Have you ever had this thought that you are surrounded by people who fundamentally don’t understand you? They may seem to be listening but just don’t get it? Or they don’t even try? They do everything wrong, too slow, too rapid, too messy? Are they just weird or over the top? Sometimes you would say that you are surrounded by idiots. Sounds familiar? Excellent, you came to a good place.
In this episode, we continue to stray from technicalities into people’s territory. We will talk about four main personality types you can encounter in your fellowship, work, and life: Reds – bold and fierce Fighters who get things done no matter the casualties; Yellows – inspiring and charming Bards with an aura of enthusiasm and loud mouths; Greens – calm and loyal Druids who make sure everyone is okay while resisting all changes and Blues – analytical and distant Wizards who have an eye for details but sometimes just kill all the fun. We will see how to leverage their strengths, how to live with their weaknesses, how to communicate with them effectively, how to organize things around them, where they fit best into the software development world and how to form a fellowship that can withstand any troubles in the adventure, fight the princess, rescue the dragon, find the treasure, build the castle, sway the nation and is absolutely legendary in the process. Stay awhile and listen.
The Archetypes Meta
People were trying to categorize people for centuries and millennia for many reasons. First of all – that’s how our mind is wired – a pattern-matching machine that is deeply efficient at categorizing everything around us. For instance, whether it is something that is going to eat us or the opposite. In the case of people’s personalities – we want to anticipate who are we going to go along with well, who to avoid, and how to approach a given person. There is a vast number of ways we can do it. In general, we can distinguish several traits, and name all possible combinations or a subset of high, moderate, and low levels of those traits. Usually, we arrive at four to sixteen options (like in Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – four letters often seen on Tinder profiles along with FWB, ONS, or other occasionally useful shortcuts).
Today we will focus on two traits yielding four types. The first scale is something that can be called energy level. People on one end are introverted, passive, and reserved, while people on the other end are extroverted, active, and action-oriented. The second scale is task orientation vs relations orientation. People on one end are interested in things, and people on the other end – are with people. This yields four combinations or types. Hold on, one can ask, how an introvert can be focused on people? Good question, we will get to that later. This set of four types, with some small room for interpretation, is a timeless classic. It can be mapped to the four Humours theory described by Hippocrates in the 5th century BC and further developed by Galen in the 2nd century BC. The four types are Dominant Choleric, Inspiring Sanguine, Stable Phlegmatic, and Analytical Melancholic. Those were mapped to Humours in the human body: blood, yellow bile, phlegm, and black bile. Many ancient cultures associated those with elements: fire, air, water, and earth. The commonly known DISC model based on 1928’s William Marston theory lists those (with various expansions of the abbreviations nowadays) as Dominance, Influence/Inspiration/Inducement, Stability/Submission, and Conscientiousness/Compliance. In the influential 2014 book “Surrounded by idiots” by Thomas Erikson it was coded with colors: Red, Yellow, Green, and Blue. This will be the basis of our story.
For the sake of fun (and since we are mostly nerds), in this article we will work with character classes from the most famous role-playing game – Dungeons and Dragons and their base character attributes. Fighters operate on Strength (or, since we are all civilized here – its mental counterpart). Bards operate on Charisma, a measure of the force of personality. Druids operate on Wisdom, a measure of insight and perception. Wizards operate on Intelligence, a measure of reasoning and memory. Of course, this does not mean Fighters or Bards are stupid. This is about your core values, attitudes, innate behavior and approach to the world – you can be a mentally razor-sharp Fighter perfectly well. The second important thing – you can multiclass, and it’s actually very common. According to Erikson’s research, only 5% of people have strictly one class/color. 80% combine two, and 15% combine three in various proportions. Nobody has all four when considering our core attitudes, but how we behave is an outcome not only of those attitudes but also of our environment and current situation. Wizards can dominate in certain conditions; Fighters can think analytically, Druids can be decisive, and a Bard can shut up once in a while. It’s just not their first instinct. Also, in the end – it’s just a model trying to capture reality. As with all models – there are assumptions and simplifications. Every person is different and wonderfully unique. Now, let’s dive deeper into our character classes and how to communicate with them – remember that communication happens on the receiver’s terms, and you can and should choose a different style for different people if you want it to be effective.
The Red Fighter
Fighters are the Dominant type. They are extroverts, energetic and focus on the task at hand. Things need to be done, done fast and done their way. Every other way is a bad way. And better done than perfect. They love challenges, thrive on risk and make decisions fast. Sometimes too fast. They love conflicts, they don’t take prisoners and sometimes trample friends while charging in battle. They are strong-willed, independent, ambitious, determined and effective but also pushy, strict, tough, dominant and hard to be around sometimes. Reds are deadly efficient in what they do, especially short term, and excel at making difficult decisions fast and with limited data, but they don’t care that much about the feelings of people around them, the atmosphere, details, nuances, and the long-term outcome
In the company, Fighters get things done. The Red developer would sit through the night, rewrite half of the sprint-worth work of others, crack the problem and force-push the code. The Red developer would not be afraid to use the latest library if it solves the problem at hand. Red developer moves fast, deals with business problems, writes code that makes money here and now and meets harsh deadlines. Sometimes he misses a corner case, breaks a thing or two, or pisses off everyone else on the team. But if you need to persuade a manager of three levels of the hierarchy up there, Red will go there while everyone else would be afraid. If the production is down and fast decisions need to be made about which part of data to sacrifice to bring the system back up now – Red will make a decision and execute the SQL statement. It might be difficult to persuade Red once he makes up his mind about something. Red will give a low estimate for the task on the refinement because the buffer for uncertainties is for cowards and he knows he can code this little change fast. You disagree? Well, good luck…
How to handle the Red Fighter? Cut the small talk. Besides some courtesy exchange Red is simply not interested in what you have done over the weekend or in the latest office gossip. Red needs a concrete agenda and purpose for a meeting. Red needs bullet points, short descriptions, impact on the task at hand, and decision points. Red needs goals. Time is money, the sky is the limit. Avoid too-long introductions and backgrounds of the problem as well as an excessive amount of data and attachments. Red will not go through it or gets bored and drifts off. Be prepared to stand up to Red if things go in the wrong direction. If you let Red dominate you once and cave in, you will lose Red’s respect. Make sure Red has some clear goals that are challenging and ambitious and give him the authority to achieve them. Avoid wasting time and resources, Red hates that.
Famous Red Fighters: Steve Jobs, Margaret Thatcher, Barrack Obama, Donald Trump, Robert DeNiro, Michael Jordan, Hilary Clinton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Darth Vader, Gimli.
The Yellow Bard
Bards are the Inspirational type. They are energetic extroverts much like Fighters but focus on relations instead of tasks. They are very sociable, love to talk, meet new people, experience new things, and travel. They know everyone around, they know what they did over the weekend, and they know the names of their children, their dog and all of their three cats. They are awesome at communication, and storytelling and love all forms of expression – public speaking, vlogs, podcasts, blogs, you name it. They love to be in the spotlight. They are always smiling, like everyone and spread this positive vibe around, keeping up morale and promoting a can-do attitude. They are great at starting projects, but not necessarily at continuing and ending them. And they can sometimes be just too much – taking all the space to themselves while others can’t contribute to the discussion. They have ears and brains, but they don’t always seem to be connected as they primarily love the sound of their own voice. Look at me! Me! Me! Me!
In the company, Bards inspire things. The Yellow developer would try a new library just because it’s new and exciting, not necessarily because it gets the job done or is better than other choices. Coding for Yellow is a form of artistic expression too, as Donald Knuth said – “aesthetic experience much like composing poetry or music”. Sometimes too artistic. Yellows keep up the team spirit when morale is low, come up with organizing the team beer integration and spread optimism. Yellow will perform an excellent demonstration of new features on the sprint review or shine at department-wide engineering meetings when there is a vision to sell. You can send the Bard to a conference to talk about your product and get new clients, or to talk about how you code the product to get new employees. Yellow knows everyone in other teams around and can get lots of stuff done via his social network. Yellow will be a Public Relations machine for your team. On the other side, Yellow hates routine, strict standards, procedures, details and all that boring, yet sometimes much-needed stuff. He tends to do a mess someone else has to clean or spends half of the day around the coffee machine despite the harsh deadlines.
How to handle the Yellow Bard? Reserve much more time for a meeting compared to Red. Small talk first, you need to show interest in his stories, otherwise Yellow will be unhappy and you don’t get anywhere. Speak with enthusiasm and energy. Make things interesting and fun and the atmosphere cozy and relaxed. Don’t bother with excessive data, Yellow doesn’t go with logic, but with a gut feeling. When you need a decision or opinion – look him in the eyes and ask how they feel about it. Present a colorful vision and an idea, not a boring checklist. Remember that Yellow is a star – let him shine! Put him in the spotlight, assure him of his importance and awesomeness, and be his fan.
Famous Yellow Bards: Oprah Winfrey, Robin Williams, Will Smith, Bill Clinton, Jim Carrey, Pippin, Han Solo, Chandler Bing.
That’s it for the first part. As often with my writing here, the number of words went a bit out of control, so we are going to need two parts. In the next episode, we are going to look at Green Druids, Blue Wizards, synergies, divergences, the perfect fellowship, beer and dragons. Stay tuned!
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