How to Work With a Blue Personality Type

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Surrounded by Idiots" by Thomas Erikson. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are the traits of a Blue personality type? In what ways should you adapt your behavior when working with a Blue-dominant person?

According to Thomas Erikson in Surrounded by Idiots, Blue-dominant people are extremely organized. Erikson says they have a place for everything, know where every cent goes, and keep detailed schedules. It would not be unusual for a Blue type to plan meals weeks in advance.

Keep reading for advice on how to work with a Blue-dominant person.

Working With a Blue-Dominant Person

Allow them to be meticulous, even if it takes a long time. When it comes to work, Erikson says Blue types value quality over everything else. They are perfectionists and they’ll be unhappy in their work if you rush them. Although they may take longer than you’d like, Erikson says you’ll save time in the long run because revisions and corrections won’t be needed.

(Shortform note: You may feel less frustrated with the perfectionism if you know what exactly is being perfected. If you are waiting on a colleague to finish something, and she says it’s not ready, try asking, “Can I ask which part you’re still working on, and if I can help in any way?” There’s a good chance she will launch into an explanation about what needs fixing, and you will agree with her.)

Be precise with expectations. This is a caveat to the previous instruction. Erikson acknowledges that there will be times when a task needs to be completed more quickly than a Blue-dominant person would like. When you can’t afford to give the Blue an endless deadline, Erikson says to be exact about when you need the task done. Rather than asking them to work more quickly, or pressuring them with questions like, “When do you think you’ll be done?” simply tell them, “I need this on my desk by end of day Friday.” They will appreciate the clarity and meet the expectation.

(Shortform note: It can be difficult to set clear expectations in a collaboration if there isn’t a hierarchy. If you are working with a teammate of equal rank and neither of you has been designated as the “lead,” any rule or time limit set for one person by the other will breed resentment. In cases such as these, hash out the expectations early on, and make sure that both parties agree to the plan.)

Persuading a Blue Personality Type

Stick to the facts. Like Reds, Blue personalities don’t want to get personal with you. Erikson reiterates that Blues are task-oriented, and if you’re at work, they have no interest in being your friend. He recommends you approach them in a polite but businesslike manner.

(Shortform note: It’s possible to be warm and authentic while still remaining on-task and professional. Most people (regardless of personality type) will accept small bits of personal information as long as it’s not dwelled upon. For example, you can mention one of your hobbies during your greeting: Good morning! This rain is unbelievable isn’t it? I’m glad I didn’t ride my bike to work today like I normally do.” After this short anecdote, get down to business.)

Over-prepare. Erikson stresses that Blue types are extremely detail-oriented and thorough researchers. When you want to persuade them of something, be more prepared than you think you need to be. Erikson recommends you predict what they will ask and have documentation ready. If you don’t know the answer, Erikson warns against guessing—he says it’s a better idea to be honest upfront and find the answer after.

(Shortform note: If someone asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, how should you respond? Admitting that you “don’t know” is honest but doesn’t inspire confidence if you are trying to sell something. Instead, redirect the conversation by detailing what you do know on the subject, and offer to follow up with specifics. For example, if you’re trying to convince your boss to add another person to your team, and she asks, What return can we expect to see?” you can respond with, “I can tell you that the last time we added a team member, output and profit increased dramatically. I can get the exact figures to you by the end of the day if you’d like.”)

Keep your pitch realistic. Erikson says that Blue types are not dreamers, so don’t bother with an inspirational speech or hyperbolic statements. Instead, only promise what you know you can deliver, using exact figures when available. For example, rather than saying “I will grow our sales to the best in the state!” say, “I will increase our sales by 15%.”

(Shortform note: “Under promise and over-deliver” is common advice in business. However, a study at UC San Diego found that while customers remembered who didn’t keep their promises, they quickly forgot about the ones who exceeded their guarantees. The conclusion is that it’s important to follow through with what you promise, but not as important to go above and beyond.)

Giving Feedback to a Blue-Dominant Employee

Prepare, prepare, prepare. Erikson insists that you must have all of your facts straight before approaching a Blue-dominant person with any type of criticism. He advises you to spend time preparing before the meeting by consulting several sources (rather than taking one person’s word for it), and write down exactly what is said. Review your policies, and be ready to cite them. 

(Shortform note: One of the most effective ways a manager can prepare for a performance evaluation is to give feedback throughout the year. Your employees should not be surprised by anything they hear at their review. If problem behaviors are addressed right when they happen, your employees will be less likely to argue with you when they are discussed in more detail at a formal meeting.)

Provide everything in writing. Erikson reiterates that Blue personality types value preparation; for this reason, they trust written words more than spoken ones because they aren’t spontaneous. Said another way, Blues trust only what has been carefully considered. Before the meeting, Erikson suggests composing a written document that details the criticisms and includes concrete examples. He says to provide a copy of this document, and go through each point together, one by one, avoiding any detours.

(Shortform note: Along these same lines, it’s wise to collect documents throughout the year that support your praises and criticisms, like attendance records, customer feedback, and examples of good and bad behavior, which can all be kept in a folder. Anything concrete that you can show your employee will strengthen your words and support your observations.)

Focus on results, not relationships. According to Erikson, Blue personalities are similar to Reds in that they don’t care too deeply about how their behavior affects others. He says to stay away from emotional language and instead focus on how their actions affect progress. Be extremely specific. “Your pace of work is too slow,” won’t accomplish much. Try this instead: “You spent 25 hours on your report when it could have been done in 10. Because you took more than twice as long as is customary, the next phase of the project was delayed by two days, and it cost the company $2,500.” 

(Shortform note: For every area of improvement you bring up, you should have data to support it. Without facts and figures, your words will sound like an opinion and won’t be respected. It’s recommended that you always begin with the data before making an explicit comment about the behavior. This allows the employee to draw his own conclusion before you do.)

Ask her to repeat the feedback. As always, Erikson says it’s good practice to have the recipient repeat what she’s heard at the end of the meeting. A Blue-dominant employee will likely repeat back to you exactly what was said, but this doesn’t mean that she believes you or is going to change her behavior. In fact, Erikson says it’s likely she just wants the meeting to end so she can get back to work. He recommends you follow up soon after to make sure she follows through with what was agreed upon.

(Shortform note: It’s helpful to schedule a follow-up meeting at the end of the current meeting rather than leaving it vague. This ensures that it won’t fall through the cracks for either of you, and it tells the employee that she’ll be held accountable for the agreed-upon plan.)

How to Work With a Blue Personality Type

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  • A detailed look at Thomas Erikson's four personality types
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Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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