We're colourful characters

Robert Nurden looks at a new psychological test that helps us understand our colleagues
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The Independent Online

How do you go about your work?

How do you go about your work? Are you task-oriented, results-driven and looking to get things done as quickly as possible? Or do you consider all the possibilities before making a decision? Or maybe you're kind and caring and just want everyone to be happy. Perhaps you're a mixture of all three.

Whichever you are, the news is you don't have to change. At least, that's the message from SDI, the latest type of personal development tool being adopted by trainers across the UK.

"So many tests used in the workplace today try to make people change their behaviour and work towards unattainable goals," says Simon Gallon, training director at SDI (which stands for Strength Deployment Inventory). "Our method accepts people as they are. It allows colleagues to understand why everyone behaves as they do."

SDI, which is based on an American model of psychological testing from the Sixties, likens people's different "core motivations" to three colours. Red is for go-getting leaders, green for analytical, independent types and blue for altruistic carers. Flexible, visionary people displaying all three in equal measure are called "hubs".

To plot an individual's place on the SDI "dynamic triangle", participants answer 20 questions about how they are when things are going well – and not so well. From the results, their predominant type is established and recorded on the triangle, each of whose corners represents one of the three colours. Of course, people are made up of all three types, but in different proportions. And they change depending on their situation and environment. The test takes this into account, particularly when it comes to conflict.

In disputes, a kind person – a blue – may go quiet and turn green, trying to analyse what is going wrong. A red person may dig into deeper resources and become conciliatory, going blue in the process.

Thus it becomes clear, SDI practitioners claim, why colleagues sometimes act in incomprehensible ways. It offers a tool to cope with people's blind sides, their different conflict styles and their preferred conflict-resolution styles.

Despite its resonances of new-age wackiness, SDI is being adopted by a host of down-to-earth, no-nonsense organisations. It lists the RAF, British Airways, the Cheltenham & Gloucester and the Liverpool NHS Trust among its client list.

It is too early to say whether SDI will eventually supplant the Myers Briggs model at the top of the training tree. But clearly it is gaining ground on the static, introvert-extrovert view of the world of its rather cumbersome psychometric cousin.>

"It sounds odd," says Squadron Leader Paul Brennan of RAF Cosford, in Lincolnshire, "but it works. We use it for all levels of training, from fighter pilots to secretaries, and it is universally applicable. Everyone starts out cynical but they soon take it on board."

The key to understanding colleagues is clocking the language patterns they use. Someone who says "I don't know" may well be a green who is marking time until they have thought things through, rather than someone who isn't interested. A colleague who says "Let's go for it" may be an inspirational leader, an all-action red, who is not merely wanting everything his own way.

The strategy also works well in selling. Salesmen at Jaguar Cars, after doing the SDI course, recorded an improved performance of one in five sales hits, up from one in seven. They discovered, for example, that if potential buyers ask a string of questions after being delivered the sales pitch, they are not being obstructive but are probably rational, cautious greens. Adopting a patient approach often secured an unexpected sale.

Jon Gibson, senior trainer at Sainsbury's south-west division, says SDI is a good method for getting new teams to work together. "When you get conflict, it's not so much that there's a clash over strategy. It's more to do with people's different styles. People can't really change, but they can modify. Adopting the colour principle plays on their strengths, not on their weaknesses. And in any team every colour has its moment."

* SDI is a registered product of Personal Strengths Publishing. Contact 01780 764762 or www.personalstrengths.co.uk

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