Deciphering ‘The People Code’

By Blake Baxter

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Have you ever wondered why… People act the way they do? You and your spouse can’t get along? Your boss is so difficult? Your kids just won’t listen to you? You are the way  you are? These are the tantalizing questions that Dr. Taylor Hartman asks on the cover and then attempts to answer throughout his best-selling book The People Code. The People Code, first published in 1987 as The Color Code, is about Hartman’s guide to decoding, essentially, all human communication, interaction and behavior. To me, it sounded a bit grandiose and over-the-top, but as a communication major and an unfailingly (and sometimes, infuriatingly) curious person, I couldn’t resist the temptation.

The “People Code” (or “Color Code,” whichever you prefer) is designed to determine your innate motive. According to Hartman, we are all born with one innate motive that naturally drives us to do the things we do throughout our entire life. You can learn new things, develop new skills, consciously or unconsciously change your behavior all you want, but deep down, you are being steered by this hidden motive. There are four different basic motives, Hartman says, which mold four distinctive personality types. For the sake of simplicity, Hartman uses four basic colors to explain the motives that shape each and every person’s personality – red, blue, white and yellow. Red is the motivation of power (“power-wielders”). Blue is the motivation of intimacy (“do-gooders/connectors”). White is the motivation of peace (“peacekeepers”). And Yellow is the motivation of fun (“fun-lovers”).

At first glance, the colors carry different connotations depending on your values. To many, to be a Red can appear negative. There are plenty of examples throughout history and fiction that show power can corrupt. One might wonder: if a person is primarily motivated by power then how good of a person can they be? However, to others, being a “do-gooder” isn’t exactly the epitome of being “cool”. And to another type of person, to have fun is, well, fun, but to be primarily motivated by it would be a frivolous way to live life. The truth, however, is that every color has its own specific positives and negatives. At face value, yours, as well as everyone else’s personality color, is neutral.

For example, a Red is incredibly task driven. They possess great vision and always have their eyes on the prize. They are confident to a fault and it tends to take them far in life. They are adventurous and like to lead. They are highly articulate and extremely resourceful. Among notable Reds are Hilary Clinton, Jack Nicholson, Katie Couric, Donald Trump and Angelina Jolie. But on the flip slide, Reds have a tendency to be arrogant, selfish, insensitive and demanding. They are competitive, but sometimes too competitive. They are control freaks and can be manipulative. They don’t listen well, because they think they are always right. The kicker is that Reds think so logically that they often are, indeed, right. Reds can be incredible one minute, and then incredibly frustrating the next.

Blues, on the other hand, are driven primarily by the relationships that they have and don’t have in their lives. They are the most empathetic of beings. They are highly moral, and thus always trying to do the right things for people. They care about quality and aren’t going to do something unless they know they can get it done right. Their big hearts naturally foster unquestionable sincerity. They are complex, creative and intuitive people, which makes them easily admired by their peers. Personalities that appear to be Blues include Oprah Winfrey, Walt Disney, Steven Spielberg, Diane Sawyer, Matt Damon and Elton John. However, Blues’ tendency to be emotional to a fault can be just as destructive as the Reds’ predilection for logic. Whereas Reds are demanding of people’s performance, blues are demanding of people’s commitment to them. They are emotionally insecure, which leads to petty grudges and feuds. They don’t trust others easily, so they become perfectionistic about everything they do. Their desperate desire to be close to people at all costs can have the opposite effect and leave them feeling depressed in the process.

White’s are the peacekeepers and they are concerned with that, and that only. They are tolerant, kind souls. They are the diplomats, comfortable seeing the situation from all sides, rather than letting their ego or their relationships influence it. They are calm, even-keeled and patient. Albert Einstein was a White, as is President Jimmy Carter and President George Bush Sr. If he was real, Yoda would definitely be a White, too. But White’s openness can make them easy to take advantage of, because they have a tendency to be impressionable. They like peace and quiet, which can make them unassertive and lazy. They live a risk-averse, conflict-averse life, which can cause them to miss out on opportunities that would benefit them in either the short or long run.

Lastly, we have the Yellows. Yellow are primarily concerned with having fun. To them, life is one big adventure. A Yellow is enthusiastic, happy and outgoing. Their zest for life and natural charisma often makes them very popular. Their playfulness and optimistic attitude makes them a joy to be around for whomever crosses their path. And yet even these rays of light have their downside. Their desire to only have fun can make them self-centered and uncommitted individuals. A more blunt word to describe their carefree attitude can be “irresponsible”. They also tend to be naïve and superficial. The prospect of fun can easily influence them to make impulsive decisions. A prime example of this would be President Bill Clinton, a man whose unparalleled charisma carried him through trials and tribulations brought on by his impulsive manner and dangerous desire to have a good time; a desire that he naturally prioritized over common sense (Red), morality (Blue) or peace (White). Other examples include President Ronald Reagan, Elvis Presley, Will Ferrell, Cameron Diaz and George Clooney.

However, that isn’t to say that you are driven by just one motive; each person is made up of his or her own unique blend. Beyond this, each person is one of two things: either a strong color personality, meaning that you are much stronger in one color than you are in the others, or, a blended personality, which means that you have a high percentage of two different colors. (I, myself, am a blended personality). A person with a strong color personality is easier to predict and understand from an objective perspective, but can be incredibly difficult and frustrating to understand if you have an opposing personality. A person with a blended personality is much more difficult to understand from an objective perspective, particularly if their colors have a tendency to contradict each other.

When it was time for me to take the test, I sort of assumed that I would be a Blue, but in truth, I saw pieces of me across the board. The test consisted of selecting amongst personality descriptions and how you would handle different situations. The twist is that you are supposed to make your choice based on how you usually acted from your earliest recollection. This made me suspicious. How could this test understand how I truly am if it is only based on how I used to be? How does it account for the progress that I’ve made over the course of 22 years of life? It was, and is, a classic case of nature vs. nurture. Personally, I don’t subscribe to nature being the guiding principle of my life, because, to me, in many ways it discounts free will and human progress. Call me something of an existentialist if you’d like.

At any rate, after I tallied up my scores, the test results indicated that I was actually a Red-Blue, with a healthy dose of Yellow and hardly any White. Well, okay, I thought, I am driven to get things done, but I also have empathy for my fellow man. This is the best of both worlds, right? Wrong. Then I read this sentence: “The most difficult color combination within one individual is the mixture of Red and Blue”. Well, then. “If you are strong in both categories, you will often find yourself stepping on someone’s toes to get a task completed (Red), but feeling guilty afterwards for making that person unhappy (Blue). Hmm, that…actually makes sense. From that point on, I approached the book with a little bit more of an open mind.

However, the more I read the more frustrated I became. I would be enlightened and feel as if I had a firm handle on the code for a moment and then turn around and feel as if I had the world turned upside down on top of me. I began to attempt to assign colors to all of the people in my life, but I became discouraged when I couldn’t pin point one. I became even more annoyed when I was sure that I had someone locked down for one color, only to find that they matched tendencies for another. But thinking about myself was the most maddening. Am I really that Red? Wait, I identify with all of these White characteristics, why does the test say I’m only 4% White? (Later, I realized that the reason I have so little white is because I have a change and progress-oriented mindset. Whereas Whites are deathly afraid of rocking the boat, I have no problem affecting the status quo when need be. Point goes to Hartman.)

I was upset for two main reasons. One, I still had my doubts about the accuracy of the test and I was wondering if I was being driven crazy in vain; why was a supposed self-help book causing me this much distress? Secondly, I knew that many of the unflattering things that the book talked about were accurate. It was a truth that was, like many truths in life, very discomforting. It was the ultimate “knowledge is power, but ignorance is bliss” experience (or vice versa).  Nevertheless, I kept reading.

As I read on, I learned that Hartman’s worldview wasn’t as inflexible as I had thought. According to him, your primary color is what you are born with and it is, in essence, unshakable. Your secondary color, though, reflects the experiences that have shaped the person you have become. This made me feel much better. This is when I began to truly grasp what the “People Code” was all about – and it was illuminating.

According to Hartman, as much as your innate motive drives you to do as you do, it isn’t the only competing factor in your behavior. Personality does not equate to character; therefore, it can never be used as an excuse. It is up to you to figure out how to use your personality in a healthy way. And if you can do that, and still aren’t satisfied, the next challenge is learning to assimilate the strengths of colors outside your own innate color. There is always room for improvement.

Some have criticized the book for lacking empirical data to back up his findings, but I knew what I was getting myself into when I started reading; this is a self-help book about psychology, not a study published in a psychology journal. With that being said, I do have a few minor criticisms of my own. Sometimes it can be sanctimonious, and a little too all-knowing for my taste; Hartman has a tendency to treat his assertions like laws, as opposed to what they really are: theories. But that is just Hartman’s style – enthusiastic, intense and hyperbolic. It’s worth noting that Hartman is a self-described strong Yellow.

Although the book is definitely thorough, there are a few times when the descriptions begin to feel repetitive. It is interesting to read the strengths and weaknesses of each color – at first; however, it is far more engrossing once Hartman shifts his focus to the relationship dynamics between the different colors. His anecdotes give you a better feel for how personality differences factor into the real world, and thus make the information more accessible and applicable to your own life.

The People Code, while challenging at times, paints a fascinating and colorful image of humanity. It can, without a doubt, be an intimidating and frustrating book. Occasionally, it makes you feel as if you are losing bearings on how you interpret and navigate the world, which can be a nerve-racking experience, but it can also be exciting in a way. If you are willing to open your mind and come to terms with the unpleasant truths about yourself, then it can go a long way towards maximizing the benefits of your unique personality. 

Blake Baxter is a native of Illinois and a 2013 graduate of Eureka College. He currently covers the Carolina Panthers for Football.com and previously covered college basketball for ESPN Louisville during the 2012-13 season. He has also written about sports, pop culture and politics for The College FixThe Wine and Cheese Crowd and an assortment of newspapers. Blake works in the communication and marketing field for Technical Solutions & Services, but aspires to write full-time someday. 

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