Tips for Communicating With Different Personality Types

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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How should you adapt your communication to fit each of the four personality colors? Why will a persuasion technique that works for a Red not work for a Blue?

When you work with a team of people, you need to keep in mind that not every person shares your personality type. Instead of getting frustrated and feeling like you’re “surrounded by idiots,” you should try adapting your communication style for each personality type.

Here are Thomas Erikson’s tips for communicating with different personality types.

Adapting to Each Color’s Style

In his book Surrounded by Idiots, Thomas Erikson explains, color-by-color, how to adapt to, persuade, and work with other personality types.

Here is how to communicate with different personality types.

Adapting to Reds

How to Persuade a Red Personality: Focus on the future and take initiative. Erikson says people with Red personalities are always looking to the future, and they respect people who take initiative instead of waiting for directions. Tell them exactly what you plan to do to help them. Use concrete figures and stay away from flowery language. 

(Shortform note: In contrast, How to Win Friends and Influence People author Dale Carnegie says that stating the truth of a situation and providing evidence is not enough to persuade most people. He says you must also appeal to the other person via their emotions through showmanship.)

How to Work With a Red Personality: Help manage the details. Though they won’t like it, you can help this personality type by reminding them that details are, in fact, important. You might offer to take up the minutiae yourself, or suggest they delegate those tasks to a teammate who will thrive. 

(Shortform note: Red personalities have no problem delegating, but because they aren’t detail- oriented to begin with, it could be helpful to create a list of specific tasks that they can then assign to various team members.)

Adapting to Yellows

How to Persuade a Yellow Personality: Highlight the innovation. Yellow personalities love being the first to experience something, so Erikson says if you want to sell them something, you should point out the features that are new and exciting. 

(Shortform note: While their ability to take risks is admirable, people who are chronically attracted to whatever is “new and shiny” can be taken advantage of. If you fall into this category, it’s important to resist your impulses, and take the time to ask yourself: Is this a real opportunity or simply an interesting distraction?)

How to Work With a Yellow Personality: Create structure. If you want to help a teammate with this personality, Erikson recommends you offer to create some structure by writing up the to-do lists or managing the schedule. They will appreciate someone else taking on this task, and you’ll probably be better at it too.

(Shortform note: Be prepared for this personality type to deviate from the schedule you created, and resist the urge to respond in frustration. Sometimes, having any schedule at all is enough to keep a person on task, even if she constantly adjusts it.)

Adapting to Greens

How to Persuade a Green Personality: Narrow down the choices. Whatever you’re trying to sell to someone with this personality type, Erikson recommends you come to the table with one or two options. Do the research and planning ahead of time, then explain how you narrowed the choices; she will appreciate it.

(Shortform note: If you are offering someone a few choices, you should present your favorite option first. In a set of experiments performed at UC Berkeley, participants were asked to quickly choose between two or more options. Most people selected the first option available.)

How to Work With a Green Personality: Take charge. Green personality types rarely want to lead, and they aren’t built for it. If you’re working with someone with this personality, Erikson recommends you lead the conversations and make the major decisions. Greens prefer to follow the roadmap rather than write it.

(Shortform note: Even if they don’t want to make the decision, most people want to feel like their opinion matters. Erikson says you can help this personality type by taking the lead, but it’s more considerate to first ask if they’d like you to take charge.)

Adapting to Blues

How to Persuade a Blue Personality: Over-prepare. When you want to persuade this personality type, 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. 

(Shortform note: If someone, like a Blue personality type, asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, how should you respond? Admitting that you “don’t know” is honest, but it doesn’t inspire confidence if you are trying to sell something. Instead, redirect the conversation by offering what you do know on the subject, and offer to follow up with specifics.)

How to Work With a Blue Personality: Allow her to be meticulous, even if it takes a long time. When it comes to work, Erikson says Blue personalities value quality over everything else. Although they may take longer than you’d like, Erikson says you’ll save time in the long run because 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, 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’ll agree with her.)

Tips for Communicating With Different Personality Types

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Here's what you'll find in our full Surrounded by Idiots summary:

  • A detailed look at Thomas Erikson's four personality types
  • How to navigate conflicts with coworkers
  • How to effectively communicate and collaborate with bosses, employees, and colleagues

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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