How to get the most out of your colleagues, depending on their personality type

Sometimes it can be challenging to interact with colleagues whose personality and working style clash with yours. Thomas Erikson, author of Surrounded By Idiots, distinguishes four main personality types: Red, Yellow, Green and Blue. This is how you work most effectively with these distinct types in the office.


How do I recognise a Red? – ‘We’ll do it my way. Now!’

A Red person is a dynamic and driven individual. He has goals in life that others may find difficult to even imagine. Since his goals are so highly ambitious, achieving them seems to be impossible. Reds strive forward, always pushing themselves harder, and they almost never give up. Their belief in their own ability is unsurpassed. They carry inside them the firm belief that they can achieve anything — if they just work hard enough.

People who have lots of Red in their behaviour are task-oriented extroverts and they enjoy challenges. They make quick decisions and are often comfortable taking the lead and taking risks. A common perception is that Reds are natural leaders. These are people who willingly take command and go to the fore. They are so driven that they will get through despite any obstacle in their path. Their disposition is ideal in competitive situations. It’s not unusual for a CEO or a president to have lots of Red in his behaviour.

This form of competition is present in everything Reds do. To say that they constantly want to challenge and compete is probably not entirely true, but if a chance of winning something arises— why not? The exact nature of the competition is unimportant; it’s the competitive element that keeps Reds running on all cylinders.

How do I deal with a Red at work?

Details are boring
Essentially, Reds dislike getting into details. It’s boring and takes time. Thus, Reds tend to be careless about small matters. You can accuse Reds of many things, but meticulousness isn’t typically one of them. For them the destination will always be more important than the journey, so Reds will do just about anything to achieve the desired results. Reds won’t naturally stop to consider the small things or analyze their method.

Conclusion: If you really want to help Reds do better work, try to demonstrate the benefits of keeping an eye on the details. Explain that the results will be better and profits larger if they just consider a couple of small but crucial ele ments of the project.

Quick but often frightfully wrong
Everything in a Red’s world is usually very urgent. You can figure out for yourself the risks this entails. Putting the pedal to the metal may seem like a good idea, but only when everything else, and most of all everyone else, is on the same train. Normally, Reds rush ahead of the group, only to get annoyed when others can’t keep pace.

A Red needs someone who can get him to pause and realize that not everyone has grasped the situation as quickly as he has. He’ll never be able to carry out all the phases of a project on his own — even if he believes he can and probably will attempt to. He still needs to have his team with him.

Conclusion: Give examples of instances where time was lost by being too hasty. Point out the risks involved in hurrying too much. Explain that others can’t keep up, and point out that it would be great if every one knew what the proj ect was about. Don’t give in. Assert that not even he can manage every thing himself. Force a Red to wait for others.

Afterwards, try to discuss the event and show clearly and distinctly what was gained and how much the Red has profited by taking things a bit slower.

How do I recognise a Yellow? – “That sounds fun! Let me do it!”

These are people who live to live, always finding opportunities for enjoyment. Life is a banquet, and Yellows will see to it that they savour every bite. They are driven by merriment and laughter. And why not? The sun is always shining somewhere.

Recognizing a Yellow is easy. He’s the one who’s talking all the time. He’s the one who gives answers rather than asking questions— often answering questions that no one has even asked. He answers a question by telling a story that may or may not have anything to do with the issue. But it really doesn’t matter, because he will put you in a cheerful mood. Besides, his unshakably positive attitude also makes it impossible for you to feel upset for long.

They are also very typically touchy-feely people. Like Reds, Yellows are very willing to make quick decisions, but they can rarely explain why using rational reasoning. A more likely response would be, “It just felt right.” And sure, gut feelings shouldn’t be underestimated. Studies have shown that gut feelings are right more often than we think. But that’s not the kind of gut feeling we’re talking about here. Yellows often make decisions that are based on feeling simply because no thought was ever involved.

How do I deal with Yellows at work?

Learn to tell whether a Yellow is actually listening
Yellows are, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the worst listeners. Usually, they will never admit it. The very expression itself— “awful listeners”—is something negative, and they’ll do anything to avoid negativity. Many Yellows really see themselves as good listeners. Who knows where they got that idea? It’s simply not true. Of course, there are Yellows who listen— when it suits them. Or when they’ve already gotten what they wanted out of a conversation. But in most cases, forget about it.

Conclusion: It doesn’t matter if you’re speaking to your partner about your summer vacation or to a colleague about an ongoing project, you need a plan of action. You have to know what your message is and exactly what response you need from them. You must persuade the Yellow, happy person to answer your questions very concretely and hear him say, “Yes, I will be there at four just as I promised,” or, “Of course I’ll notify the customer exactly what we have agreed to.”

But— big but—be prepared to follow up if it’s important, because the Yellow didn’t write down any of it. Unless you managed to persuade him to write it on his calendar, of course. That would be the best way. But in all other contexts, you should expect that what you’ve said has gone in one ear and out the other.

All talk but no walk
Yellows talk more than they work. They have a penchant for talking about everything they need to do rather than actually doing anything. Everyone who knows a genuine Yellow knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Many people have trouble getting motivated to work, especially with boring tasks. But Yellows find it particularly hard to leave the starting block when faced with uncomfortable tasks. It may be about having to call a dissatisfied customer, or getting an oil change, or going to the pharmacy. If it’s dull and uninspiring, it won’t happen. Their excuses for avoiding these tasks will be numerous and imaginative.

Conclusion: To help your Yellow friend you need to make sure that he puts his shovel in the ground and starts digging. Push him, but push gently. Treat him a little bit like you would treat a child. Be kind but clear. If he notices that you’re becoming his taskmaster, things may become difficult. Yellows hate feeling controlled. They need the most help to get into gear, but that doesn’t mean they like it. They are free souls and don’t obey anyone else.

How do I recognise a Green? – “How are we going to do this? It’s not urgent, right?”

The Green person is the most common. You’ll meet him virtually everywhere. Greens are the most balanced. They counterbalance the other more extreme behavioural traits in an elegant way.

If you have a friend who is Green, he’ll never forget your birthday. He won’t begrudge you your successes, and he won’t try to take the spotlight of you by reeling of his own stories. He won’t try to outdo you, and he will never pester you with new and drastic demands. Nor will he see you as a competitor if you were ever placed in that situation. He won’t take command unless he has been told to do so. They let you be yourself. They don’t demand much, and they never kick up a fuss unnecessarily.

Greens will not offend people if they can avoid it. They’d rather not offend anyone at all, and they won’t talk back if the boss makes a strange decision. They usually strive to fit in, which makes them more balanced people. 

How do I deal with Greens at work?

Nothing happened. Twice.
For Greens, nothing is too big to be ignored. Being proactive and driven, having an active lifestyle— all these things disturb tranquillity. And it won’t be appreciated. He won’t be happy if you’re constantly coming up with new things to do.

Greens feel better when they don’t have to be active. They come home on a Friday evening so completely exhausted from spending the week trying to accomplish as little as possible that they now need to take a good rest. I’ve met Greens whose efforts to avoid work cost them more energy than actually doing the work.

Conclusion: It’s important to respect this on one level. We need to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, knowing how stressful it can be for them to be constantly on the go. In today’s society, it’s not possible to avoid all the bustle and activity. It means that a genuine Green often feels that he is doing something wrong. He hears about everyone else’s weekends, their activities, how they’ve completed one complicated project after the other. For a Green that just sounds exhausting.

The solution is to allow the Green his periods of peace, quiet, and inactivity. He needs to function like that. This doesn’t mean, of course, that he can sit on his butt his whole life, but he does need to be allowed to do a reasonable amount of— nothing.

Why does everything have to be a fight?
Greens don’t like friction of any kind. They back off when a discussion heats up or if you frown at the wrong time. Every thing could be a potential conflict, and this is a very bad condition for all Greens. They lock themselves in and become silent and passive.

Conclusion: If you have a comment to make about a Green’s behaviour, make sure you’re careful about how you present it. For example, if it involves criticism, you should deliver it in private. Make sure that the person you are talking to understands that you still like him, but that you believe that he and the group (work team, sports team, family, association) will function better if he changes certain things. Don’t ask him what he can do about the behaviour; just ask him to do certain specific things. It may be that he knows what to do, but as usual, he will not lead the conversation— you’ll need to do that.

How do I recognise a Blue? – “Why are we doing this? What’s the science behind it?”

You’ve probably met him. He doesn’t make a fuss about himself, but he does keep tabs on what is happening around him. While a Green will just go with the flow, a Blue has all the right answers. In the background, he analyzes: classifies, evaluates, assesses.

You know you’ve met a Blue if you visit someone’s home and everything is organized in a par tic u lar way. Clear labels and names on each hook so that the children will know exactly where to hang up their jackets. If you look at his tools, you’ll find that everything has its own spot and nothing is out of place. Why? A Blue DIY guy always puts things back where they belong.

He is also a pessimist, sorry: a realist. He sees errors, and he sees risks. He’s the melancholic who closes the circle of behaviour. Reserved, analytical, and detail oriented are some words you might associate with a Blue.

How do I deal with Blues at work?

Rome wasn’t built in a day!
Haste is only for sloppy people. We can tell Blues to hurry up, but it goes in one ear and out the other. Speed isn’t an end in itself. Oftentimes, Blues slow down even more when they’re feeling stress, since in a high-stakes situation you really don’t have time to make mistakes. Better to be careful to avoid time-consuming fixes.

This may be true, but sometimes things are urgent. I don’t encourage any form of behaviour that may lead to stress-related illnesses. But sometimes you have to speed up in order to stay in the race. Outwardly, the Blue is quite unmoved. He works at his own pace without worrying that those around him may burn out from their more hectic pace. They actually have themselves to blame.

Conclusion: Calmly and methodically tell the Blue that next week he’ll need to work at a faster pace. Explain exactly why this is so important. Establish that you have only forty-eight hours left to complete the project. This time is precious and must be used correctly. Point to the big picture. Give him valid reasons he should go against his instincts.

Decisions Made Here
Because the Blue experiences the decision itself as less important than the path to the decision, stagnation can occur. After painstakingly collecting facts and meticulously studying all available conditions, you finally come to the moment of truth— the decision. There is a risk that everything can deadlock. On the one hand . . . but on the other hand . . .

Conclusion: Pay attention to when the decision process stalls out. Suppose, for example, two equally strong candidates have applied for an opening at your company. So far, everything has gone well. The Blue decision maker has submitted detailed information via email and kept every one informed about the necessary steps. The process has been followed to the letter.

In order to get something to happen, provide the decision maker with the necessary data required for him to make a decision about one of the candidates. Push him to make a choice. Remind him that the deadline is approaching. Point out the repercussions of delaying the decision— the quality of the company’s work will suffer if he doesn’t hire a new employee. Explain that everything has been properly considered and that, regardless of which candidate he chooses, all the risks have been eliminated.

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