Personality and Communication: The 4 Different Styles

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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Do you work with a wide variety of personalities? Do you ever struggle to interpret their emails or tone?

Thomas Erikson, the author of Surrounded by Idiots, categorizes people into four personality colors: Red, Yellow, Green, and Blue. Each personality has unique characteristics and behaviors that can sometimes make working together difficult.

Here’s how to better understand the connection between personality and communication style.

Verbal Communication

A vocal cue is a variation in someone’s voice when speaking, such as tone and speed. According to Erikson, each personality type displays distinct vocal cues, and by listening carefully, you can learn a lot about personality and communication style.

Red Personality Type’s Vocal Cues

Red types exude confidence, and Erikson points out that this is evident in their tone of voice. Even when they’re nervous or unsure of themselves, Red personalities speak in a voice that’s loud and clear. He explains that they won’t stumble over their words, and they rarely pause. In other words, they speakquickly and articulately.

Yellow Personality Type’s Vocal Cues

Have you heard the expression, he wears his heart on his sleeve? Well, Erikson says a Yellow-dominant person wears his heart on his tongue. When a Yellow personality type speaks, you immediately know what he’s feeling because his tone of voice is full of expression. Erikson explains that Yellow personalities speak quickly like Red types, but unlike the articulate Reds, Yellow-dominant people often stumble over their words because there isn’t much of a filter between their thinking and speaking. 

Green Personality Type’s Vocal Cues

Erikson says Green personalities speak in controlled, gentle, and soft tones. Their speed is on the slower side, but not as slow as a Blue personality. While fine in small groups, Erikson explains that when a Green-dominant person is speaking to a crowd, she might be asked to raise her voice so everyone can hear. One of the reasons why they’re a calming force, he says, is because their voices ooze warmth and comfort.

Blue Personality Type’s Vocal Cues

Erikson says that Blue personalities speak slowly and have little variance in tone. They pause more than other people because they think through everything that they want to say and are deliberate with their words. He says Blue types may come across as dry or uninterested because of the lack of inflection or passion in their voices.

The Vocal Cues of Great Public Speakers

Of these four ways of speaking, is one better suited for public speeches than the others? The answer depends on a few factors:

The topic and purpose of the speech
The setting in which the speech is given
Who is delivering it

For example, a speech given by the President about war shouldn’t be delivered in the same way that a tech entrepreneur would unveil a new product. For this reason, some people’s natural way of speaking might be better suited for certain topics. However, the most important factor is authenticity. 

Communications coach Carmine Gallo explains in his book, Talk Like TED, that an audience can instantly detect inauthenticity. If you naturally speak with little variance in your tone and try to sound enthusiastic, it will ring false. If you genuinely feel enthusiastic, on the other hand, let this emotion shine through. To keep an audience’s trust and attention, you must be true to yourself.

If you find yourself tasked with delivering a public speech, don’t try to change your personality, but do consider the context of the speech and deliver it accordingly.

Written Communication

You can now identify a person’s personality type using body language and vocal cues. However, this only works if you’re face-to-face. Erikson points out that in today’s world, collaboration from a distance isn’t unusual, and there will be times when you have to meet and work with someone via writing. In these situations, he says it’s helpful to know the personality type of the person you’re dealing with, and how to respond accordingly. Luckily, each type has distinct writing characteristics. 

Using Erikson’s identification and response techniques, in this section we use a hypothetical scenario to study each personality type’s written communication style. Consider how each of the colors might send an email regarding an upcoming company party:

Red Personality’s Email

Reminder, the party is at 7 on Saturday. No need to bring anything.

—Janet

Characteristics: The email is short and to the point. There is no opening greeting or closing words, and definitely no small talk. Emails from Red-dominant people often contain sentence fragments.

How to Respond: Erikson says to answer the email immediately, and keep it short and sweet. “Thanks, see you then” would suffice.

Yellow Personality’s Email

Hey everyone! Just a reminder, the company party is this Saturday at 7 p.m. Yay! I can’t wait! There will be all kinds of drinks, lots of food, and the best DJ in town (I’ve known him forever, and he DJ’d my friend’s birthday party, so I’ve seen him in action, and he’s great!). Everything is provided, but feel free to bring good vibes, haha! See you there!

Thanks, Janet

Characteristics: In this email, there is an opening greeting as well as a closing. She uses animated language, exclamation points, and casual words. She sneaks in a personal anecdote about the DJ that’s a bit tangential. You can feel her emotions coming through the page.

How to Respond: Erikson says Yellow personalities don’t expect an immediate response like Red types do, but don’t forget to answer or she will feel self-conscious. While you don’t have to sound as excited as she does, he recommends you show appreciation for the reminder using a friendly tone.

Green Personality’s Email

Hi team, I just wanted to remind you that the company party will start at 7 on Saturday. Food and drinks will be provided, but you’re welcome to bring something if you feel inclined. If you haven’t done so already, please remind me by the end of the day if you have any food allergies so I can alert the caterer. See you all there!

Sincerely, Janet

Characteristics: This email is friendly but polished. The tone is soft and approachable like the Yellow type’s. Unlike the Yellow-dominant person, however, the Green personality is careful with punctuation and word choice to sound professional but not cold. Note that she asks about food allergies so that everyone is accommodated.

How to respond: Erikson says Green types like to feel appreciated, so respond in a friendly manner and thank her for her hard work on the party and for the emailed reminder.

Blue Personality’s Email

Good morning everybody. This email is a reminder that our annual employee appreciation party will be held this Saturday at 7 p.m. at the convention center (the same location as last year). I have included driving directions and parking instructions as attachments to this email. The party will end precisely at midnight. Please be prompt in your departure, as we have a cleaning team hired to begin at exactly midnight. 

Regards, Janet

Characteristics: This email has no emotion attached and is instead all about conveying practical information. She included driving directions even though the employees are familiar with the location, and it’s important to her that the employees leave on time. The language is professional, and there are no exclamation points. 

How to respond: First, recognize that Janet assumes you read the email and attachments in full, so don’t respond with any questions that she’s already answered. Erikson recommends you respond with a short email confirming that you received and understand the email and attachments. 

How to Effectively Request a Favor via Email

Regardless of your personality type and your recipient’s, there are a few universal strategies you should use when requesting a favor via email. To win anyone’s favor, the request must come across politely and professionally. Here are a few tips:

Use a formal tone when you don’t know the recipient well, or if she holds a higher status than you. For example, instead of saying, “Hi Joan!” you might opt for, “Good afternoon Professor Jennings.”

Put her schedule and needs above your own. After all, you’re the one needing the favor. For example, if you are asking a colleague to help you with a project, you could say, “If you’re able to help, I would be happy to work around your schedule and bring coffee.”

Don’t elaborate on excuses when asking for a time extension. Keep the reason for the request short and simple, and instead focus on what you are requesting.

Show appreciation but don’t overdo it. Always thank the recipient for her time and for honoring the request, but don’t ingratiate. Too many thank yous will come across as unprofessional.
Personality and Communication: The 4 Different Styles

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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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