Have you ever met people that you really don’t get? I mean, those kind of persons that seem totally alien to you? And the only thing you can think about is: “Is this person for real? Do they really don’t understand what I am saying, or are they just complete idiots?”
I am a very adaptable person, social, extrovert and all that, I get people and my job pretty much requires from me to be non judgemental.
But still, there are persons that I really don’t get, especially those extremely good with details (where do these people store all of that information?!), that tend to turn a social discussion into technical one, or that ruin jokes only to say that this doesn’t make sense (it’s a joke, it doesn’t suppose to make sense).
The person that recommended me the book “Surrounded by idiots” by Thomas Erickson, was my father, a man of culture, but very short temper. As we navigated through some communication challenges, he texted me the title of this book and told me that “everyone who works with people or lives around them, needs to read this book”.
And after reading it, I completely agree.
Not only it’s incredibly useful, but the reading experience was very nice. The style is relaxed, funny, and really easy to read.
So what’s the fuss about this book?
Why did I like it and why do I think everybody should read it?
Because it makes you understand why some people are the way they are, not because they are idiots, but because they simply have a different style of behavior than yours. And this kind of knowledge can change the way you interact with everyone around you, from you coworkers, to your friends, kids, and partner.
Author Thomas Erickson explains that there are four key behavior types that define how we interact with and perceive the people around us. Understanding someone’s pattern of behavior is the key to succesful communication. The so-called “idiots” in our lives are often people who have different behavior profile and style of communication.
Erikson uses the DISC ((D)ominance, (i)nfluence, (S)teadiness and (C)onscientiousness) method throughout the book, and this means that he breaks down the behavior types into four colours:
Red, Yellow, Green and Blue.
People with D personalities tend to be confident and place an emphasis on accomplishing bottom-line results.
People with i personalities tend to be more open and place an emphasis on relationships and influencing or persuading others.
People with S personalities tend to be dependable and place the emphasis on cooperation and sincerity.
People with C personalities tend to place the emphasis on quality, accuracy, expertise, and competency.
I will stick to the colour code, because it’s way simpler to talk about them in this way, and I will use this particular picture to guide us through this article, and I will explain why:
Most of us have a dominant colour, or a combination of two. For example, I am a combination of Red/Yellow (extrovert), and my husband is a combination of Red/Blue (Task oriented) – don’t ask me how we ended up together, I have no idea. And we are actually pretty good together.
It is very important to understand the way each colour functions, thinks and acts.
I found the chapter about how to give feedback to each colour very interesting and valuable, because very often the message that we want to transmit it is not perceived 100% in the same way by the person in front of us. So in order to be able to give feedback without breaking the relationships around us, we have to get how to talk to the person in front of us, on their own language.
Let’s start with the Red type. Very often we find them leading the way: managers, CEOs, because they are ambitious, strong willed, goal-oriented, pushing, problem solvers, innovative.
But also, very often they are controlling, impatient, speed obsessed (which is not always a very good thing) and minimum interest for caution in relationships. The main perception of them is the fact that they may be heartless and rude.
Also, they are the most probable to be „surrounded by idiots“ because of their inability to walk in other people’s shoes.
The good news is that they are very straight forward, and when you give them feedback, you might as well cut to the point: they don’t like babbling, and they appreciate people that don’t waste their time.
Erickson gives a lot of insights about how each colour perceives the world, what each colour expects of you, and a lot more, so I will only summarize a few of the most important things.
The Yellow type is the category where we find the visionaries: creative, optimistic, relationship oriented, expressive, spontaneous, social, you get the idea.
They are the ones bold enough to apply crazy strategies and ideas, they are the ones willing to take risks that no one else wants to. They push people and motivate them to be better.
The downside with Yellows is that they talk you to death and they tend to take the whole stage for themselves. They are also a mess when it comes to details, so they could be a little hard to rely on. In order to get things done, you have to follow up constantly with yellows, and DO NOT burry them in details. They will lose interest and they will dissapear as fast as you can say „yellow“.
When you give them negative feedback, BE SURE TO EXPLAIN HOW MUCH YOU VALUE THEM, and your relationship (but be mindful of the fact that they are very bad listeners). As you do with children, basically assure them that you appreciate them, love them, and then insert the negative feedback, and then add some more compliments and appreciation. And never, ever, give them negative feedback in front of other people. You will embarrass them , and you must remember that is one thing that Yellows love more than other people: themselves.
See, I am Yellow, and I already written more on this topic that on the Red one , LOL.
The Green behavior is the one that helps everybody and is there for everybody. The Green people are patient, reliable, loyal, modest, stable, prudent, discreet, kind.
They are the ones that will remember you to call people on their birthdays, they are the ones that want to make everybody get along well.
But they are also the ones that avoid conflict, they take things really personal, they are resistant to change and they mostly never have the initiative to do anything.
When you give them feedback, as with Yellows, be very careful to remind them how much you value them. The next thing is that good to be concrete, because they actually listen, a thing that Yellows don’t really do.
The Green type is really good with people, so don’t try to lie to them , just be honest, but mindful of their feelings. Be sure to explain that the behavior is the problem, not the person!
I have a strong print of Green in my behavior, and I can confirm that is HOW you say things to me that is important, rather than WHAT you say to me.
Finally, the Blue type: they are very correct, analytical, structured, reflecting, methodical quality oriented, logical, meticulous.
When a Blue person does things, you can be sure that their work is flawless. They will come to you prepared to answer all your questions, to show you every detail of their research.
Of course, if you are Yellow, you will have trouble adapting to their style of communication, because they look and talk rather cold, they don’t get personal at all, and they have very slow reactions. And that might drive you crazy (I know that, because I am a Yellow married to a Blue).
When you give them feedback , BE SURE that you have facts, data, charts, exact quotes. Because they will come after you, question you, and if you are not prepared, you SHOULD NOT go into that conversation, because they will eat you alive.
And don’t use the famous sandwich method (good things – negative feedback – good things), because they will get confused, and they will not understand what in the earth you are talking about. The good or the bad?
I must mention that these are raw and natural behaviors. Over time, we learn to adapt our behaviors to the people and environments around us, so it is good to know that we CAN and SHOULD adapt in order to live in a nice world.
The author did a pretty awesome experiment at one of his trainings. He had a great pull of managers, all on top of their games.
So he put them in groups with their same colours, he gave them a problem, and one hour to find a solution. So there were 4 groups, of course: Reds, Yellows, Greens, Blues.
He had a theory, but he wanted to prove it to himself. So after the hour went by, the Reds were the first group to „finish“ the task, but they finished a totally different one than the one required, the Yellows were the slowest, and they didn’t finished anything, the Green group didn’t finish either because no one wanted to take responsability for anything, and the Blue group , you guessed it, didn‘t finished because they argued over technicalities for the whole hour.
So the point of Erickson was the fact that you need diversity in order to get things done. You cannot live and work surrounded only by people that are the same type as yours.
Progress isn’t possible when you are exposed to only one type of behavior. We need Reds to lead us , we need Blues to make sure we get things done at a high quality, we need Green people that are there to listen and to be relaxed, and we need Yellows to give us visions of things that we don’t see possible, and we need every type in order to get this impossible things done.
It’s funny that after reading the book, I see so much of these things clearly in my relationship with the people around me. I drive my husband crazy by saying „oh , that is so Blue of you“, and „wow, the Red part of you is speaking right now“.
As a Transformational Coach, my main job is to be there for people, to help them and guide them to win at life in their own terms. So in order to do that, I have to get where they come from, to understand how they see the world from THEIR point of view, and to be very judgement free.
I do think that this book is useful for everybody that wants to improve their relationships, either at work or at home. It’s a very nice inside view for other people’s world, and it makes you understand that most of the time, life is not personal.
Everybody has their own reasons for behaving in a way or another, and sometimes those reasons are simply the ways in which that person perceives the world. And there is nothing to judge, just to understand and accept that we can adapt, we can grow, and we can cultivate things that don’t come natural for us.
We have this extraordinary capacity and we should use it to a maximum. And „Surrounded by idiots“ can be a very good start.