Written by: Wes Lin
Don’t worry, that question isn’t nearly as offensive as it sounds.
Here at OCLC, that question refers to your Birkman color, an assessment that identifies what your interests are, what your usual behavior is like, what your needs are and how you react if you do not have those needs met.
It is a tool that is frequently used by our Organizational Development and Learning team and one that we try to promote as much as possible with all the different departments. Why? Why does someone’s “color” matter? First off, it tells you a lot about yourself. (Grain of salt time, it’s a pretty broad tool and does not necessarily mean that it is exactly you, nor is it a guide to how you live your life.) Second of all, it is a great tool for inclusion and collaboration. By knowing your colors and those of the people in your team, you can acknowledge those differences to either overcome previous interpersonal difficulties or to strengthen the already working relationship you had. Lastly, it’s really really fun.
There are four colors represented on the Birkman lifestyle grid. Reds tend to be very vocal, and task-oriented. Greens are also very vocal, but are known to be persuasive. Yellows tend to be a little less vocal, but very detail-oriented. And blues are more subtle in their communication, and more idea-oriented. It is the combination of these four colors that generally makes up all the different personalities in a group. The Birkman solidified a lot of what I have learned in the program about a high performing work organization and how the interaction of different groups influences culture and either impedes or promotes changeability.
You have several symbols on your Birkman assessment. The asterisk represents what your interests are, the things that you are truly passionate about and would be doing if you had free time. Your diamond represents your usual behaviors, and are the ones that people around you tend to see and associate you with. Your circle and square represent your needs and stress reactions, and are hard-wired and very difficult to change. These two separate symbols, and two combined ones, can show up in any quadrant and in any color. What “your color” is, is where your diamond falls.
I am a red. I am very, very red because my diamond is in the farthest left corner of the quadrant and is not close to any of the other colors. My asterisk, or interests, is very very blue, in the exact opposite corner of the quadrant. And my circle and square are also in the blue, but are a little closer to the border of green. This means that most times, I will have blue characteristics, but sometimes can exhibit a little bit of green under the right circumstances.
So what does this mean? Because I am “a red”, people see me as energetic, social, very direct in communication and as someone who likes a big to-do list, if only so I can have the satisfaction of crossing them off when they are done. My asterisk in blue means that I am very idea-oriented and abstract in my interests and tend to like things like music and literature.
This is a very pared down explanation, because I don’t have the space to summarize what happens in a 2.5 hour results session. But I have to say that the Birkman is a very, very interesting tool. I was able to get the funding and support necessary to have all of OCLC’s summer interns to participate as an inclusionary activity. The results were very interesting, it was a great activity and even worth it for our Seattle and DC interns to fly in for the day.
Check out their website more and ask if your organization does this. It will be worth your time!