PSYCHOLOGY OF SAFETY: What "color" are you?
August 1, 2007
This is the second in a two-part series on the concept of personality colors.
I’ve discussed the critical distinction between person trait versus state in “People-Based Safety™: The Source.” This differentiation is clearly relevant for this second part of my discussion of Don Lowry’s four colors â€” True Colors®. Based on the same theory and research as the famous Myers/Briggs Type Indicator, this color categorization is considered a trait approach to personality. In other words, it’s assumed a person’s relative ranking of the four colors is consistent across situations and throughout one’s life.
While the four-color typology seems useful to explain and resolve differences among individuals, and to assess team composition and balanced leadership qualities, I believe it’s chancy to assume one’s primary color is constant across settings. It’s likely many people alter their color rankings to fit current circumstances.
Besides private amusement, what practical benefit can come from learning your own or someone else’s ranking of their personality colors? First, I have found it useful to bring color language into interpersonal conversations. For me, it’s been fun to predict (privately) the color rankings of my students, friends, family members, and colleagues, and then give them the picture-sorting assessment described in my previous article. I’m hitting about 90 percent accuracy at predicting an individual’s primary color, and most have confirmed their personality matches at least their highest and lowest ranked colors.
Whenever I do not accurately predict a person’s primary color, I activate intriguing conversation and gain fascinating information. For example, I judged my chiropractor’s primary color to be Orange, because he has a very active and adventuresome lifestyle, from routine biking and weight-lifting to frequent kayaking and rock climbing.
Our conversation revealed, though, his primary color of Blue was most consistent with both his profession and general outlook toward people and situations. While engaging in active recreation that pushes the safe-and-secure limits, my chiropractor believes he is not a risk-taker because he takes every possible safeguard, and he never competes at his sport. Indeed, he takes great delight in introducing others to the individual sports at which he is exceedingly competent (a Green attribute). He does this not to compete or show off his skills, but to share the exhilarating experience with others.
Estimating sources of frustration
When my graduate students mention their frustrations and concerns, I can often see relationships between their primary color and their verbal behavior. Golds, for example, are frustrated by lack of organization, tardiness to important meetings, unfairness, unexpected events, and incompetence. In contrast, Blues are distressed by lack of empathy and sensitivity to others, and by judgmental, aggressive, non-communicative, and non-caring behavior.
The Orange style is frustrated by boredom, predictability, lack of humor, whining, nagging, time constraints, “couch potatoes,” and slow behavior. On the other hand, Greens are distressed by incompetence, impulsivity, off-task distractions, ill-informed and/or illogical decision making, and blind acceptance of the status quo.
Finding the right recognition
It can be useful to consider an individual’s primary color when offering positive feedback. Here are some possible ways to acknowledge accomplishment per a person’s primary color.
Golds should like to hear, “I affirm your integrity and sincerity;” “Your sense of duty and personal responsibility is noticed and highly regarded;” and “Your efficiency, dependability, and loyalty to our organization are admirable.”
In contrast, Blues would appreciate, “Your actively caring for others is greatly appreciated;” “Your compassion for your coworkers is invaluable, and your ability to see potential in others is impressive;” “Your interpersonal and group communication makes a difference.”
If the person is Orange, consider the following universals, “You are a leader who puts ideas into action;” “I appreciate your ability to take charge of our group and make things happen;” “I admire your passion and enthusiasm to motivate us to go beyond the call of duty.”
Contrast these Orange-directed kudos with special ways to recognize contributions from Greens: “Your analytical abilities are invaluable;” “Your benchmarking and critical evaluation enable us to shoot for world class;” “Thank you for teaching us to substitute objective data for subjective opinion;” “Would you be willing to share your enlightening observations with the entire company?”
Despite the fun you can have “coloring” yourself and others, and its potential application to safety teamwork, I do not want you to pigeonhole yourself or others into a certain personality type. This is not about putting people into stereotypical boxes. Rather, I hope you use this discussion of Lowry’s True Colors® to appreciate the diversity of people’s natural talents and propensities to act in certain ways.