Intelligent personal assistant devices. Smart thermostats. Robot vacuum cleaners. Self-stirring travel mugs! We truly are living in a Jetson-esque era of products and services designed to make our daily lives easier. These products automate and streamline the sometimes-mundane actions that must be performed every day to maintain a level of survival and adult responsibility. Products that systemize and streamline aspects of our lives also permeate the workplace, and while most of us are quick to try a new app promising ultimate productivity, we tend to neglect tools that attempt to optimize how most of us spend a significant portion (numerous reports say upwards of 70% for leaders) of every workday – communicating with other people.

Effective communication is potentially the most ubiquitous skill amongst successful leaders (and those we can consider to be successful in life in general). It turns customers into fans, inspires loyalty and engagement from direct reports, and generates respect with colleagues. It’s important to define effective communication as an interpersonal skill measured in how well we send and receive messaging.

The reasoning behind our neglect to address and improve inefficient communication actually makes a lot of sense. We each have our own unique, hard-wired method of communicating and processing information and because these methods are so ingrained in our psyche, it’s difficult to

  1. Objectively identify what we need to change to become a better communicator and
  2. How to get better.

It can also be difficult to make a blanket improvement that will positively impact communication because of the individualistic ways in which we each communicate. For those tasked with managing people in an organization or for anyone working on a team, this communication conundrum can majorly inhibit productivity, success and create a stressful work environment.

The Hermann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI)

It is often very apparent when teams suffer from ineffective communication, which can be improved by utilizing the the Hermann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI). HBDI was developed by William “Ned Herrmann” while leading management education at General Electric. HBDI is a psychometric assessment that models thinking preferences, strengths, and potential blind spots. By providing insight into our own thinking, we learn why we value and prioritize certain types of information – and how we can better communicate with others once we understand their thinking preferences.

According to the website, HBDI has been used by over 2 million people worldwide and by 97% of Fortune 100 companies. The beauty of HBDI comes in the simplicity of the assessment results. Instead of some complicated acronym or numerical representation, we are categorized primarily as one of four colors: red, blue, green, or yellow. Once the meanings behind the colors are understood, we can recognize what motivates our thinking process and preferences and that of others. This understanding creates tremendous value on all levels – individual (my personal and work life), intra-organizational (my team members, direct reports, and supervisors), and external (my customers, suppliers, and distributors).

The graphic below depicts the four quadrants of HBDI and their meanings.

Each thinking preference has distinct characteristics in how they process and communicate information.


Blue quadrant communicators are logical, analytical, fact-based, and mathematical. They are interested in performance, efficiency, and value and do well as lawyers, bankers, and engineers. Famous members of the blue quadrant include Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and Aristotle. Strengths of blue thinkers include:

  • Gathering facts
  • Analyzing issues
  • Arguing rationally
  • Forming theories
  • Measuring precisely
  • Problem solving logically
  • Financial analysis & decision making
  • Understanding technical elements
  • Critical analysis
  • Working with numbers, statistics, data and precision


Yellow quadrant communicators are holistic, intuitive, integrating, and synthesizing. They are interested in exploration, strategy, concept, and fun and do well as strategists, artists, and entrepreneurs. Famous members of the yellow quadrant include Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and Leonardo di Vinci. Strengths of yellow thinkers include:

  • Reading the signs of coming change
  • Seeing the ‘big picture’
  • Recognizing new possibilities
  • Tolerating ambiguity
  • Integrating ideas and concepts
  • Challenging established policies
  • Synthesizing unlike elements into a new whole
  • Inventing innovative solutions to problems
  • Problem solving in intuitive ways
  • Simultaneous processing of different inputs


Green quadrant communicators are organized, sequential, planned, and detailed. They are interested in quality, security, reliability, and production and do well as planners, administrators, and supervisors. Famous members of the green quadrant include Rudolph Giuliani, J. Edgar Hoover, and Julius Caesar. Strengths of green thinkers include:

  • Finding overlooked flaws
  • Approaching problems practically
  • Standing firm on issues
  • Maintain a standard of consistency
  • Providing stable leadership & supervision
  • Reading fine print in documents/contracts
  • Organizing and keeping track of data
  • Developing detailed plans & procedures
  • Articulating plans in an orderly way
  • Keeping financial records straight


Red communicators are interpersonal, feeling-based, kinesthetic, and emotional. They are interested in love, people, charity, and communication and do well as teachers, salespeople, and social workers. Famous members of the red quadrant include Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Shakespeare. Strengths of red thinkers include:

  •  Recognizing interpersonal difficulties
  • Anticipating how others will feel
  • Intuitively understanding how others feel
  • Picking up the non-verbal cues of interpersonal stress
  • Engendering enthusiasm
  • Persuading, conciliating
  • Teaching
  • Sharing
  • Understanding emotional elements
  • Considering values

You can probably somewhat categorize your own thinking preference from the information above and likely that of people you regularly interact with. Consider the possibilities that become available when we use HBDI in communications. If we’re looking to motivate a “yellow” direct report, we might speak in big-picture, creative-thinking terms. If it’s a “green” employee, we would be inclined to go to them with a well-developed project plan. It’s also important to note that most HBDI profiles have at least a small amount of each color in our thinking styles, and some profiles can even be a mix of two profiles.

Each thinking preference acts as a filter for everything we see, say, and hear. Think about the different ways individual thinking preferences talk about improving productivity on a team. Blue thinkers would likely suggest analytics to reduce inefficiencies, green thinkers would likely want to jump in and do more work, red thinkers would want to discuss the matter, and yellow thinkers would want to be creative to solve the issue.

Benefits of HBDI

HBDI is powerful when used by entire teams, when members know where other team members sit on the color chart so they better understand how to communicate with one another. We often use HBDI for problem-solving (are we missing the what, the how, the who, or the why) and to make sure we cover our bases when creating content, managing projects, and designing solutions so that plans and recommendations resonate with each thinking preference.

Using HBDI to design teams comprised equally of each thinking preferences creates a recipe for success, with each key ingredient represented: hard facts and figures (blue), process and organization (green), strategy and creative thinking (yellow), and people (red).

The advantages of utilizing HBDI:

  • Simple, cost-effective method of assessing thinking preferences to enhance all aspects of human interaction in an organization – with easily-implementable practices that produce quick results
  • Clearer personal understanding of how we ourselves communicate and process information; understand and use our strengths and identify weaker areas to be able to ask for help/develop skills
  • Clearer interpersonal understanding of how team members, direct reports, and supervisors communicate and process information; develop the ability to efficiently communicate in other thinking preferences’ vernacular
  • Design teams representing each thinking preference equally/optimally
  • Problem-solving, creating content, managing projects, and designing solutions that consider all elements for success

We have successfully led many clients through HBDI assessments and helped develop plans to utilize their results to enhance organizational success. It is our hope that you explore HBDI and the many benefits it has to offer.

Information found on was used as source material for this article.