Ever rolled your eyes at someone and thought to yourself “What an idiot”? Well, you are certainly not alone! When someone cannot understand you or behave in totally unexpected ways, you may assume there’s something wrong with them. The truth is, they may simply be different from you. In Surrounded by Idiots, Thomas Erikson explains how to recognize and communicate with 4 key behavioral profiles. In this Surrounded by Idiots summary, you’ll uncover the key traits, differences, strengths and weaknesses of the 4 types of behaviors, and how to effectively interact with each type.
What is “Surrounded by Idiots” About?
Why are some people so quiet while others talk non-stop? Why are some people always late while others are punctual? Why do you relate naturally to some people but find others irritating? Our behavioral differences come from a mix of internal factors (e.g. personality, character, temperaments) and external factors (e.g. environment and situational factors).
Our core values and attitudes affect how we behave and who we aspire to become. Our values define what we think is right or wrong (e.g. “It’s wrong to lie” or “Hard work is good”). Our attitudes are the opinions that we develop from our life experiences (e.g. “Salespeople can’t be trusted”).
We also moderate our behaviors (or wear different masks) based on what we think is appropriate for a given situation.
In any communication, what matters isn’t what you say but what the recipients hear and interpret based on their perceptions, biases and frames of reference. To interact more effectively, you need to understand (i) your own tendencies, (ii) others’ needs/preferences, and (iii) how others may perceive your actions, so you can tailor your approach accordingly.
Four Behavior Types: 4 Colors, DISA, DISC
This book describes 4 behavior types—Dominance, Inducement, Submission, and Analytic (DISA)—which explain the key differences in human behavior and communication. Each behavior type is associated with a color: Red, Yellow, Green, and Blue.
These behavior types have existed for millennia, i.e. people have been behaving like this for a very long time. For example, you may have heard of the 4 “humors” by Hippocrates or the DISC profile.
Thomas Erikson brings these ideas to life by organizing the 4 behavior types around 4 colors. Here’s a quick comparsion of how Erikson’s 4 colors relate to other common behavior profiling tools, especially the DISC and DISA.
In the complete Surrounded by Idiots summary, we’ll elaborate more on the models above. Simply put, Erikson’s 4 colors are derived from the DISA model: Red for Dominance, Yellow for Inspiration, Green for Stability and Blue for Analytic. This is also similar to DISC except “C” is replaced by “A” for Analytic.
Understanding the 4 Behavioral Types
Thomas Erikson’s 4 colors are meant to help us understand why people behave the way they do, not to narrowly compartmentalize people. Here are the 4 behavior types at a glance:
Every color has its desirable and not-so-desirable traits. A quality (e.g. ambition) can be a strength in some situations and a liability in others. Different situations also call for different behaviors. So, treat the behavior patterns as tools that you can use.
It’s impossible to account for all human differences and there will always be exceptions. Moreover, we are capable of adapting our behaviors instead of rigidly sticking to 1 set of behaviors.
Only 5% of people have 1 dominant color. The majority have >1 dominant color: 80% have 2 dominant colors and 15% have 3 dominant colors. No one seems to have all 4 dominant colors.
Red = Dominance
Reds are driven, ambitious, decisive and dynamic, which makes them natural leaders. They bring energy and momentum to a team/project, are extremely competitive, work hard, and constantly challenge themselves. Reds are task-oriented and are always on the go. They’re straightforward in their communication and won’t hesitate to state their views.
However, Reds can appear aggressive, impatient, or domineering. They’re so focused on getting things done that they may bulldoze over others or leave others behind. They may also interrupt others, assert their views, or seem controlling/confrontational.
Yellow = Inducement
Yellows are positive, creative and sociable. They are social butterflies: outgoing, popular, and have a huge social network. Yellows are always full of vitality, fun, and laughter, infecting others with their positive energy. They’re also optimistic, resourceful and inspiring. Of the 4 colors, Yellows are the most animated, expressive and talkative.
However, Yellows can also come across as impulsive, attention-seeking, and overly-verbose. They are bad listeners and tend to dominate a conversation, oftening spew ideas or opinions without prior thought or knowledge. They’re so fun-loving that they may resist rules, miss deadlines/appointments, and get carried away by excessive optimism.
Green = Stability
Greens are calm, stable, and loyal. They prefer a calm, predictable environment where they can move at a leisurely pace. They’re patient, reliable, great team players, but shy away from the spotlight. They’d avoid conflict wherever possible to maintain harmony and stability.
On the flip-side, Greens may be perceived as stubborn, indifferent or even dishonest. They don’t change their minds or take action until something feels truly “right” for them. The bigger the challenge or problem, the more they hold back. So, they can seem slow or resistant to change. To avoid conflict, Greens may sit on the fence or speak in vague terms. Even if they disagree with something, they’re unlikely to speak up, preferring to voice their displeasure privately behind your back.
Blue = Analytic
Blues are detail-oriented, analytical and perfectionists who seek to have the right answers to everything. They categorize, label and document everything, and do things in a systematic way. You’ll find them using complex spreadsheets and decision-making tools to evaluate a problem from all angles. They will check everything multiple times and insist on contingency plans before taking action. They don’t speak unnecessarily, preferring to quietly observe and analyze everything around them.
However, Blues may also be perceived as distant, pessimistic and fastidious. It can be slow and tedious to work with them. They can also appear cold and critical, always asking for evidence, and pointing out risks and problems.
Putting it Together
As you can see, there’s no perfect behavior type. Each color has its strengths and weaknesses. Any quality can backfire if it’s applied in the wrong situation or if it’s taken to an extreme. Moreover, most people have >1 dominant color and may exhibit different traits under different circumstances.
[You may also wish to check out our Strengths Based Leadership summary to see how you can specifically leverage strengths as a team!]
Becoming a More Effective Communicator
Now that you know about each of the 4 profiles, you can become more aware of your own tendencies and learn to interact with other people more effectively. A large portion of Thomas Erikson’s book is devoted to real-life application tips. In our complete Surrounded by Idiots summary (get the full 17-page summary here), we’ve organized those insights into the following sections:
• How to recognize and respond to each color type via written communication and body language;
• How to adapt to people who’re not like you;
• How to manage collaboration and group dynamics involving different colors; and
• Understand what angers or stresses out each color type, and what you can do about it.
Getting the Most from “Surrounded by Idiots”
The only way to become fluent at the language of human behavior is to keep practicing it. To start applying the ideas, Thomas Erikson encourages you to try identifying the profile of people around you and experimenting with the various tips and suggestion in the book. If wish to truly understand the people around you and interact with them more effectively, do check out the our full book summary bundle. This includes an infographic, 17-page text summary, and a 30-minute audio summary.
This book is full of examples, personal observations and colorful anecdotes (pun intended) to bring the 4 behavior types to life. It also includes numerous real-life stories and a short quiz. You can purchase the book here or visit surroundedbyidiots.com for more details.
About the author of Surrounded by Idiots
Surrounded by Idiots: The Four types of Human Behavior and How to Effectively Communicate with Each in Business (and in Life) was written by Thomas Erikson–a behavioral expert, lecturer, speaker, and author. For more than 20 years, he has been helping people to improve their communication with one another. Erikson has authored several best selling books and developed tools and online courses to facilitate both professional and personal development.
Surrounded by Idiots Quotes
“The idiots who surround you are…not idiots at all. Instead, they are individuals worthy of respect, understanding, and being valued.”
“Communication happens on the listener’s terms…Everything you say to a person is filtered through his frames of reference, biases, and preconceived ideas.”
“Behavior patterns are like a toolbox. All types are needed.”
“No group should be composed solely of individuals of the same type. Diversity is the only possible route. The best way to put a group of people together is by mixing different types of people.”
“Some people become angry because of stress; others become stressed because of anger.”
“Communication is often a matter of adapting to others.”
Learn how to communicate more effectively with different types of people!