Saturday, January 28, 2012

Belshaw's World - problems with colours

Some years ago when we were running a national consulting business out of Armidale, we were very much into colours - red, green and blue to be precise.

Now this might sound all very artistic, but the colours referred not to colours but to personality types.

A red person was activity focused, get things done, see problem fix problem. At the extreme, our red person was so busy doing that the value of what was done could be quite lost.

A green person was framework and structure focused. At the extreme, a green person could be so busy planning nothing actually got done.

The third personality, the blue, was people and relationship focused. At the extreme, a blue person could be so concerned with harmony, about not hurting others, that decision making could become very difficult.

Most people contain some mix of colours, although it’s generally true that one colour is more dominant, a second less so but still important. Experienced managers often show up in test results as rainbow, a mix of colours, simply because they are used to adjusting their style to balance the personality mix in their teams.

So far so good, but what happens if you place a person under considerable pressure? Then the normal primary and secondary colours can reverse themselves.

Place a high red person with secondary green characteristics in a situation beyond personal control where doing is difficult. Suddenly, that person may become very green indeed, preparing plans and drawing up lists of things to do because this gives at least the illusion of action and control.

By contrast, a green/red person placed under pressure may suddenly go very red indeed. This may take the form of bursts of activity, doing for the sake of doing. It may also lead to quite ruthless actions to resolve the problem should this seem possible.

Of course, red/blue/green is not the only way of characterising people, nor are the things measured the only things that can be measured. The modern world is full of psychological testing of all types. It has become a plague!

While the red/green/blue model is only partial, I have found it helpful in shaping responses to people in a working environment.

Over the years, I have worked for many people and have had many more work for me. Then in my professional work assisting organisations to improve performance, I have necessarily been concerned with the personalities and interactions within the client organisation.

Partly as a consequence, I appear as rainbow when measured by others, green/red when I undertake the test.

Despite all my experience, I sometimes find it remarkably difficult to adjust my personal style to best mesh, especially where personal relations are concerned.

As a consultant or contractor in particular, I need to get in and complete the assignment as quickly and efficiently as possible. In doing so, I have to take into account the needs and personalities of all those that I work with.

Like most of us, I have developed conscious techniques for doing so, including use of the red/green/blue model as an analytical tool. I am reasonably good at it. I have had to be.

Why, then, did I say that I sometimes found it remarkably difficult to adjust my personal style? Simple really. Get my emotions involved, and my carefully constructed professional style can be torn down in an instant! Then my underlying green/red mix surfaces.

I was involved with a project. Technically I was project manager. However, I was experiencing significant problems with a senior manager whose actions seemed to me to threaten the project. That manager was also expressing serious reservations about my work to others.

My first reaction was green – I increased documentation both to provide more information and to record what I had done. Then, as things got worse, I went red. I took specific overt action to protect the project. I was successful.

Now all this is fine. The problem is that I could have achieved the same result in a different way without the subsequent scarring if my personal emotions had not become involved.

We are all human. That means that personal emotions and interactions are central to our being. Not matter how good the techniques and processes we might use to manage this, emotional responses will always be present.

Life would be actually pretty bad if that ceased to be the case.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 18 January 2012. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012.


Rod said...

I think my elder brother worked for your consulting business in the 1980s in Armidale for short period after he graduated from university.

Colours are interesting. Working in middle management in my current work place means that I've been to courses with a colour theme. Interestingly the best one I went to had four colours Blue,Red,Green and Yellow. I found that most people I had to deal with were a different 'colour' to me but the personality type colours were actually regarded as poorly compatible. Unfortunately, this seems quite accurate. I get frustrated very often in my work environment, not because of the work but the people.

Jim Belshaw said...

What was his name, Rod? I still remember most of the people who worked for us, although there were quite a lot.

There is always an issue with different personalities. I should write about the way organisations tend to select similar colours, squeezing out differences.

Denis Wright said...

To think about thinking of an organisation in personality colours is analytical in itself. I'm trying to work out in my mind if I can think this way. I suppose it's in my head that classification into a limited number of subgroups would not be a way I could easily perceive people and working with them. Each is unique as an individual.

Yet it makes sense.

There's one critical difference in my case. I was able to work as a loner most of the time in many respects. I wouldn't be able to do it in a highly integrated organisation as they are these days.


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Denis. All people use classifications in working out how to interact with others. This is just one model.

This holds even though we are all unique!

Anonymous said...

-that Coffs anon

Jim Belshaw said...

Thank you anon

Rod said...

Hi Jim,

My eldest brother is Paul, and our last names are Holland. I think he used to drive a yellow early 1980s model Holden to work, I was in early high school at the time.

Oops, there goes my pseudo internet anonymity!

Thanks, for your range of thought proving posts. I enjoy all the reads.

Jim Belshaw said...

How wonderful, Rod. Of course I remember Paul. He worked for me as an industry analyst in the early 90s after the main business closed. I have written on some of the projects he worked on - this was one:

Please give Paul my regards. I think met your dad as well!

And thank you for your comment on my writing. I really appreciate it.

Isn't it a small world?!