“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” – Sun Tzu
If I could take the liberty of adding a little to this famous piece of wisdom, I would say that we should also make every effort to know our friends and allies. Nowhere is knowing yourself and those around you more critical than in a survival situation. We often equate knowing ourselves and others to knowing what skill sets we possess– he’s handy with a rifle, she knows medicinal herbs , and I can repair small engines , and so on. If we stop there, though, I think we are missing something even more critical: knowing a person’s personality.
There are a variety of systems out there for personality assessment; C.F. posted a great article on the Myers-Briggs system  here awhile back. However, the one I prefer uses four colors: Blue, Green, Red, and Yellow. I like the color-based system because it is a bit easier for me to remember and because using colors rightly implies that not everyone fits into a neat box. Every person can be a unique blend of these colors and personality traits, although most people have a natural bent toward one or two.
I’ll start off with a brief description of the four types and some thoughts on their strengths and weakness in a survival situation.
Blue people tend to be logical and rational. They deal in ideas and are great goal-setters.
Potential strengths: Calm under pressure. Able to make hard decisions. Good at planning ahead and thinking through potential scenarios. Impartial. A Blue might make a great tactical planner for your group.
Potential weaknesses: Ignoring the “human” factor in situations. Assuming other people also depend solely on logic. Poor interpersonal skills.
Green personalities are the detail people. They are very organized and methodical, but their “system” might look like chaos to an outsider. They are generally rule-followers and want to make sure everything is spelled out in black-and-white. They always want to be in control of their circumstances.
Potential strengths: Keeping things in order. Making sure everything is done right the first time. Dependable. Structured. A Green would often be a great person to have in charge of the supplies.
Potential weaknesses: Not dealing well with uncertainty. Always wanting more information before making a decision. Unwilling to take risks. Inflexible. Not willing to delegate tasks.
People with Red personalities tend to be emotional and enjoy talking and interacting with other people. They are fun-loving and generally understand other people well.
Potential strengths: Reading people. Keeping up morale. Negotiating and bringing people together. Smoothing out interpersonal conflict. A Red in your group might help keep your group functioning as a team and help diffuse stressful situations.
Potential weaknesses: Making emotional decisions. Not dealing well with extended periods of isolation. Failing to think long-term.
Yellow personalities are creative and visionary. They can see the bigger picture and are less concerned with details. They are imaginative and often think in terms of images.
Potential strengths: Improvising creative solutions to problems. Thinking for the long-term. Willing to take risks. Thinking outside the box. A Yellow would normally fit well in the role of strategic planner.
Potential weaknesses: Not following through on commitments. Ignoring or overlooking important details. Unwilling to follow rules.
You probably can already guess your own personality and the personality type of those closest to you, but how do we figure out someone’s personality when we don’t know them really well? I would never recommend a formal personality assessment as the best option. Besides the obvious effects of scaring people away and making them feel as though their privacy is being violated, I find the tests are fairly ineffective. When people think they are being evaluated, most have a natural desire to choose the “right” answers. In the case of a personality test, this can mean answering the questions to match their own perception of themselves (or that of other people) or it can mean trying to slant their answers toward what they believe to be the “best” personality.
Instead, it is more effective to talk with and observe the individuals in a variety of natural contexts. Ask a lot of “why?” questions. Be especially attuned to what makes a person really excited or really upset. If those things sound a little too general, here are some practical examples to get you thinking. I’ve given some responses typical of the different personality types, highlighting key phrases for which you want to be on the lookout.
Q: Hey, that’s a nice handgun you have there. How did you decide to buy a _______?
- Typical Blue response: I made a list of the qualities I needed in a good gun, ranked them by priority, and then narrowed down all the available options until I found the best one. (Bonus points if that list was made in Excel!).
- Typical Green response: I spent hours online reading reviews and comparing specifications and decided on this one.
- Typical Red response: I just went to the gun shop with some friends and everybody liked this one. -or- A friend of mine has a similar one and she really likes it.
- Typical Yellow response: I walked into the store and I knew this was the one for me as soon as I laid eyes on it.
Q: You said you can’t stand your boss. What makes you dislike him so much?
- Typical Blue response: I had an idea that would have saved the company $5,000. I tried explaining it, but he just wouldn’t listen to reason.
- Typical Green response: He doesn’t follow through on what he says he’ll do. -or- He makes commitments and then I end up getting stuck doing all the work. (They mean that they’re stuck taking care of the details.)
- Typical Red response: He always plays favorites. -or- He doesn’t care about the people working for him.
- Typical Yellow response: He won’t consider new ideas and is always telling us to follow his petty rules.
Q: How did you first get interested in preparing?
- Typical Blue response: I looked at everything that was going on in the world and realized it wasn’t sustainable. Preparing just made sense.
- Typical Green response: I started thinking about how reliant we are on the electrical grid, public utilities, and grocery stores, and it scared me. I wanted to be more self-reliant and in control of my life.
- Typical Red response: I had some friends who were into it, and the more I talked with them the more I realized that I needed to get prepared myself.
- Typical Yellow response: I imagined how terrible it would be for my family if disaster struck and I wasn’t prepared. I knew I had to do something.
As I’m sure you know, no single question or single situation can nail down someone’s personality. These are more like clues. If you pay attention to the people around you, which is situational awareness, you can begin putting the clues together to form a picture of each person’s personality. Then, that can give you and your survival group a critical edge.