How to Understand Everyone You Meet



How to Understand Everyone You Meet

Many years ago, I used to work in the banking sector. It was an interesting job in many ways, though it could be a little humdrum at times. However, I learned a lot by meeting many different types of people, and I have many stories of funny customer meetings from that period. The most interesting insights, however, I gained behind the scenes.

One of the more startling experiences was at a branch where I was working in the 1990s. A series of behavior stereotypes were working there. Some of them were obvious in their behavioral profiles. We had incredibly distinctive Blues and equally obvious Greens and Yellows. And, of course, a Red boss.

One spring we’d been working incredibly hard, many had been out sick, and we were under pressure from customers. People were tired, irritated, and touchy. We really needed some good news. The person who got fed up with all the hard work first was one of the Yellow advisors. One day, she came into the lunchroom and said that she’d had enough of all our grumpy faces. We needed something fun to do, and she knew exactly what.

It was time to find a goal, something to look forward to. A company party would save the day! Full of enthusiasm, she told us that she’d seen a very nice conference center nearby where all of us could go for a weekend to have a good rest. They had a stunning spa and gym, snazzy hotel rooms, and a trendy restaurant that was truly a la mode. In addition, she knew the owner through a friend of a friend and could probably get a bargain price on the whole package. She just wanted to know what we thought about the idea.

At first, we all stared at her, not knowing if the whole thing was for real, because we suspected that she probably didn’t know the owner at all. With a broad smile, she continued to speak, talking about all the fun we could have: We could play games, organize some friendly competitions, enjoy bubble baths, and, of course, have a monster party in the evening.

A lively discussion began, and several of us thought the idea sounded great. The Red bank director looked around and saw that his employees liked the idea. Thankfully, he was keen on the idea. We were tired and worn out, and he wanted to show his appreciation for our commitment. He made the decision right there and then. After a five-minute discussion, he declared that there would be a party and he promised to foot the bill.

He looked at the Yellow woman who had suggested the party and asked if she was prepared to organize everything. Make the necessary calls and book everything. She immediately began to deliver a long harangue that was nothing more than one big smokescreen to hide the fact that she thought she had done her bit by coming up with the idea. The Red boss silenced her with a wave of his hand. A few Green colleagues were sitting behind him on a corner of the sofa, the same corner where they always sat. The boss didn’t even need to turn around to be able to call them by name. He asked each of them if they would help. They all agreed without really knowing what he’d asked. The Red boss nodded briefly and left the room. He was done. As he stood up, he forgot about the matter immediately.

Excitement burst forth, and everyone with Red and Yellow in their behavior profiles began exclaiming about the party, all talking at the same time. The Yellow advisor was extremely enthusiastic and continued to sell the idea, despite the fact that the decision had already been made. Her proposals for the type of party we should have became wilder and wilder. I remember that she started with a black-tie ball and had come all the way to a toga party before someone managed to silence her.

However, one person sat silently in the corner. Our Blue credit manager was very concerned. When everything calmed down a bit, he said with a loud voice, “But how are we supposed to get there?”

The only thing he had heard about the whole affair was that the conference center was twenty miles outside of town, and now the problems were stacking up. We were faced with a significant logistical challenge. Should we go by car? Or taxi? Or had the bank planned to charter a bus?

How would this actually be done? Endless obstacles were lining up. He crossed his arms and clenched his teeth.

The Yellow woman erupted and tore into him right away. How could he be so negative? Here she was after coming with the best idea in the world and he immediately spoiled the whole thing with umpteen trying questions. Maybe he should come up with his own ideas for once? How did he think we should get there? He didn’t have an answer; he just pointed out that there were lots of options. He couldn’t make any decision or have an opinion. He only knew that the whole idea was poorly thought out.

The Greens saved the day by saying that they were willing to take their cars and pick everyone up. Five cars should be enough, and they promised to arrange everything. This announcement calmed the discussion down a little, and the Yellow woman could feel like a winner again. Her party had just been saved.

Everyone looked forward to the party, but the Yellow advisor never showed up; she had accidentally double-booked that day. There must have been a wedding on that same weekend. Or maybe a relative was turning fifty. As a matter of fact, it might have been both.

What Happens at a Company Party When No One Is Paying Attention

Once the party started, exciting things happened. We all know that alcohol affects people. We also know that different people are affected in different ways. Nothing strange so far. If we ignore for a moment that the amount of alcohol consumed is an important factor and assume that we’re just talking about moderate drinking and that no one will drive their cars that night, we can see some interesting patterns.

We had several Yellows in our branch. The four sellers who dealt with private customers were very Yellow. They were jovial, positive entertainers right from the outset. They needed no alcohol before daring to “loosen up” and become approachable. In fact, you could easily get the impression that they always were a bit tipsy, because they had that frolicsome energy. They saw life as one long celebration that should always be funny and amusing.

But the interesting thing is that Yellows who drink can lose some of this. During the company party, I observed that three of the four Yellow salespeople became more and more silent as the evening went on. As the intake of certain beverages increased and the atmosphere became more intense, they withdrew. I remember one of the guys sat down on the steps outside with a wineglass in his hand. I asked him what was the matter. He was moody and philosophical. What was the point of it all? Why did he go the extra mile? No one ever really thanked him for it. Perhaps the best thing to do was to resign. My cheerful colleague had been transformed into a brooding pessimist.

Funnily enough, I found the Blue credit manager inside the party venue dancing on the table while telling dirty jokes. Never before nor since have I heard such dirty jokes. When I asked his colleagues what he had been drinking, they shrugged their shoulders and said that he always behaved like that when he got started. If I had met him for the first time that night, I would have thought that he was one of the Yellows at our workplace.

It was as if Yellows and the Blues had completely switched personalities. You could conclude that a really good party consists of sober Yellows and Blues who are slightly under the influence. 

However, things became really interesting when I found our Red bank director, who normally was quite stern. He had a glass of whisky in his hand and was standing there speaking to the Green group of administrators. He explained, a little ambiguously I hasten to add, that he really wasn’t a horrible person and that he liked them very much. When he lost his temper at the office, they shouldn’t take it personally; he meant no offense, and they didn’t need to be afraid of him.

The six Greens, two men and four women, who had been drinking as well, all spoke up and gave him a piece of their minds. They were irritated by his behavior and explained that he was the worst boss they’d ever had. Each of them had been working in the office for at least twenty years and when he was gone they would still be there, and what did he think about that? They backed him into a corner and gave him a proper dressing-down. The Red boss fled the field and was the first to leave the party.

Even the Reds and the Greens had changed behavior with each other in some strange way! I left the party with an extraordinary insight—alcohol changes people, but exactly how they change is even more interesting.

However, back in the office on Monday, everything was back to normal. The Yellows told their latest jokes, and the Blue guy did not say a word. The boss glowered at everyone, and the Greens just stared at the wall when he showed up. Order was restored.

Again, I cannot prove this, so you simply have to do your own research. Challenge your pals late on a Friday night and you’ll understand exactly what I mean. Just take it easy with the alcohol.


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