Surviving the Unmotivated Phlegmatic in Your Life

Lazy. Indifferent. Distant.


Can you relate? Does someone in your life display these unmotivated traits? Well, you are probably encountering a phlegmatic. From my observations and talking to people, I think this could possibly be the most misunderstood personality type because they are sneaky. If you’ve been following this series you will understand it when I say that the other three personality types have more identifiable traits we must contend with.

The sanguine = living an “over-the-top” lifestyle when it comes to appearance, style, and actions (talking, attention seeking.)

The choleric = controlling things around them and always doing (intensity)

The melancholy = perfectionist, critical, and super-sensitive (moody)

Well, when it comes to the phlegmatic, the things that drive us crazy are not as noticeable. Where as the other personalities’ provide annoying traits that are clearly identifiable, the phlegmatic is bit more stealthy. Unless you interact directly with this personality, you probably won’t notice anything. With the other three personalities you can be minding your own business and unwittingly find yourself in survival mode. A talkative, sanguine neighbor catches you on an afternoon walk and holds you hostage with her wagging tongue. The control-freak choleric bosses you around and makes unwarranted demands when all you did was volunteer to help the PTO at your child’s school. The melancholy instructor for your basket-weaving class thrusts so many details in your face that it feels like you accidentally signed up to learn brain surgery. Even though a phlegmatic is not likely to invade your life, they can be equally frustrating requiring those around them to get into survival mode.


If you live with a phlegmatic you are shaking your head in the affirmative when you hear the word “lazy”. Trying to get a phlegmatic child to make a bed meets with moans and groans of  “do I have to”, and if you are “lucky” they’ll remind you that they are just going to mess it up when they go to bed in a few hours. A phlegmatic husband will let the little woman’s TO DO list languish undone until it fossilizes. The phlegmatic wife will procrastinate going to the grocery story until there is literally NO food in the house. (Then she’ll try to convince the family that the cardboard box the TRIX came in is nutritious AND YUMMY.)

I may be phlegmatic, but I’m not going to make excuses because lazy is not acceptable. However, I would like to offer some insights: Phlegmatic people have to dig deep to get things done. These lazy/laid back people are easily overwhelmed. A task that looks like a mole-hill to others, is a 14,000 ft mountain to a phlegmatic. It takes time and energy for them to psych themselves up to scale  a formidable mission.

In order to keep your sanity it’s best if you understand they need time. Allowing for flexibility works wonders. For example, the phlegmatic child who needs to make their bed is more willing, and able, if they can make the bed sometime before lunch instead of immediately upon rising. The phlegmatic hubby will be more likely to get a TO DO list done if it has only 2 or 3 tasks instead of 10 or 20. (A choleric hubby can handle 10-20 items, but not the phlegmatic). The same flexibility works well for a wife who dreads heading to the grocery store.


Phlegmatic people often come across indifferent. This occurs because their personal radar isn’t as sensitive as the other personalities’. My mom is melancholy and we sometimes have conversations about what people say and do. She will ask me something like, “What do you think that person meant by that?” I usually respond with a genuine and clueless, “I don’t know. That didn’t even come up on my radar.”

It’s not unusual for people to approach me and apologize for something they said to me. Again, I’m clueless and didn’t even expect an apology. Much of life quietly scoots by a phlegmatic person. What is interesting is that our indifference is what makes us so inoffensive to others and likeable, UNLESS you are close to the person . . . then that indifference bothers others.

Understanding WHY this personality appears indifferent is the best way to survive. If they do not react to something that is important to you, LET THEM KNOW! Believe me, the LAST thing a phlegmatic wants to do is hurt anyone’s feelings . . . I know, I live that. Overall,this is probably the most “selfless” personality, but because they easily miss social prompts and try to avoid social encounters, we can come across indifferent and snobbish. Don’t be afraid to be the one to initiate contact with this person no matter the situation. Whether you need to air a grievance or just want to say HI, phlegmatics are very approachable and receptive people.


There is a bit of overlap between “distant” and “indifferent”, but there are a few differences worth noting. Phlegmatics do relationships best at a distance. Intimacy is a little scary and over whelming. Due to their introverted nature, they relish alone time. To varying degrees they can cross the line into the hermit life if not careful. Solitude is a role they easily embrace. They can also enjoy the company of others, but people tend to drain them.

I enjoy well-structured groups that have a purpose. I play BUNCO once a month and am part of a women’s summer golf group. Intimacy is not required in either of those settings. You show up, play, and go home. However, I tend to stay away from settings where unsolicited social interaction and small talk is required. STRESSFUL!!!  Shoot, even the social time at my church stresses me out. As a result I tend to avoid such interactions altogether, scoot through them as quickly as humanly possible, or, where unavoidable, seek out those I feel comfortable with.

Another aspect that creates fuels the distance dynamic with phlegmatics is chatting. Social chatting can be downright painful while “purposeful” discussion is much more comfortable. Over the years I’ve had sanguine friends who do chatting and phone calls much better than me. On the other hand, I have a phlegmatic friend I met in the mid 80’s who is phlegmatic like me. We won’t chat or correspond for a year or two, but then when we do reconnect it’s like we just spoke the day before. Now, we shouldn’t let so much time pass, but because distance works for us both, so it’s never been a problem.

The best advice I have for someone feeling this frustration from a phlegmatic loved one or friend, don’t interpret this as rejection. It is nice when the phlegmatic reaches out, but honestly, it won’t happen as much as you would probably like it to. Your best bet is to reach out with the understanding that they will feel valued because YOU took time to call THEM them.

Understanding the phlegmatic is not so easy since they don’t have traits that run over people. It’s more the way they respond to things that tend to frustrate those around them. If you approach the seeming unmotivated phlegmatic in your life with this understanding, you’ll survive much better.

©2013 Shona Neff

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This entry was posted on Monday, October 14th, 2013 at 8:27 pm and is filed under Personalities: Four-Part Series, Personality Stories - Phlegmatic, The Personalities - Let's Learn!. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


4 Responses to “Surviving the Unmotivated Phlegmatic in Your Life”

  1. Andrea Says:

    Hi there. I am a Sanguine married to a Phlegmatic. Thank you for the insight. We’ve been together for 10 years now and it never fails to amaze me just how opposite we can be. What you have said here describes my husband to a T! I am quick to forget that it’s his personality that makes him do the things he does. The same goes for me. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that I am totally overreacting and not recognizing that he is not reacting because it’s not in him. I have to always try to remember to take a step back in the heat of an argument and STOP TALKING. LOL! He would be more receptive that way. Thank you sooooo much. I’m enjoying your blog.

  2. admin Says:


    Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you found my post helpful. Understanding personalities can make such a huge difference in all our relationships…especially the marriage one! Marriage takes work and personalities is a wonderful tool to help us all along :)


  3. lm119 Says:

    Excellent post!

  4. shona Says:

    Thanks, lm119.

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