are excitable. They are possibly not the most reliable of the personalities as they are distractible and always looking for fun. If you’re looking for a sanguine personality, look to the life of the party. Think Jim Carrey, Chris Rock or Amy Poehler. If this person were to be involved in a stage play, they’d be the actor.
The Peaceful Personality:
Hippocrates gave this humour the oh-so-glamorous title of “phlegm.” Littauer called it ‘Phlegmatic.’ Kim calls it the peaceful personality. They are laid back and desire a peaceful environment above all. They hate conflict and often avoid decision-making. They tend to be quite loyal, and are good mediators as they are unexcitable and even-keeled. In the stage-play scenario, they’d be the audience.
The Precise Personality:
Hippocrates gave this the title “Yellow bile” humour. Littauer called it “melancholy”. Kim calls it the precise personality. This personality is the thinker. They love lists. They assess and evaluate. They like facts, maps and charts. They are intelligent, but they often fall into the paralysis of perfectionism. In the stage play scenario, they’d be the scriptwriter. Famous precise personalities include the likes of Van Gogh and Ernest Hemingway.
This is a very brief overview of a topic that touches every aspect of life. Time forbids us to go into every area, so let’s jump right in to how the health-practitioner benefits from understanding them.
How do you get through the masking?
The ability to speak on a level your practice member understands, and to receive feedback in a way that isn’t personal, is essential to all of us. When it comes to the health context, it’s the difference between the health homework getting done or ending up ignored.
Ultimately people can be a combination of these personality types, with many people having a dominant and a subdominant type. The way to discover which one you are isn’t necessarily by looking at behaviour and tendencies, which can help but can also be masked, but by discovering your fundamental emotional needs.
“When you learn to talk into the needs, you stop taking things personally. As a chiropractor you would be seeing a lot of people all day every day. They all have different needs and desires. The beauty of this work is that suddenly you’ll be able to understand their physicality, or what you need to say in order for them to do their homework. When you know who is on your table, you’ll know what you need to do.
It is this personality masking that can make it so difficult to get through sometimes, and yet at the heart of each personality type is something that each one needs. When asked how you get through the masks, Kim answers,
“With a lot of questioning, with observing the language. It’s a lot of layers. That’s how you get through all the BS. I say to them, ‘When you are really, really stressed, when everything is overwhelming you and you can’t cope, what do you need?’ ”
The core needs of the four personality types look like this:
- Attention, affection, acceptance and approval. Do they need to talk to people, to talk it out or cry it out? If this is what they need in tough times, you are dealing with a playful personality. If you want to get them to do their health homework, you’ve got to make it fun.
- Space, silence, sensitivity and support. They don’t want people to abandon them, but they need space to think about it. If this is what they need in high stress times, you are dealing with a precise personality. To get them to do their health homework, you need to give them a list. They’ll follow it to the letter.
- Credit for their accomplishments, loyalty in the ranks and control no matter what. If these are the core needs, then you are dealing with a powerful personality. Talk to them about outcomes and the process needed to get there, and they’ll be on board. But be direct. They hear best when you are up front and honest.
- Do they find that they need to be valued for who they are, not what they do? Do they need peace and quiet in order to process things? This person is a peaceful personality. The best way to communicate with them is at their pace. Take it one thing at a time. Be their partner in health.
Over her time researching and studying these personality types, Kim has observed a trend: in stress and especially prolonged stress, the personalities tend to flip to their opposite. A precise may start presenting as blunt, bossy and defensive – which can be traits of the powerful under stress. But the precise person isn’t comfortable here. They are acting out of defence. A playful personality may disengage and become flat – which can be traits of the peaceful personality under stress. Once again, this isn’t their best self. It isn’t where they are comfortable and functioning optimally.
The key to getting through is to ask the questions and find the needs. Only then can you guide people in a way that they understand, and partner with them to find their best selves.
It’s a topic too big for one blog post, and it has the potential to increase understanding and restore balance to so many aspects of our lives and the lives of our people. For more information, check Kim’s work out at www.twenty8.com
BIO: Kim Morrison is a health and lifestyle educator, environmental health coach, author, aromatherapist and founder of Twenty8 Essentials chemical-free skincare and essential oils. Kim developed her skills in aromatherapy alongside tactile therapies, homeobotanical therapy, fitness consulting and personal training.
It is her mission to see people acknowledge their strength and beauty, take responsibility for their health and well-being, constantly challenge their potential and take good care of themselves. And although she gets told everywhere she goes that the two biggest reasons why people don’t take care of themselves is because of time and money she knows it is actually more about making yourself a priority.