Surrounded by Idiots: The 4 Types and Body Language

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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In what ways do Red, Yellow, Green, and Blue personalities act differently? How can understanding the body language of each type help prevent misunderstandings?

Thomas Erikson writes in Surrounded by Idiots, the 4 types of personalities each use body language differently. A Red might lean forward while speaking to you, while a Blue might stand back and cross their arms. If you know what to expect from a person, then you won’t misinterpret their feelings.

Here’s a breakdown of the body language of each of the 4 personality types.

Body Language of the 4 Colors

In Surrounded by Idiots, the 4 types of personalities each behave differently. By recognizing each color type’s physical patterns, you should experience greater ease in communication and fewer misunderstandings.

Red Personality Type’s Body Language

According to Erikson, everything about a Red personality’s body language is direct and aggressive, especially if they’re trying to make a point (which happens often). They shake your hand firmly, look into your eyes, lean forward when speaking, and use sharp hand gestures. He says Red types often wear serious, focused facial expressions unless actively engaged in a fun activity. They tend to keep others at arm’s distance and are not big on hugging (even in social situations). 

(Shortform note: Erikson says that people with dominant personalities exhibit specific body language characteristics, but do some people weaponize body language with an intent to dominate? Psychology Today describes how some men use body language to control others (especially women). Lingering and intense eye contact, invasion of personal space, and non-consensual touching (such as shushing someone by touching their lips), are all warning signs that someone is attempting to intimidate you.) 

Yellow Personality Type’s Body Language

Erikson says that while Yellow personalities are similar to Red types in many ways, they have different body language styles. Where Red-dominant people are physically standoffish, he says Yellow personalities have little to no sense of personal space. They have no problem sitting close to another person, they enjoy hugging, and they touch people frequently. He says this might look like a knowing hand on the shoulder or a joking slap on the back. They smile without obvious reason and have a relaxed, comfortable posture.

(Shortform note: If this is your body language style, it’s helpful to know when another person is feeling uncomfortable by your proximity. If a person feels that their personal space is being invaded, they might back up, clutch a drink or bag against their chest, or crane their neck backward. If you are in an unfamiliar culture, observe those around you to see what is considered “normal” spacing for where you are.)

Green Personality Type’s Body Language

Erikson says a Green-dominant person’s body language is similar to Yellow type’s, but on a much more subtle level. Green personalities maintain friendly eye contact, a gentle smile, and aren’t averse to hugging. Green types are OK with touching if they know you well, but they prefer personal space when it comes to strangers and acquaintances. Erikson says Green personalities tend to lean backward when sitting and generally maintain a relaxed posture. They don’t draw attention to themselves with hand movements, preferring instead to blend in with the crowd. 

(Shortform note: Erikson says people with this personality type are great listeners, and their body language supports the theory. To show that you’re listening, experts recommend many of the behaviors listed here (relaxed posture, eye contact, occasional smiling, and touching). They also suggest using head movements—for example, nodding signals that you understand, and a slight tilt of the head communicates curiosity.)

Blue Personality Type’s Body Language

According to Erikson, Blue personalities exhibit the least amount of motion in their body language of all the personality types. They’re able to sit and stand perfectly still and deliver a message without hand gestures. Their facial expressions are subtle and controlled. Erikson explains that a Blue-dominant person may be experiencing great joy but only show a simple smile. They have no trouble maintaining eye contact, but without accompanying body language, it can come across as intimidating. Erikson says Blue types prefer to have a great deal of personal space, and if they feel that you’re getting too close, they’ll cross their arms or legs to signal their discomfort.

(Shortform note: “Closed off” body language can be attributed to several factors outside of personality. For example, crossed legs and arms can signal that a person is uncomfortable, nervous, or even just cold. A person might control her facial expressions when she is distracted by something, focusing on appearing professional, or listening intently. When assessing a person’s body language as it relates to personality, it would be wise to observe them in multiple situations over a significant period of time.)  

Use Body Language “Matching” to Secure a Sale

In Way of the Wolf, sales trainer Jordan Belfort (known as the “Wolf of Wall Street”) describes how salespeople can use body language to their benefit. One method he recommends is body language matching—the conscious act of adapting your body language to that of the client. 

For example, if your client is leaning forward, smiling, and making eye contact, match his energy, and feel free to use a friendly slap on the shoulder while talking. However, if he is sitting with closed arms and legs, maintain your own personal space, and stay out of his.

As Erikson’s book contends, we tend to trust people who are like us. By matching a client or colleague’s body language when you’re pitching an idea or product, you’ll encourage him to let his guard down and listen to what you have to say.
Surrounded by Idiots: The 4 Types and Body Language

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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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