Last year I read the book Surrounded by Idiots, written by Thomas Erikson. Overall, the book was enjoyable to read and I definitely learned some useful things, but I have doubts about the theory in this book and the scientific foundation behind it. In this article I will get into why I read Surrounded by Idiots and my opinion about the book. At the end of this article, you can find a summary of Surrounded by Idiots.
Why is speaking to some people so easy, while others seem to be total idiots? Why does saying the same things in similar contexts lead to different reactions of different people? Some people, who respond/act like we want, we see as the good guys, while there is something wrong with the others. It turns out that the people we think of as idiots, are generally not actually idiots, we just don’t understand them and their behaviour. The goal of this book is to categorize and understand people better.
Why I read Surrounded by Idiots
Every now and then, I meet people that I find very hard to communicate with or understand. I do not find it clear what they want, what they expect or what they mean, and sometimes I just don’t understand why people behave the way they do. For this reason, the title of the book attracted me. I hoped to learn how to understand other people (and their behaviour) better and how to communicate more effectively about certain things.
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Summary of Surrounded by Idiots
This section may contain spoilers!
Scroll to header “My opinion about Surrounded by Idiots” to avoid spoilers.
Firstly, the author argues that communication happens on the listeners terms. What is understood depends on the listener and it is rare that an entire message gets through exactly as conceived in your mind. As an individual, you will always be in the minority with regard to how you communicate. By adjusting yourself to how other people want to be treated, you become more effective in your communication.
The goal of this book is to categorize and understand people better. This is done based on DISA, a method that is widely used to describe the differences in human communication. The acronyms stand for Dominance, Inducement, Submission, and Analytic ability. These four forms are the primary behaviour types, which are associated with a colour – Red, Yellow, Green and Blue. This system is also called the DISC system, where the final letter of the acronym stands for Compliance instead of Analytic ability.
The Red colour represents the direct kind of person. A person that is generally very ambitious, controlling and can also be viewed as ‘intimidating’ by others.
The Blue colour represents the analytical kind of person, someone who works with precision and in a systematic and logical way. This person can come across as distant to other people and can take very long with executing a task.
The Yellow colour represents an open, creative kind of person. A person that is generally chaotic and is rarely on time, but also very social and that likes to be the centre of attention.
The Green colour represents the calm and friendly person, that is always trying to be helpful and nice. This type of person generally lacks leadership but is often very supportive.
According to the book, about 80% of the people have a combination of two colours that dominate their behaviour. Approximately 5% have only one colour that dominates behaviour and the rest is dominated by three colours. Entirely Green behaviour, or Green in combination with one other colour, is the most common. The least common is entirely Red behaviour, or Red behaviour in combination with one other colour.
In the book, extensive examples are given of the behaviour of the different people with one of these colours as their main character. Consequently, it is discussed how to perceive what a person from a certain behavioural colour says, how to treat every one of them and how to effectively communicate with them to get the desired result and understanding.
A few examples for every colour:
- For the red person: be to the point, focus on the result and present your idea or comments confidently. Don’t back off when the discussion seems to get heated.
- For the blue person: be well prepared, explain why you do things a certain way and explain why this is the most logical/beneficial way. Be ready to defend your ideas in a factual way.
- For the yellow person: make very clear appointments/deals and have them repeat the deal. Be open to their personal stories and don’t ignore them when they are telling stories about what happened in their life.
- For the green person: be patient, give the person time to adjust to new ideas and when something changes, explain why this change is beneficial for them. Consider their feelings (more so then with the other colours) and help them where needed.
Also, for all the different characters, strengths and weaknesses are listed. The book explains what colours go well together and out of what colours the best teams consists.
My opinion about Surrounded by Idiots
As said in the beginning of this review, I enjoyed the book. Everyone knows examples of people with the characteristics of a certain colour and I think there is definitely some truth to the theory in the book. This is also what makes the examples fun to read. Also, it is beneficial to know how to communicate with people from a certain ‘character colour’ and I think it can definitely help with communicating more effectively in some situations.
Besides this, I also have some remarks. First of all, there has been some criticism on the theory used in this book, the aforementioned DISC system. This system is not (yet) convincingly supported by science. In the book, none of the statements that are made are backed by references, which also caused me to question the scientific validity. I personally think that people and their behaviour are way too complicated to be divided in 4 categories.
The examples that are given for every character in this book also seemed exaggerated to me and even the real-life examples of the writer seemed somewhat far-fetched, although it is hard/impossible to find evidence against this. Also, to me it seemed like the author had a preference for certain ‘colours’, which makes the book feel more subjective than objective.
Overall, I liked the book and I can recommend surrounded by Idiots to others, but I would advise everyone to be critical while reading it and to be cautious with implementing all the examples given in the book. There are definitely some helpful tips in the book and it could improve your communication with certain people, but in the end I think people are quite a bit more complicated than described in this book.