Finding My Inner Smurf at a Real Colors® Seminar

By Laura Melton Tucker, April 27th, 2010

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At a Real Colors® seminar, sponsored by local Mediation Services of Eastern Iowa, twenty participants – mainly mediators – looked at temperament as a predictor of how we communicate and relate to conflict.  Thank goodness we dragged some spouses along, otherwise the room would have been a sea of blue.  Let me backtrack to explain the blueness of our group.  According to Real Colors®, human temperament breaks into four groups, each represented by a different color.  Though we all have traits of each temperament, one color usually predominates in each of us.  Which color are you?  Greens like concepts.  They’re logical, intellectual, cool, calm and collected.  Golds like lists.  They’re reliable, task-oriented, hard-working and predictable.   Oranges like freedom.  They are risk-takers, spontaneous, independent and fearless.  Blues like relationships.  They are compassionate, caring, sensitive and spiritual.  Based on the number of mediators at our seminar, and our propensity toward the Blue category of temperament, I think it’s safe to say that people drawn to mediation value relationships.  As a group, we blue types are also conflict averse.  As the old axiom says, “we teach what we need to learn.” We blue mediators place ourselves squarely inside of conflict, with tools to help unravel it, as a way to satisfy our deep longing for harmony.  Now that I’ve completed the Real Colors® seminar, I have more tools,  paint brushes let’s call them, to bring to the mediation table.  The brushes remind me that temperament types inform how people communicate, see the world and deal with conflict.  Staying alert to these differences allows us to put space and distance between the speaker and the words spoken. When conflict becomes about different perspectives, not right and wrong, solutions become more accessible.

Understanding people by looking at their temperaments is as old as recorded history.  Evidence suggests that the ancient Egyptians divided personality into temperament types. Centuries later, the Greek philosopher Hippocrates named these temperaments: melancholic, sanguine, choleric and phlegmatic.  In the early 20th century, Jung resurrected temperament types by dividing them into two dichotomous cognitive approaches to the world: the rational (judging), thinking vs. feeling and the irrational (perceiving), sensing vs. intuiting.  In the 1940’s a mother and daughter team, Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers developed for the Army the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to help match recruit’s temperament types to military jobs.  The Real Colors and True Colors personality tests, along with myriad other temperament topology tests (including the DISC assessment, popular in corporate settings) have further advanced the notion that conflict arises when we impose our temperament-based way of seeing things on one another.  Resolving conflict is about recognizing our differences, honoring our unique perspectives and striving for acceptance.  Or, to use my new paintbrushes, trying on the other person’s tinted glasses to see the world through their eyes.  Here’s what conflict through different colored lenses looks like:

• The Greens view conflict through a frame of information.  They solve issues by seeking the facts.  They answer questions by asking more questions.  They take time making up their minds, because they’re examining issues from all sides, studying the data, and searching for the objective answer.  They worry they might be misunderstood.  They weigh their own and others’ nonverbal communication heavily.  When you speak to a Green, use clear and precise language, support your position with logic and get to the point.   Be willing to debate unemotionally and try to leave feelings out of it.

• The Golds view conflict through a frame of problem solving.  They too like clear and precise language, with the agenda of getting past small talk and getting to the point.  They make up their minds quickly.  They may be interested in looking at the history of a situation to get a sense of what needs to be done better or more efficiently in order to fix the problem.  Taking responsibility is important to a Gold.  To talk to a Gold, lay out a plan, follow an agenda, get to the point and focus on what needs to be done.

• Oranges view conflict as something that needs to be solved quickly so that they can move on to something else.  They like straight talk that gets to the point and delivers results.  Their talk and approach to problem solving will be bold, lively, witty and energetic because they want to solve the problem NOW.   To talk to an Orange, focus on how to do things, keep the agenda moving, be bold and and lively in your choice of words, while also getting  to the heart of the problem.

• Blues like to talk through problems.  They’re verbally expressive, tend to generalize and personalize a situation, pay attention to concerns rather than facts, and when possible, avoid issues that might end up in conflict or debate.  To speak to a Blue, avoid open criticism, refrain from using facts to make your point, talk in terms of feelings, ask for input, and reassure through body language.  In short, Blues take time making decisions and solving problems, as do Greens.  Golds and Oranges prefer to get to the heart of the matter and solve problems quickly.

In the words of Anais Nin, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”  Knowing another person’s temperament is a way into understanding their perspective.  The takeaway for all of us is that temperament frames how we view an issue. This  recognition of other perspectives is what Bush and Folger refer to in The Promise of Mediation as  a key factor in transforming conflict: “Recognition happens when a party actually allows himself to see the other party, and her conduct, in a different and more favorable light than before.” Whatever color our glasses are tinted, recognizing that temperament shapes how we think, speak and act may help us to understand the other person’s perspective while we soften our own.

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