How to Work With a Green 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 Green personality type? In what ways should you adapt your behavior when working with a Green-dominant person?

According to Thomas Erikson in Surrounded by Idiots, the Green personality (which Hippocrates would call “phlegmatic”) is the most common. He labels Green types as the most balanced and describes them as a little bit of every color. Green personalities are even-tempered, kind, and empathetic—and they can go with the flow. Erikson says they can be perceived as shy or unsure of themselves.

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

Working With a Green-Dominant Person

Give criticisms in private. If you need to address a Green-dominant person’s behavior (or, more likely, an inaction), Erikson says to speak with her privately. Greens are sensitive, and if they’re criticized in front of others, they feel immense shame and subsequent resentment. 

(Shortform note: There are a few exceptions to the widely accepted rule: “Praise in public, criticize in private.” For example, if an employee makes a discriminatory or inappropriate remark, or blatantly violates a policy, it’s important for the rest of your employees to see it addressed immediately.) 

Allow for downtime. If you’re trying to work collaboratively with a Green personality type, Erikson says one of the worst things you can do is rush her. While it’s important to make sure a Green is moving, she needs occasional periods of time where she can be alone and working at her own tranquil pace. 

(Shortform note: For some people, the pressure of a ticking clock can kill productivity. If you want your slower colleague to be efficient, encouraging her to move at your pace can easily backfire. Instead, discuss the time expectations ahead of time and choose a deadline that is realistic for both of you.)

Take charge. Green types rarely want to lead, and they aren’t built for it. If you’re working with them, Erikson recommends you lead the conversations and make the major decisions. Green personalities 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 ask them for their thoughts, and ask if they’d like you to take charge.)

Persuading a Green Personality Type

Break the process down. Green personalities don’t like change, so Erikson says they can be difficult to persuade. He recommends breaking the change down into digestible chunks for them. For example, if you want your office to switch to a new software, eliminate uncertainty by telling the Green-dominant people exactly what would happen and who would handle each step of the process. 

(Shortform note: When you are trying to convince someone that a change is necessary, the first question they think is: How is this going to affect me? Most people won’t admit this, because it sounds selfish—but if you begin by telling the person how the change will make their daily routine easier or better, you will have a great advantage.)

Narrow down the choices. Erikson says that Green types are happy to follow directions but feel overwhelmed and immobilized when it comes to making decisions. If you’re trying to sell them on a new policy or product, he recommends you come to the table with one or two options for them to say “yes” or “no” to. Do the research and planning ahead of time, and explain how you narrowed down the options; they 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. The results: Most people selected the first option available.)

Giving Feedback to a Green-Dominant Employee

Use a gentle approach. Erikson advises you to keep in mind throughout the feedback session that Green personalities are sensitive and self-critical, so whatever you say, they will compound it in their mind. Receiving negative feedback is torturous for them, so approach everything softly—use a kind voice, provide lots of reassurance, and choose your words carefully. Erikson says to make sure they know that you’re critiquing the behavior, not the person. 

(Shortform note: If your body language is nervous or dominant, your feedback recipient will feel uncomfortable and likely miss out on what you have to say. Body language that signals nervousness includes: avoiding eye contact, crossing your arms, looking around the room, and fidgeting. Dominant body language includes: standing while the other person is sitting, maintaining intense eye contact for too long, furrowing your eyebrows, and making aggressive hand gestures.)

Focus on feelings. Green types care deeply about how others feel, and Erikson recommends using this as a tool during the feedback session. As usual, Green personality types are the opposite of Reds in this way. With Red personalities, Erikson says to focus on the behavior’s effect on performance, but with Greens he says it’s better to focus on how their behavior affects others’ feelings. For example: “When you didn’t complete your assignment on time, the rest of the team felt let down,” will be more effective than, “When you didn’t complete your assignment on time, the entire project timeline was delayed.” 

Erikson stresses this caveat:Don’t exaggerate how the behavior affected othersbecause the Green-dominant personality will already inflate it in his own mind. Instead, be honest and straightforward.

(Shortform note: If you’re going to share how another employee felt in a situation, ask them first if they are comfortable with you discussing it. Because the Green personality type is unlikely to confront people directly, you don’t want to inadvertently start behind-the-back drama between these two employees.)

Don’t backpedal. According to Erikson, you will quickly see the Green-dominant employee’s distress when you give negative feedback. He encourages you to resist the urge to justify the behavior as a way to make him feel better. Instead, Erikson says to use body language and vocal tone (for example, a kind voice and relaxed face) to reassure him that he’s still liked while holding your ground on the issue. This gives him nonverbal reminders that the feedback is about his behavior, not about him as a person.

(Shortform note: With sensitive employees, it’s crucial to have your meeting face-to-face. If you deliver a criticism via email, for example, there is a lot of room left for interpretation and amplification. The employee could read more into your comment than is actually there, and he will be less likely to ask for clarification. When you meet in person, on the other hand, you can read his body language and respond accordingly.)

Expect an overcorrection. Because Green types are so self-critical, Erikson says it’s common for them to dramatically overcorrect their behavior (temporarily) when they experience criticism. For example, after telling your employee that you’d like him to contribute more to the team project, don’t be surprised if for the next month he comes to work early and completes several tasks before anyone else arrives. This behavior won’t last forever—according to Erikson, it will continue only until the Green-dominant employee feels reassured that you don’t hate him. After that, be on the lookout for the original problem behavior to resurface.

(Shortform note: If you want to let your self-critical employee know that everything is fine, resume all normal activities and behaviors. After a performance review, your sensitive employee will feel spotlighted by any extra attention (even if it’s positive), and this is very uncomfortable for someone who just wants to blend in.)

Ask him to repeat the feedback. At the end of the meeting, Erikson advises you to ask the Green-dominant employee to summarize the conversation for you. He says you may find that he has added criticisms to the list himself. For example, if the point of the meeting was only to address the Green’s tardiness, and you ask him to recap, he might say, “I have been late to work a lot, and also I haven’t been completing my reports on time. I haven’t been the best teammate,” and so on. Reiterate that the only behavior he needs to adjust is the one you discussed.

(Shortform note: Because people with this personality type prefer criticizing themselves over receiving feedback from others, you might ask your employee to write out a few goals based on your conversation to be used as a metric in the next performance review. By allowing your employee to write the goals in his own words, he’ll have ownership of the behavior and will be less likely to feel embarrassed or resentful.)

How to Work With a Green Personality Type

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  • 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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