How to Work With a Yellow 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 traits would you expect from a yellow personality type? In what ways should you adapt your behavior when working with a yellow-dominant person?

According to Thomas Erikson in Surrounded by Idiots, Yellow types have a charismatic personality and a bright outlook. Erikson says they see life as a smorgasbord of delights and are the first to try something new. Their driving forces in life are joy and laughter. Erikson writes that Hippocrates refers to this type as “sanguine,” which means “optimist.”

Here’s how to work with yellow-dominant people.

Working With a Yellow Personality Type

Set a cheerful tone. Yellow personalities are at their best when everyone around them is happy, so if you’re collaborating with them, Erikson recommends you create a cheerful environment. To signal that you’re comfortable and approachable, he says to use friendly body language, such as eye contact, smiling, and leaning forward. 

(Shortform note: If your demeanor isn’t naturally cheerful, this body language can come across as disingenuous. A friendly greeting, a show of gratitude, or a compliment can all accomplish the same objective. For example, saying “good morning” to a colleague is a very simple—yet often overlooked—way to start the day on a positive note.) 

Create structure. If you want to help a Yellow-dominant teammate, 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.)

Hold their feet to the fire. Yellow types are great at coming up with ideas but aren’t as interested in the execution. Erikson says if you’re collaborating with them, it’s important to make sure they’re pulling their weight. Remember, they care deeply about how others feel, so if their procrastination frustrates you, tell them so.

(Shortform note: Contrary to popular belief, procrastinators like to have deadlines. It is the deadline itself that motivates a procrastinator to get to work, and without one they might never begin. If you’re collaborating with someone who routinely procrastinates, break the project into chunks and agree on deadlines for each task. Make it clear that these deadlines are important to you and give a casual reminder before each one.)

Persuading a Yellow Personality Type

Use flattery and personal connection. Erikson explains that Yellow personalities are the opposite of Reds in this way—where Red types balk at flattery, Yellows relish in it. Yellow-dominant people also care deeply about human connection, so they enjoy personal conversations. If you’re trying to persuade them, Erikson recommends you spend time chatting them up, find something you have in common, and throw in a genuine compliment for good measure.

(Shortform note: To help forge a personal connection, try researching the person’s interests ahead of time. One of the easiest ways you can do this is to spend a few minutes browsing their social media accounts before the meeting. Also, pay attention to personal items in her office. Are there sports memorabilia knick-knacks, or photos of her family at the beach? Identify something you can use as a conversation starter.)

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. For example, if you want to launch a new program in your office, point out that other offices haven’t yet tried it. 

(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?)

Giving Feedback to a Yellow-Dominant Employee

Lead the conversation. Erikson reminds us that Yellow personalities tend to take over conversations, so be prepared to keep the exchange on track. He suggests you have a plan for how to open and close the conversation and know which points you want to make, with an example to go with each one. When they try to steer to a tangential topic, Erikson recommends being deliberate in refocusing the conversation.

(Shortform note: Use your opening to connect and align with the other person, use the body of the conversation to discuss the issues, and use the closing to clarify future expectations and plan a follow-up.)

Prepare for a dramatic response. Remember, Yellows take criticism personally and speak in dramatic hyperboles, such as “Nobody likes me,” “I always mess up,” and “I should just go away.”. Erikson urges you not to take these words to heart; they just need to lick their wounds for a bit before bouncing back.

(Shortform note: Crying because of performance reviews is more common than you might think—25% of men and 18% of women say they’ve cried after a performance review, and more than a third of Millennials say they’ve cried during one. If an employee sheds tears during your feedback session, experts say you should ask yourself three questions: Was the review result surprising? Was it communicated professionally? And, did the employee have a chance to defend herself?)

Use specific examples. Yellow types see the world through rose-colored glasses, so when you explain the problem behavior, Erikson says to prepare for them not to believe you. He recommends you have specific examples ready to reinforce your argument. For example, if you tell a Yellow personality type that she’s talking too much during staff meetings and she argues, reply, “At Tuesday’s meeting, you spoke for 15 minutes during the Q&A. On average, others speak for one to two minutes.”

(Shortform note: If you’re going to provide examples, be sure that they are recent. If an employee hears that his problem behavior started a long time ago, he’ll feel embarrassed and resentful that it wasn’t brought to his attention sooner.)

Massage their ego. Erikson reminds us that Yellow personalities can be sensitive, and they care a lot about what others think of them. For this reason, it’s helpful to reassure them that you’re not critiquing them as a person, you’re speaking only about their behavior. Unlike with Reds, flattery goes a long way with Yellow personality type. Erikson suggests you remind them of all the reasons they’re liked and respected.

(Shortform note: Even for those who enjoy praise, the “compliment sandwich” is so predictable and formulaic that it’s become a cliché. A better approach is to weave accurate and specific praise throughout your conversation. Rather than saying, “Clients love you,” be specific: “At least once a week, I receive compliments about you from our clients. They say that you’re friendly, great at explaining things, and have a fantastic memory.”)

Ask her to repeat the feedback and prepare for inconsistencies. At the end of the conversation, Erikson says to ask the Yellow-dominant employee to recap the meeting. Because they’re not great listeners, it’s likely that she ran what you said through their own filter and interpreted the meaning incorrectly. For example, if you told her that she talks too much during meetings and needs to give others a chance to speak, she might repeat it as, “You told me that what I’m saying during meetings isn’t helpful, so I need to prepare my responses better.” When you hear the inconsistencies, Erikson advises you to go over the issue again and make sure she clearly understands the problem and proposed solution.

(Shortform note: To get a better understanding of what was interpreted, you can ask the employee to recap the conversation in her own words. By doing this, any hidden meanings that she’s attached to your words will be revealed. For example, if your exact words were, “I need you to make sure that all of your projects are on time,” and she rephrases it as, “Your projects are always late,” this gives you the chance to clarify that you don’t believe she is always late.)

How to Work With a Yellow 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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