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Naïve Realism? or Surrounded by Idiots?

In social psychology, there is a cognitive bias known as “naïve realism” which “is the human tendency to believe that we see the world around us objectively, and that people who disagree with us must be uninformed, irrational, or biased.”


That is, they are idiots. Which brings me to the book I recently read for our book club: Surrounded by Idiots by Thomas Erikson (St. Martin’s Essentials, New York 2019).

The thesis is that from a behavioral point of view, people can be categorized into one or more of four groups:  red, yellow, green, and/or blue.

But, before describing these groups in detail, the author makes a very important point: How the listener hears what you are saying is much more important than what you are intending to convey. In essence, it is the listener, not the speaker, that controls the conversation:

Everything you say to a person is filtered through the frames of reference, biases, and preconceived ideas. What remains is ultimately the message he understands. For many different reasons, he can interpret what you want to convey in a totally different way than you intended. (Id. at 1.)

Those individuals that are “red” are often aggressive, ambitious, strong-willed, pushy problem solvers, decisive, impatient, controlling, performance-oriented, results-oriented, intense, opinionated, straightforward and independent.  (Id. at 14 and 16-27.)  Examples of individuals with these traits include Steve Jobs, Venus Williams and Barack Obama. (Id. at 27.)

Those that are “yellow” are often talkative, enthusiastic, persuasive,  creative, optimistic, social, expressive, charming self-centered, sensitive, inspiring, needs attention, communicative, flexible, open, sociable, imaginative and easygoing.  (Id. at 14 and 28-36.).  Such people include Oprah Winfrey, and Ellen DeGeneres. (Id at 36.)

The folks that may be viewed as “greens” are often patient, relaxed, self-controlled, reliable, loyal, modest, understanding, lengthy, stable, prudent, good listeners, helpful, persistent, reluctant, thoughtful conceals feelings, considerate and kind.  (Id. at 14 and 37-47.)  Examples include Micelle Obama, and Jimmy Carter. (Id. at 47.)

Finally, those in the “blue” category are usually conscientious, systematic, distant, correct, objective, analytical, perfectionist, needs time, methodical, seeks facts, scrutinizes, follows rules, is logical, meticulous, reflecting and reserved. (Id. at 14 and 48-61.) Examples include Sandra Day O’Connor, Bill Gates and obviously Dr. Spock of Star Trek fame. (Id at 61.)

Notably, “about 80 percent of all people have a combination of two colors that dominate their behavior. Approximately, 5 percent have only one color that dominates their behavior. The others (15%) are dominated by three colors. “ (Id. at 13.)

Those with two color combinations often fall in the following combinations: blue/red; red/yellow; yellow/green; and green/blue although it is possible to meet a yellow/blue person but quite unusual to meet a red/green person. (Id. at 196.)

As one can sense from reading the above descriptions, those who are “blue” or “red” tend to be task or issue-oriented while those who are “green” or “yellow” tend to be relation-oriented. (Id at 12.) That is, some folks are more interested in completing the task- it is the destination that is important, while other folks are more interested in the relationships made along the way- it is the journey that is important!

After describing these four groups, the author explains the strengths and weaknesses of each group and thus how to relate to them and get along with them as well as what will stress them out and make them mad.

The book is well worth reading. To say the least- it is an eye-opener causing some self-reflection and self-realization. I am definitely a “blue” person as epitomized by my recent dog walking experience with my husband. My husband is definitely relationship-oriented. As we walk the dogs, he often stops and chats with the neighbors engaging with them for many minutes. I, on the other hand, want to keep walking. We are out to walk the dogs: that is our mission and I want to complete it as quickly as possible so that I can get home and do other things. I am definitely “task-oriented”- interested in the destination and not the journey, unlike my husband.

I use this innocuous example to amplify the point made by the author: our behavior traits creep into every little aspect of our lives and so it is imperative to know ourselves to better understand and communicate with others. Contrary to popular opinion, those who do not agree with us are not necessarily idiots.

… Just something to think about.



Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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