Surrounded by Idiots by Thomas Erikson

Do you find that you get along better with certain people rather than others? It is easy to talk to some of your friends; you always found the right words and everything just flowed smoothly. There were never any conflicts, and you liked one another.

With other people, however, everything just went wrong. What you say fall on deaf ears, no matter how you conduct yourself. We call them idiots, but it’s really because we don’t understand them. This is because 

Everything you say to a person is filtered through his frames of preference, biases and preconceived ideas. What remains is ultimately the message that he understands. It is very rare that the entire message gets through exactly as you conceived it in your mind. 

Surrounded by Idiots

I recently read the book ‘Surrounded by Idiots’ by Thomas Erikson and I learned a lot about different personality types from this book. There are many ways to categorise personality and human behaviour. This book uses the widely-used method called DISA – an acronym that stands for Dominance, Inducement, Submission and Analytic. Each of these behavior types is associated with a color – Red, Yellow, Green and Blue.

It’s important to understand the 4 different types of human behavior pattern so that we can communicate better. About 80 percent of all people have a combination of two colors that dominate their behavior. Approximately 5 percent have only one color that dominates behavior. The others are dominated by three colors.

Let’s go through each of these 4 personality types and their characteristics.

The 4 Personality Types

Red – Real Alpha  

  • Aggressive 
  • Goal-oriented 
  • Controlling 
  • Convincing 
  • Performance-oriented
  • Powerful
  • Results-oriented 
  • Intense
  • Opinionated
  • Straightforward 
  • Independent 
  • Decisive
  • Impatient 
  • Pushing 
  • Speed
  • Timekeeper
  • Ambitious 
  • Problem-solver 
  • Initiator
  • Strong-willed 
  • Pioneer
  • Innovator

A Red person is a dynamic and driven individual. He has goals in life that others may find difficult to even imagine. Reds strive forward, always pushing themselves harder, and they almost never give up. Reds 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. Their disposition is ideal in competitive situations such as a CEO or a president. 

Reds have no problem being blunt. When asked a specific question, they often say exactly what they think, without any frills. They have opinions on most things, and they trot their thoughts out quickly and efficiently.

Few things annoy Reds more than sluggishness. While other people may find it difficult to make a decision, Reds are prepared to make quick decisions in order to keep things moving. Once he’s decided, then it’s full steam ahead.

Reds love difficult tasks, so their level of ambition is usually boundless. The ability to manage difficult situations and challenges is the defining attribute of Red behavior.

Famous Reds: Steve Jobs, FDR, Venus Williams, Margaret Thatcher, Barack Obama and Mother Teresa.

Yellow – Heads in the Clouds

  • Talkative 
  • Charming 
  • Self-centered
  • Sensitive 
  • Needs attention
  • Communicative 
  • Spontaneous 
  • Social 
  • Inspiring 
  • Full of vitality 
  • Open 
  • Sociable 
  • Enthusiastic 
  • Adaptable 
  • Flexible
  • Optimistic 
  • Expressive
  • Creative 
  • Imaginative 
  • Easygoing 
  • Encouraging 
  • Persuasive 

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. 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.

People with lots of Yellow in their behavior are focused on creating relationships. They inspire those around them, and the best way to achieve this is through building relationships. Yellows know everyone. They have more acquaintances than everyone else. They like everyone. A Yellow doesn’t need to know a person very well before calling him his friend. Anyone who doesn’t actively dislike them they consider to be a pal.

Just like Reds, Yellows have lots of energy. They find most things interesting, and Yellow individuals are the most curious people you’ll ever meet. Everything new is enjoyable, and a great deal of Yellow energy is spent finding new ways of doing things. Yellows want to know what’s going on. They want to be where it’s all happening, and they will make sure to be at every party. 

If there is anything that characterizes Yellow behavior, it’s unlimited optimism and enthusiasm. The Yellows’ entire being is concentrated on one thing—finding opportunities and solutions. Yellows have the unique ability to twist and turn things. To put it simply, they turn everything upside down and think outside the box. The Yellow’s intellect is very fast, which means that it can be difficult to keep up. Sometimes they can even find it difficult to explain their wild ideas.

With all their energy and optimism, Yellows are very persuasive. It’s easy for them to get carried away, seeing opportunities and solutions where others might only see a dead end. With the help of language, they really are masters at winning over people to their side. Most Yellows have a rich and varied way of gesticulating, so that they can convince you not just with their words, but with their entire bodies. But it’s not just energy and will. Yellows have a unique way of expressing themselves that sways their listeners. They often use vivid and colorful imagery when they speak, which appeals to all five senses and creates an impression that is felt by the whole body.

Famous Yellow: Oprah Winfrey, Robin Williams, Ellen DeGeneres, Pippin from The Lord of the Rings and Han Solo from Star Wars.

Green – Change is Difficult 

  • Relaxed 
  • Self-controlled 
  • Composed 
  • Modest 
  • Lengthy 
  • Prudent 
  • Discreet 
  • Reluctant
  • Conceals feelings 
  • Thoughtful 
  • Considerate 
  • Kind
  • Helpful 
  • Supportive 
  • Persistent 
  • Stable 
  • Reliable
  • Loyal 
  • Producer
  • Good listener 
  • Understanding 
  • Patient

Greens are more passive than others, they are easy to deal with. 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. They usually strive to fit in, which makes them more balanced people. They’re ideal for calming down confused Yellows and they’re excellent at warming up Blues, who, on occasion, can be a tad too cold.

You can expect a helping hand from a Green whenever you need it. They are pronounced relational people who will do everything within their power to save your relationship. And they will invest lifelong.

They are also pronounced team players. The team, the group, the family, always comes before the individual, and I would even say that societies consisting of Greens will always take care of the sick and the weak. They will not leave a friend in need; you can call them at any time. They always offer a shoulder to cry on.

Change isn’t their greatest strength, even though change isn’t completely foreign to them. If you can simply justify the change and give him enough time, even a Green will be prepared to try new things.

If a Green says that he will do something, you can be confident that he’ll do it. If it’s in his power to deliver, he will. It won’t be done in the shortest amount of time possible, but it will show up in your inbox roughly within the expected time frame. For the Green, it’s natural to look after everyone else around them.

If your organization needs reliable employees, then hire Greens. They constitute the stable core who will do the job well. They don’t have problems taking orders—as long as the orders are formulated in an appealing fashion. Greens enjoy stability and a certain predictability in the workplace, in the home, with the family, just about everywhere.

Greens are introverts, they don’t talk just for the sake of talking. When you are quieter than those around you, it’s natural that you listen. And Greens will listen. They are interested in you and your ideas. They have a genuine ear for human problems. They might not offer any suggestions or solutions, but they understand what you’ve told them. You often find Greens in the public sector, where they help others, with no concern for personal gain.

Famous Greens: Mr. Rogers, Gandhi, Michelle Obama, Jimmy Carter and Jesus.

Blue – In Pursuit of Perfection

  • Seeks facts
  • Correct
  • Quality-oriented
  • Perfectionist
  • Scrutinizes
  • Meticulous 
  • Systematic 
  • Questioning 
  • Conscientious 
  • Conventional 
  • Logical 
  • Analytical 
  • Objective 
  • Structured 
  • Methodical 
  • Follows rules 
  • Reflecting 
  • Needs time 
  • Quiet
  • Reserved 
  • Distant 

Blues check their facts before they open their mouth. If the question doesn’t come up, it’s unlikely that your Blue buddy will say anything on the subject. He has no need to tell everyone about what he knows. But you can usually bank on the fact that what he says is correct.

Blues are impressively modest to avoid making a fuss, even if you know everything. It’s usually sufficient that you, the Blue, are clear about who knows best. A Blue may know a thing or two, but because Blues often miss the big picture, they don’t always act immediately. He knew that he knew the answer, and that was good enough. There’s also no need to cheer, applaud, or call a Blue up to the podium when he’s done something tremendous in an amazing way.

A Blue can rarely get too many facts or have too many pages of fine print. No detail is too small to be noticed. Cutting corners is simply not an option for a Blue. He would rather burn the midnight oil checking all the facts of the case than miss the slightest detail. A common misconception is that Blues are unable to make decisions, but that’s not the case. He simply had no need to decide. For him, the process leading up to the decision was significantly more interesting.

Another important characteristic Blue behavior is they’re generally very cautious. They often think safety first. Where a Red or Yellow would take a wild chance, a Blue will hold off and consider everything one more time. You need to get to the bottom of things before you act. Sometimes a Blue can even completely refrain from starting something because he can’t assess the risks. A Blue generally solves everything by creating advanced systems that manage the possible risks that may arise. The benefits of this are evident. Blues won’t be taken aback by unexpected events in the same way others would be. And in the long run, they save a lot of time.

Things can’t be allowed to go wrong. Quality is all that matters. When a Blue individual thinks his work runs the risk of being shoddy or low quality, things come to a standstill. Everything must be checked out. A Blue is prepared to dive deep to get everything exactly 100 percent correct. Blues argue that if they’re going to do something, they must do it correctly. As a very honorable and honest person, Blues usually find it difficult to lie, they will always point out the defects they uncover—even defects that may reflect poorly on them.

Logical and rational thinking is critical to a Blue. Out with all the feelings (as much as possible) and in with logic. They value logical thinking highly, but they can very easily become depressed when things don’t go their way. Few people can repeat the same task an infinite number of times in exactly the same way like Blues can. They have a unique ability to precisely follow instructions to the letter without questioning, provided they understood and approved of it in the beginning. 

It’s impossible to find arguments that a true Blue will accept. He will never be fooled; he will always get what he paid for. It gives him an inner peace because he knows he has checked everything out very accurately. Under normal circumstances, they’re very calm and balanced. Probably because they keep tabs on everything.

Many Blues I’ve met don’t say a single word unnecessarily. They are just very, very introverted. Quiet on the outside, but under the surface anything could be happening. Listen attentively when Blues do actually talk, because they’ve usually thought through what they say. It’s because they don’t feel the need to be heard. They are observers, spectators, more than central characters. They can find themselves at the edge of a group where they observe and record everything that is said. According to a Blue’s values, being silent is something positive. If you have nothing to say—keep quiet.

Famous Blues: Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Sandra Day O’Connor, Condoleezza Rice, Mr. Spock from Star Trek.

Adapting to Red Behavior 

If you want to adapt to a Red’s tempo—hurry up! Speed up! Speak and act more quickly. Look at the clock often, because that’s what a Red does. If you can conclude a meeting in half the time—do it!

If you want to have a Red’s full attention, cut the small talk. It’s vital that you’re clear and straightforward. Determine the most essential point of your message and start there.

Don’t use a single word unnecessarily. But make sure you’ve done your homework when it comes to the background. Questions may come up. If a Red senses that you’re uncertain, you’ll be grilled on the facts. Written materials should be concise and, above all, well laid out. No endless dissertations written by someone who loves the sound of his own voice. A single line jotted down on the back of the napkin will do the job.

Stick to the topic! The easiest way is to prepare your case very precisely before going into a meeting with a Red. If, in the middle of an interesting discussion, another thought pops into your head, write it down and ask at the end of the meeting if it’s okay to raise the issue. Otherwise, schedule a new meeting.

Paradoxically, Reds are the easiest to sell to. If you want to do good business, the only thing you need to do is step into a Red’s office, present your suggestions, and then ask about a deal. When a Red trusts you and has decided that you’re a decent person who can be advantageous to him, well, then he may very well start discussing cars, boats, or the latest politics. Play ball with him. But then and only then.

Deliver your opinion without blinking. In the end, you might have to concede, but never sell yourself short. The best thing you can do is place yourself in the center of the storm, telling him that he’s wrong. When a Red discovers that you won’t give in, he will turn in an instant.

Show that you work hard. You should report back regularly about what you have done and present—briefly—the result of your efforts. Be willing to take initiative. Offer suggestions that the Red didn’t ask for. 

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 elements of the project. If you’re good at arguing, your advice will be followed.

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 everyone knew what the project was about. Don’t give in. Assert that not even he can manage everything himself. Force a Red to wait for others.

Reds calculate risks by constantly looking at the facts. Facts are something they understand. Give examples of situations that historically were shown to be dangerous. Prove things with facts and demand that the person thinks twice before deciding to take on a new project without first having checked the conditions.

Reds need to understand that the road to full transparency is to adapt to others. By realizing that no one can manage everything alone, they can be prevailed upon to pause and actually care about other people.

You should confront his behavior immediately. Don’t allow any exceptions; just say loudly and clearly that you won’t tolerate coarse remarks, nastiness, and uncalled-for tantrums. Demand adult behavior, and if he loses his temper just leave the room. It’s important that you never let him get his way just by barking his head off.

Adapting to Yellow Behavior

A Yellow functions best when he is happy and content. His creativity is at its zenith and all his positive energy flows. You should strive to create a warm and friendly atmosphere around him. Smile a lot, have fun, and laugh. Listen to his crazy jokes, laugh along at all his childish remarks, and kindle the easygoing and happy-go-lucky atmosphere.

Always start with the big questions. If you want to keep a Yellow’s attention, strip away as much of the minutia as you possibly can.

Yellow feels his way. He has a high tolerance for uncertainty and isn’t overly afraid of risks. Adapt to it.

Allow a Yellow to devote himself to the latest thing. He’ll love it. If you want to sell something to a Yellow, use expressions like “state-of-the-art,” “newly developed,” and “never before used.”He’ll like you because you’re so exciting and so interesting and, above all, innovative. Equip yourself with lots of energy, because it can be challenging to keep up-to-date, but Yellows will adore you. However, be prepared to be replaced rather quickly if they find someone else who is even more knowledgeable about newer things.

Become approachable. Demonstrate that you’re available; smile a lot; be sure to have open body language.

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.

Coordinate all appointments properly with Yellows. Synchronize your watches.

If you really want to help a Yellow get organized, make sure he gets at least some structure in his life. Help out by creating a simple list. Create a structure for him. Yellows are the ones who are most in need of structure in the form of diagrams and checklists.

Yellows like getting attention; they throw themselves into the center of things faster than anyone else. They need to understand that there are other people in the room and they have to let others enter the conversation. You may very well become enemies in the process. You’re definitely taking a risk here.

Yellows talk more than they work. They have a penchant for talking about everything they need to do rather than actually doing anything. 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 you wish to get through to a Yellow with negative feedback, you need to be persistent. Create a friendly atmosphere in the room and find the right tone so that your criticism lands where it should. Clarity is key. Make sure to be extremely well prepared, with all possible facts to substantiate your claims. Get real answers to your questions, and be sure that he understands the message. Insist that he writes down what you have said. Ask him to repeat your feedback.

Adapting to Green Behavior

Show that you’re prepared to listen to what he is anxious about. Help your Green friend to face his fear of the unknown. Encourage him to brave things that feel scary and still move ahead.

Allow the Green his periods of peace, quiet, and inactivity. He needs to function like that.

Ease Greens’ minds by explaining every step of the plan.

If you have a comment to make about a Green’s behavior, make sure you’re careful about how you present it. 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 behavior; just ask him to do certain specific things.

If you want Greens to accept change, you’ll have to equip yourself with a good dollop of patience. Break down the process into small pieces and set aside a few weeks to persuade, win over, and spell out the particulars. You must describe the process in detail, and since no one is going to take any notes, you’ll have to go through it again, and again, and again until the message gets home.

If you want to make headway with a large group of Greens, you have to take command, get a firm hold on the steering wheel, and, in some cases, simply get into the driver’s seat yourself. They won’t get started unless you put them on the track.

Adapting to Blue Behavior

Make sure you can show that you’ve done your homework and are well prepared. And—most important—if you don’t have the answer, just say so. Acknowledge that you don’t know. Don’t offer any excuse just to get out of the situation.

Stick to the task. Work with checklists where factual matters are noted—things you can tick off together with the Blue. Don’t ask how things are going for him on a personal level.

Think through what you want to say and what you want to convince a Blue to believe. Put daydreams and visions aside. It may even be worth rethinking the kind of language you will use to talk about your plan. Skip all those inspirational speeches. Stick to the facts, and be clear.

Prepare yourself well. When you think you’re prepared and that you know all there is to know about an issue, go through it all one more time. Make sure you have answers to absolutely everything. Accept that this person might want to have more data to feel secure. Give him the details he needs in order to move on.

Be particularly meticulous in your work when trying to impress a Blue; otherwise, he will view you as sloppy and careless. Avoid criticizing Blues for taking too much time or fussing over details that may be unnecessary. Instead, praise them for their attention to detail and the superior work they do. Let the Blue understand that you are doing quality work and that you understand its value.

Remind Blues that other people have feelings. Give examples of times when he bruised other people’s feelings. Explain that he doesn’t need to express himself critically all the time. Show him that people can take great offense when others criticize their home, car, spouse, or children. Be clear and tell him that being honest isn’t an excuse for being callous. Point out that constant criticism rarely accomplishes anything.

Calmly and methodically tell the Blue that he needs to speed up. This time is precious and must be used correctly. Point to the big picture. Give him valid reasons he should go against his instincts to be slow.

Tell your Blue friend that if he has to make a decision without all the facts, he can follow his gut. This can apply to work or ordering at a new restaurant. Speak clearly and loudly to the Blue, and explain that if he doesn’t make a decision he’ll end up going hungry. Prove that it’s better to do something rather than remaining paralyzed, waiting for more information. Point out that that it’s logical to use intuition in this situation because you don’t have all of the facts.

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.

You can read in depth about the four personality types in the book ‘Surrounded by Idiots’ by Thomas Erikson.

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