My wife had to do one of those psychological tests at work. They’re suppose to tell you what kind of person you are and how people should behave around you. This one revealed her ‘colours’. The questions she answered were fed into a computer and the results told her what combination of the following colours her personality matched.
(I should add that everyone in her company had to do it, not just her…she’s not been flagged.)
Corporations do these test so that their staff have a better understanding of what makes their colleagues tick, whether you’re interested in the details for example, or whether you just want a few key words, whether you just like to GET the JOB DONE (Gordon Ramsay hand slap), whether you’re a bright, positive person, or a touchy, feely caring one.
She arrived home believing she was some weird hybrid of Hitler and the dog from ‘Up’.
Can you guess what the colours above mean? Go on, have a go. Red, green, blue, yellow. You’re probably right. See they didn’t even try to avoid the obvious connotations.
I am RED. DANGER.
I am GREEN and I LOVE YOU.
I am YELLOW. I am happy! Ha ha!! What? SQUIRREL!
I am BLUE. Give me the details…OK that one doesn’t really work.
You can be a combination of two colours or, in rare cases (such as my wife’s) three. By my calculations, that means you can be one of ten different combinations. Even if there is some poor soul with all four colours running around the office babbling and shouting and crying and then suddenly flattening themselves against a corridor wall, and one blank-eyed, slack-jawed automaton with no colours at all dribbling and bumping into the water cooler all day, that still makes only twelve possibilities. The test, and therefore the corporation, believes that there are twelve different types of people walking its corridors. More to the point, it believes that its twelve types of people will perform better if they recognise their colleagues as one of those twelve different personalities and treat them differently because of this.
Twelve combinations. Twelve personalities. It’s the Corporate Zodiac.
I once made the mistake of responding to the question ‘What star sign are you?’. I should have just started screaming until the girl backed away, but instead I said ‘Gemini’, because unfortunately I knew.
She made this weird noise and gurned.
“Uh oh! Twins!”
Ha ha. You think there are just two of me? I could show you a thing or too. Go on, ask me who you’re speaking to now.
This is Marc Chagall’s La Mariee.
And this is it resized to 3×4 pixels.
Marc Chagall’s La Mariee is mostly blue.
I’m writing about five characters on a journey right now. I don’t know what their colours are. They’re complicated, I’m getting to know them, but I still can’t predict what they’re going to do next or how they’ll react to the next challenge. They’re complicated and they change all the time and they’re not even real people.
Real people are, at any given moment, unpredictable, confusing and confused.
Are you confused? I am. Most of the time, I am.
The people who write these tests and the corporations that inflict them upon their employees would argue that they are simply yardsticks; approximations of a character that give co-workers a head start when interacting with them. This might be true, but that’s not the end of the story. People like boxes and they don’t like surprises.
Example: at a team-building exercise after everyone had their colours explained to them, my wife’s group was split into sub-groups of their dominant colour. As the ‘Reds’ walked over to their table, they were booed by the rest. It was a joke of course, but jokes carry truth. In fact they’re one of the greatest sources of truth.
The other three teams had already made their minds up about the fourth team based upon a colour…I’m pretty sure we’ve seen this somewhere before.
OK, so it’s not as bad as racism, but it’s still a form of prejudice. Encouraging preconceptions about people is – I think we established some decades ago – naughty.
We are behavioural experimenters. Ask my son, he’s two. He is currently in the middle of an experiment right now. I’m trying not to take it personally and I’m fairly sure that when he’s twenty-one, he’s not going to be crying for his Mummy every time I tell him he can’t have chocolate on toast, or tell him it’s the middle of the night, or walk in the room, or look at him, or breathe. Because we’re not going to allow him.
Maybe all of our behaviour is like this. It’s only there because it’s been encouraged. Or discouraged.
Most people would agree that we’re not dropped onto planets or into offices fully formed. We’re each of us genetic experiments, concoctions poured through different sieves of circumstance. We are walking contradictions. We are subject to change – day by day, year on year, every second until the big one.
The test my wife did encourages people to encourage others to behave in the ways they’ve been encouraged to believe they already behave in, rather than just getting to know them. Trying to understand them.
You never will understand someone – not fully – but you can come close to it. When you do, the colours smear and wash away and you see the person underneath is not something binary but a combination of every experience they’ve ever had, every moment that’s scarred or inspired them, every monster that used to live under their beds, every dream they wake sweating from and won’t share with anyone, every joke that makes them laugh but falls flat to everyone else, everything they’ve ever touched or hurt or loved or hated. There are no colours for that, no card you can put on your desk. If you knew about all that stuff, if you really felt every moment of a person’s life, you wouldn’t call them a colour.
A few days after we found out that my wife was pregnant with our second child, we were riding our bikes into work together. We turned a corner and I watched her pedal past me, her face flushed, grinning, her legs pumping, her eyes shining, alive. Everything about her was positive. A great big grinning howl of life seemed to be pouring out of her. She was fully alive and creating life and I fell in love with her all over again. I rode behind her – because I enjoy riding behind her – but also because I wanted to watch her in that moment. I wanted to feel that howl for as long as I could.
That moment, the howl, coloured me, and the colour of that howl will always stay with me. I can’t tell you what that colour is. You’ll have to get to know me to find out.
Here’s another thing. In the report that my wife took home with her, there was a whole section dedicated to her ‘opposite’. It described their colours and how they thought, how to talk to them, how to deal with them. We read through the description and decided that, had I taken the test, I would probably pixelate into this category. I was her opposite.
Opposites attract. This is a good thing, isn’t it?
Not in this world. Nowhere in the instruction manual did it say how you would complement each other. How, with a bit of time and effort, with a bit of love, you could end up being the best team on the planet, not the cause of awkward friction in the work place.
Question: corporations are legally treated as individuals. What colour a corporation would be?
Answer: deepest black with an impregnable, chameleonic skin stretched across its gaping maw.
It’s fair to say that I don’t get on very well in those environments. Hearing about this test gave me yet another reason to be glad I no longer work in them, and to be grateful to my Nazi, squirrel-loving wife for taking on that burden so I can follow a more suitable path.
“I wish I wasn’t such a bad person,” my wife sighed as I dropped her at work the next day. I told her that bad people don’t wish they weren’t bad people. Then I told her she was every colour in the rainbow to me. She visibly winced, fought down the vomit, kissed me and walked through the revolving doors and into the fluorescent, air-conditioned, steel and glass humming building in which she fights daily to get herself heard above the noise of a thousand colour-book clones.
Don’t feel too sorry for her, she loves all that corporate crap. Her colours say so.
PS – here’s a picture of Doug as Hitler.