Surrounded by Idiots: The 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 does it mean to have a Green personality? Why would it be a good idea to go to a Green-dominant person for advice?

In the book Surrounded by Idiots, Green personality types are described as being introverted, dependable, and caring. At work, you would call on a Green-dominant person if you needed advice from someone down-to-earth and calming.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Green personality type.

An Overview of the Green Personality Type

In Surrounded by Idiots, Green personalities, 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, empathetic, and can go with the flow. Erikson says they can be perceived as shy or unsure of themselves.

Green Personalities Go With the Flow

In terms of behavior, Green personalities are unlikely to stand out in a crowd. Because of this, Erikson says they bring a calm and laid-back energy to the group. For harmony’s sake, he says it’s important that most people are Green types. Imagine if most people at a party were trying to be the center of attention, or if most people in an office were trying to lead the meeting. Erikson explains that situations such as these would be terribly painful to take part in.

Children with the Green personality type tend to do well in school. Erikson says they follow the rules, complete their homework, and are conscientious toward their peers. They are the students teachers don’t have to worry about. 

Adults with this personality type are great employees because they’re dependable. Erikson describes them as people who will take orders and do a good job. They hate to disappoint others and crave stability, so they enjoy knowing exactly what is expected of them. Erikson says Green types will put up with issues at work as long as their sense of stability isn’t being threatened, so they’re less likely to leave a job due to dissatisfaction. 

Men With Type B Personalities Have Lower Risk of Heart Disease

This portion of Erikson’s description of the Green personality type closely resembles the personality label “type B,” which is described as being laid-back, adaptable, and patient.

The terms “type A” and “type B” were coined by two cardiologists (Meyer Friedman and Ray H. Rosenman) in the 1950s during a nine-year study on 3,000 men, in which they looked for patterns between personality traits and heart health. They concluded that those with type B personalities had fewer instances of coronary heart disease and high blood pressure than the type A participants—even when accounting for other risk factors, such as smoking.  

Green Personalities Are Helpful to Others

Green types are caring people. Erikson says they will remember your birthday, support your new venture, and notice if your feelings are hurt. They won’t compete with you or try to steal your spotlight. He adds that Green personalities are empathetic and terrified of offending others. If a Green-dominant person thinks he hurt someone’s feelings, it will keep him up at night with worry and guilt.

Greens are excellent listeners. Erikson says they care more about helping others than helping themselves. He says a friend with a Green personality type is the one you should go to for solid, heartfelt advice—as opposed to needing inspiration (from the Yellow-type friend) or tough love (from your Red-type friend). 

Someone with a Green personality type views the “team” above the “self,” and always offers to lighten the load for others. Because Green types are so kind and helpful, Erikson says they risk being taken advantage of by others and also of burning themselves out. For a Green-dominant person to be stable, Erikson says it’s important that they’re taken care of in return.

Wanting to Be Helpful Versus Needing to Be Needed

Erikson describes the Green personality as caring and helpful, but there is an important distinction between wanting to help others and feeling a deep desire to be needed. Respectively, therapist and professor Suzanne Degges-White refers to the two as “reluctant pleasers” and “relentless pleasers.” From the outside, they appear almost identical—the difference lies in their motivation.

Reluctant pleasers help others because they struggle with saying “no.” While they may agree in the moment, there is often an underlying feeling of dread, unappreciation, and resentment. If you are this person, Degges-White says you run the risk of being taken advantage of, and you should work on prioritizing your own needs before others’.

Relentless pleasers help others because their self-esteem is reliant on being needed. These people equate their value in a relationship with how much they’re able to give to the other person. This behavior can push others away, however, because some people feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable when so much assistance is offered. If you are this person, Degges-White advises you to only offer assistance to those who want it, and look for other ways to connect to those who don’t.

Green Personalities Prefer the Status Quo

When it comes to change, Green types are less enthusiastic than Red and Yellow personalities. Erikson explains that Green personalities tend to be content with what they have and are less likely to take risks or seek adventure. This isn’t to say that they avoid change altogether—rather, they just need time to warm to the idea and they need a compelling reason to do it. For example, a Green-dominant person is unlikely to leave a dull but stable career in search of something more exciting, but she would change careers if it benefited her family. 

In relationships, Erikson says Green types rarely believe that the grass is greener elsewhere. As a result, they’re more likely to work on a struggling relationship than leave for someone new.

(Shortform note: Erikson describes both Green and Blue personalities as resistant to change. The Enneagram model takes a less simplistic approach, arguing that every personality type evaluates potential change based on their values. For example, Enneagram “sevens” wonder if the change will bring excitement, while “eights” ask if it will affect their independence.)

Seek a Green-Dominant Person If… 

If you find yourself in a frenetic state and need a calming influence, or if you want down-to-earth advice, Erikson says to find a Green type. Green personalities are the friends who remind you that the world isn’t ending when you make a mistake or feel overwhelmed, and they’ll point out all the good you already have in your life.

Erikson lists famous Green personality types, including Mahatma Gandhi, Michelle Obama, and Fred Rogers.

Negative Perceptions of Green Personality Types

In the DISC model, Erikson’s “Green” aligns with the “Stable” personality, which is comforting at times and frustrating at others. Erikson says others may view this personality type as overly lazy, stubborn, and two-faced.

The Perception: Green Personalities Are Lazy 

More than any other personality type, Green-dominant people are slow to warm. Erikson explains that Green types take their time mulling over decisions and they live more inside their minds than in the outside world. They prefer staying at home and reading a good book over going out in search of adventure. Red and Yellow personalities struggle with this because they can’t understand why a person would choose the same activity day after day.

Along the same lines, Erikson adds that Green-dominant people aren’t particularly ambitious. If they have a solid job that meets their needs, they’re unlikely to reach for more. He says Red personalities, in particular, can’t wrap their minds around this. Bottom line: Of all the colors, Green types are the least motivated to move, literally and figuratively. This leads the other personality types to characterize them as lazy.

Americans and Hustle Culture

The correlation between stillness and laziness is an American sentiment not shared by all cultures. Americans are often characterized by other nations as ambitious workaholics who don’t know how to relax. Statistics back this up: 

-Americans work almost 500 more hours per year than the French.
-More than 85% of men and 66% of U.S. women exceed 40 hours of work per week.
-The US is the only industrialized nation without legally mandated annual leave.

Other countries encourage and celebrate leisure. Italy, for example, has a well-known phrase: bel far niente—“the beauty of doing nothing.” 

The Perception: Green Personalities Are Stubborn 

Because Green-dominant people take so long to make decisions, Erikson warns that it’s difficult to change their minds about any given topic. Where a Red type will change her mind if presented with compelling evidence, a Yellow type will change based on gut feeling, and a Blue-dominant person will change after enough research, a Green personality is generally set in her ways. There are ways to change a Green type (see “How to Persuade a Green” in Chapter 7), but it isn’t easy, so other colors view Greens as simply stubborn.

(Shortform note: Sometimes a person is stubborn not because they believe in their decision, but because they fear change. Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, is famously quoted as saying “People will choose unhappiness over uncertainty.” Fear of the unknown is a powerful motivator to stay stagnant, but it can keep you from growing and achieving fulfillment. If you find yourself refusing to budge, start by evaluating whether you’re actually happy with where you are, or if you’re avoiding change.) 

The Perception: Green Personalities Are Two-Faced 

Erikson emphasizes that Green personality types avoid conflict like the plague. They care deeply about how others perceive them, so they’re careful not to rock the boat. Erikson notes that this doesn’t mean that Green-dominant people don’t have opinions of their own. Rather, instead of communicating their grievances directly, they often complain behind the other person’s back. Ironically, in their attempts to avoid conflict, Greens come across as fake and untrustworthy.

(Shortform note: If you discover that a coworker has been complaining about you behind your back, it’s natural to feel hurt or angry. You might even vow never to trust that person again. Instead of lashing out or participating in the gossip, start by asking yourself if you contributed to this behavior. Was there something you did or said that made you unapproachable? Confront the person in a straightforward manner but with empathy, ask why he felt he couldn’t come to you directly, and then listen without judgment.)

Surrounded by Idiots: The Green Personality Type

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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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