The Clash of Colours
How behavioural psychology — and understanding it — can affect the vibe of an office.
A cool-looking office lacks the cool vibe if the colours clash.
Just like this one. Sun streamed through the high, square industrial windows. Exposed brick walls and high beamed ceilings created an edgy look.
The open-space concept contained about 20 people.
My forehead creased as I looked around. Cool space. Cool people. But why did it have a “Nobody moves, nobody gets hurt” vibe?
At the recommendation of a former client of mine and business associate of the owners, I was asked to see if I could adjust the vibe, help them change the culture.
As soon as I walked into his office, the owner dumped his biggest complaint on me.
“First thing Monday morning, my lead marketing guy strolls in all smiles and chuckles and proceeds to give a play by play of his entire weekend. Because he had the most exciting weekend, he thinks we all need to know about it. I just want him to get to work. And stop talking long enough for everyone else to get to work.”
Then, I met with the co-owner, the spouse, who had a different grievance.
“I need information,” she said as she showed me the spreadsheet, running her hands over the numbers. “I need detail printouts from all our sales. I need to know how much time each stage of production is taking. I don’t know where we are at.”
The №3 person was next. Another perspective.
“He just demands that stuff get done without enough time,” he grumbled about the husband-boss. “And she just wants everything perfect, and, again, without enough time, it is impossible to do perfect.”
His related, but different, criticism shed light on the situation for me.
It was time for the Chameleon Communicator.
My Chameleon Communicator program is based on behavioural psychology and explains the how and why of people’s actions. The complaints this group had about each other were about behaviour — not integrity, not values — and about how they did things.
I instantly knew what was going on with the “How was your weekend?” conversation.
It was all about behavioural psychology — how we walk, how we talk, how we behave. It describes normal, observable behaviour.
Behavioural psychology, in its most recent rendition, was advanced by William Moulton Marston, who created the original systolic blood pressure test and noted the difference in blood pressure when people were agitated. That led him to develop an early prototype of the lie detector.
In his spare time, he also created the Wonder Woman comic character.
DISC, as behavioural psychology is commonly known, describes:
• Dominance, which is how we respond to problems and challenges. Do we attack problems with immediate vigour, or do we hope and pray they will just go away? Or do we think about them and act in a more reasoned approach?
• Influence describes how we try to change someone else’s behaviour. Do we try to get them to change their mind by an emotional appeal to our ideas, or do we present facts and logic? Or do we try a bit of both?
• Steadiness behaviour is about how we respond to the pace of our environment. Do we prefer to start something and finish it without interruption, or are we the consummate juggler? Or is the perfect world starting and finishing, but we can sigh and handle the juggling if necessary?
• Compliance behaviours refer to knowing the rules, wanting to follow them and expecting everyone else to do the same. Do we get frustrated and silently stew when people don’t follow the rules? Or do we think that the rules were made for everyone else? Or the middle ground where people who are good with following any rule that seems reasonable to them.
The combinations and permutations of these four dimensions are what makes us unique and challenging for others to understand.
Sometime between Marston and present day, DISC became associated with colours, and I decided I would talk in the language of colour, identifying the styles as red, yellow, green and blue.
Back to “How was your weekend?”
The owner-husband was a high red. He cared about results. Big picture, bottom line. If he were asked, “How was your weekend?” he would simply say “Great.”
Since the weekend was done, he might just shake his head and move on, appearing quite rude to some of his team.
The weekend play-by-play guy was a high yellow. He was optimistic and cared about engaging with his office family. Hearing his footsteps, some people would duck and hide because they could not take the incessant talking.
The №3 guy was high green. He cared about starting and finishing his work, preferably without interruptions. He didn’t like conflict, so he was reluctant to ask for more time from the owners. Because he did not speak his mind, more and more work piled on him.
If you were to ask him about his weekend, he would simply say, “Fine, spent it with the family.”
“You will know her by her spreadsheets” could easily describe the owner-wife. She was high blue. She wanted facts and detail. She knew her stuff, so don’t argue with her about numbers or inventory.
Her method created analysis paralysis and stopped much of the forward motion of the company. If you asked her about her weekend, an “It’s none of your business” look would cross her face.
The office vibe of “Nobody moves, nobody gets hurt” was created because people were afraid to be themselves; they couldn’t see how other team members viewed challenges differently than they did.
They saw the world through their behavioural lens.
The language of colour is a neutral language. “Could you turn down the red a bit?” is an easier ask than “Could you quit trying to dominate the conversation?”
Now, if I could just get this group to understand themselves and recognize that most people weren’t like them, we could change the work environment. We could get them to work to their strengths and natural tendencies.
And if they could be aware of how small changes in their interactions, small adaptations, could improve their relationships, the company would become strong and agile.
Then people would move. And nobody would get hurt.
Over the next several stories, I will go into more detail on behavioural psychology, relaying actual examples from our consulting practice.