I have a friend who a natural-born people pleaser. When I need reassurance, this friend is as calming and caring as they come. Listening is her second nature. She would rather go with the flow than have it her way.
But sometimes, I can’t figure her out. Her chill demeanor can come off as indifference. She shrugs when she says, “I want you to choose,” and leaves it at that. She wants no say in small matters, such as where to grab dinner or what to watch on movie night (when I know she could watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding a thousand times). She’s consistent, even predictable. So, why is she hard to read?
If this sounds like a friend of yours, she may be phlegmatic, one of the four temperament types. The phlegmatic avoids conflict and confrontation at all costs. This people pleaser often puts her will aside for the sake of being agreeable or catering to others. For these reasons, figuring out how this reserved friend feels or what she actually wants can be difficult.
Of course, every person is different, and no personality type can perfectly define you, but I have found that turning to research on temperaments has helped me with this process of trial and error—and the result has been less error. In The Temperament God Gave You, Art and Laraine Bennett explain how personalities can be understood through four basic types: melancholic (idealistic and analytical), phlegmatic (calm and easygoing), sanguine (enthusiastic and social), and choleric (quick-thinking and determined). “Each of us is uniquely and predominantly one of the temperaments,” the Bennetts write. “Today, people all over the world are rediscovering the value and wisdom of this most ancient tool for understanding themselves and others.”
The more I read about temperament types, the more I understand what makes my friends (and myself) tick. For instance, I now know that my phlegmatic friend sometimes needs a push to open up—but pushing too hard can cause her to withdraw.
The phlegmatic knows how to be a solid friend. In fact, she may be the first person you call whether to vent or gush over good news. But caring for her can stump you. Here is your go-to guide for the proper care and feeding of your easygoing (to a fault) friend.
WHO SHE IS
She’s calm, cool, and collected. Your phlegmatic friend strides through life with enviable composure. Even under pressure, her patience and peace of mind seem unshakable. The phlegmatic takes commitments seriously. But she makes commitments even when she’s overbooked. An unashamed rule-follower, she sticks to the tried-and-true. She prefers schedules and structure to surprises; she thrives in routines. Rest assured, she takes time to recharge, whether by binge watching her favorite series or reading in her hammock.
Still waters run deep with this one. She’s reflective and slow to react. But behind her steady demeanor lies a fiercely loyal spirit. She supports her friends to no end. This first-rate listener will hear you out with respect, no questions asked. She’s known to lighten the mood with dry humor and witty one-liners. She stays clear of quarrels, and, when drama brews, she has a way of calming the storm. No wonder you call her the peacemaker.
HOW TO CARE FOR HER
01. Invite her input
“Phlegmatics tend to want things to run smoothly; they don’t like stirring up trouble, and they value harmony within their relationships,” Laraine Bennett told Verily. “They are sometimes so focused on peace and harmony that they don’t make their own needs or desires a priority nor do they ever put themselves forward. Over time, this can erode their self-esteem—feeling underappreciated or undervalued.”
How can we remind our phlegmatic friend that her voice matters? While phlegmatics love to listen, we can turn the tables by inviting this friend to share her own thoughts.
Laraine explains, “The best way to be truly supportive and appreciative of your phlegmatic friend would be to take time to really listen to him or her. (Especially if you are choleric or sanguine.) When everyone is pushing themselves forward to make their wishes known or their opinions heard, ask your phlegmatic friend if she has an opinion.”
Get her input when planning a night out. Simply asking her, “Do you have any ideas?” will keep this friend from feeling overlooked and encourage her to plan activities that she enjoys. The phlegmatic takes the path of least resistance—that is, she’ll tag along on girls’ night out with no qualms—but if you know that she would rather go hiking than bar hopping, hit the trail with her sometime.
In addition, give her the gift of one-on-one conversations and attentive listening. Your phlegmatic friend feels loved when you confide in her, but to truly nurture your friendship, open the door for her to confide in you, too.
02. Offer praise
Because the phlegmatic wants to please, criticism from loved ones hits her hard. Likewise, she takes support and reassuring words to heart.
“Words of affirmation are very important to the phlegmatic. Remember, their self-esteem may have suffered over the years during which they never put themselves forward. Their natural humility causes them to keep quiet about their personal talents and gifts,” Laraine says.
Like melancholics, phlegmatics may feel more comfortable receiving an affirming note than verbal praise. The difference? Melancholics respond best to concrete compliments, Laraine explains, or else they may mistake an affirmation for flattery. Phlegmatics, on the other hand, tend to be more trusting and receptive to over-the-top praise. (OK, that doesn’t mean raving, “Oh my gosh, you are awesome,” day after day. Although, Laraine adds, “Every once in a while, it doesn’t hurt to say just that!”)
Encourage your phlegmatic friend by noting her virtues and strengths. If she’s struggling with self-doubt, remind her what she’s capable of. “In other words, give a concrete example of the phlegmatic exhibiting the virtue or strength that he might be feeling insecure about,” Laraine says.
For instance, when my phlegmatic friend moved to another city for her career, she worried that she wouldn’t adjust or form close friendships. So, I reminded her that although she resists change, she’s adapted to another city before; not to mention, she makes friends wherever she goes. Sure enough, she found her niche and social circle in her new city.
Sometimes, your phlegmatic friend needs nothing more than a simple, supportive reminder that someone believes in her abilities.
03. Never nag her
“Finally, don’t take them for granted, and don’t be a nag,” Laraine says. “Their easygoing manner may tempt impatient temperaments to nag or badger when the phlegmatic is not immediately responsive. Though they can put up with a lot, even phlegmatics have their breaking point.”
This type becomes discouraged by demands. If the phlegmatic feels nagged, she will shut down. For that reason, one of my phlegmatic friends dubs her type “most likely to have sixty unread messages.” She becomes unresponsive, literally. Asking a phlegmatic the same question over and over, for example, or bugging her about being late will not motivate her. The phlegmatic responds much better to gentle nudges than nagging.
Likewise, if you (forcefully) push a phlegmatic to do something, she will resist. Say your phlegmatic friend seems withdrawn. Rather than pressing her to be more social, extend a simple, open-ended invitation like, “I hope you come to the game this weekend.” If she doesn’t commit to plans, avoid disapproving comments, such as, “What are you going to do at home?” or “I never see you anymore.” Even if said jokingly, fault-finding can stir up unnecessary conflict. Keep in mind, this friend prizes tolerance (not to mention the occasional night dedicated to chilling at home). For an effective response, remind her that you enjoy quality time with her: “The game won’t be the same without you cheering next to me!” or “Let’s get together another time soon.”
“This is one temperament that really needs to be pumped up,” the Bennetts write in their book. With some reinforcement—that is, once she feels appreciated—your phlegmatic friend will engage in activities more excitedly.
When my phlegmatic friend acts indecisive or indifferent, I have to remember that she often needs an encouraging nudge. A little affirmation goes a long way with her. We owe it to our phlegmatic friends to invest in their lives and interests, just as they invest in ours. The proper care and feeding of our phlegmatic friends means showing them reassurance and acceptance, gifts that they pour out to us day after day.
Photo Credit: Brittni Willie