Have you ever wondered why sometimes when you meet someone new you just seem to ‘click’ and it’s like you’ve known each other all of your lives, but with others you struggle to feel even the tiniest bit of connection? You might spend painful minutes bringing up topic after topic and still struggle to find common ground and feel like they just don’t ‘get you.’
Spend 5 minutes in an interview, on the trade show floor, or greeting customers and you’ve probably experienced this. There’s a simple explanation for this phenomena and you can learn how to use it to your advantage in this beginner’s guide to the DISC personality types.
If you want to gain a better understanding of yourself and your relationships with others and connect with people on a deeper level, faster, taking part in a DISC assessment can help. This beginner’s guide will provide an overview of the DISC assessment system and how it can help you develop greater personal presence and improve your relationships with coworkers, customers, friends, and even family.
What is DISC?
The DISC behavioral assessment system that is in use today was based on research conducted in the 1920s by psychologist Dr. William Marston. Now why should we care about research into personalities that was gathered so long ago? Surely people have changed since the early 1900s and information from that era has absolutely no bearing on today’s world. Not so, actually. Dr. Marston’s work in the study of personalities has had a far-reaching impact. It also laid the foundation for the first polygraph. That’s right… science from the 1920s is still used today when anyone takes a lie detector test.
That’s Dr. Marston on the far right. He was an incredibly fascinating guy living way ahead of his time. Not only did he research personalities and create the first lie detector, he also invented the Wonder Woman character of comic book and movie fame. Take a closer look at the woman in the picture above. Ever wonder why Wonder Woman has a ‘lasso of truth’ which when wrapped around someone compels them to speak the truth? Life imitates work, so they say. It sure did for Dr. Marston.
But, we digress. So easy to do with someone as intriguing as Dr. Marston! Back to the matter at hand… where did this DISC business begin. Fair warning! We’re about to get a bit technical on ya, but don’t worry! It won’t last long.
The Core Theory
The core of Dr. Marston’s theory highlights that there are 4 distinct styles of behavior. He called them Dominance, Influencing, Submission, and Compliance. OK, so there’s one thing we changed to pull the theory into the 21st century. Those 4 behavioral descriptors are a little harsh by today’s language standards. We’ll get into some friendlier language in a minute.
Dr. Marston believed people operated along 2 distinct axes: one indicating whether someone was more Active vs Passive and the other if they viewed the world around them as being more Favorable vs Unfavorable.
When you view those axes at right angles you can see the 4 quadrants of behavior emerging along with some distinct behavioral characteristics. This is where Marston assigned the following labels.
- Dominance: a person who takes active positive actions yet perceives an unfavorable environment
- Influencing: someone who takes active positive actions in what they believe is a favorable environment
- Submission: an individual taking passive positive actions in a favorable environment
- Compliance: someone who takes passive positive actions in what’s perceived as an unfavorable environment
The two upper quadrants (D and I) are typically more extroverted and active in nature. People who exhibit traits in these areas are usually seeking to modify, control, influence, or shape their environment according to their own particular view. These are individuals who focus on the what and who of a situation more than the how or why. They continually challenge and test the limits of their surroundings and seek new ways of getting things done. You may hear them say things like, ‘I don’t care what process got us HERE. Let’s focus on what will get us THERE!’
Those with more of a presence in the two bottom quadrants (S and C) could be seen as more passive and introverted in nature, seeking to focus on the how and why of a situation. Instead of trying to change the existing environment, they are more interested in protecting or continuing it. Here’s something you may hear from a higher S/C, ‘Why should we fix what’s not broken?’
Usage and Changes
That’s the crux of Dr. Marston’s work, and it’s been expanded upon, reinterpreted, and reimagined since. One of the expansions took Marston’s work into assessment form. Marston himself never created any scoring models or assessments based on his theory. The first DISC assessment was written by Dr. Walter Clarke in the 1950’s, and there have been many others since.
The descriptions Marston used have also been reinterpreted. Some personality assessment companies have stuck with his terms, while others have used friendlier language. The terminology we use describes each behavioral dimension slightly differently: Decisive, Interactive, Stabilizing, and Cautious. Don’t you find these are nicer ways to describe people’s behavior? We want people to find the positive qualities they possess based on their DISC behavioral assessment, not a label that they’re ‘Dominant’ or ‘Submissive’ and that’s it.
Each individual’s unique personality includes all four of these elements to varying degrees. They all relate to each other and create unique patterns of behavior. DISC assessment results help people identify their perceived strengths and potential weaknesses in each area. We want them to understand how they can use those elements to better relate to other people who may have different behavioral patterns.
Again, we resist the urge to label people. So much of our behavior is dynamic and situational, and we can act in different ways based on the situation we happen to be in at any given moment. So, if we don’t want to assign people a label, how does knowing your DISC pattern help? The DISC assessment provides individuals with a look at their default patterns of behavior. How they may act when they’re not thinking about the way that they’re acting. It’s an opportunity to peek behind the curtain of our personal behavioral preferences.
Benefits of Discovering Your Personal Profile
Taking a DISC assessment is beneficial for many reasons. It can help you understand how your behavior affects others and how you can use that to build and maintain relationships with them. It also gives you an idea of how changes in environment, job roles, or team dynamics may affect your performance and wellbeing. Understanding the different aspects of your personality and behavioral style can lead to more effective communication, problem solving capabilities, and overall better mental health.
Understanding the Dimensions of the DISC Assessment
Understanding the 4 dimensions of the DISC assessment is key to unlocking your strengths and understanding yourself better. Let’s review each of the 4 dimensions individually and then dig in to how they relate to each other, and we’ll also look at some of the most common patterns you may see.
As we’re getting granular about the scoring, know that there’s still plenty of room for interpretation. There’s no black or white, no good or bad. We’re talking about tendencies, preferences, and possibilities. When we refer to a higher D, we’re looking at the D in reference to the other scores. The D doesn’t have to be 99 on a zero to 100 scale to be considered high. It just needs to be higher than the others. All of the scores are relational.
The Decisive Dimension
Decisive refers to assertive energy with a focus on achieving goals. We’re really looking at how people tend to approach new problems and make new decisions. And we use the word ‘new’ very intentionally. We all get into decision making habits if we are faced with a situation we’ve encountered before. But when we’re faced with something for the first time, how do we react? What’s our go-to preference?
Folks with higher D scores might have a tendency to solve problems in an aggressive or assertive way. They may prefer to default to action as a way to make the decision. And that action will inform their next step and the next and the next. You may think there’s an element of risk operating like this but for someone with a higher D the rewards typically outweigh the risks. It’s the movement of taking action that satisfies.
If someone’s D is on the lower side, the preference shifts a bit. They will tend to solve new problems in a very deliberate, intentional way. They may place a premium on doing research as a way to help them make that decision. Mitigating risks through conscious thought and deliberation their likely modus operandi.
The most important concept to grasp here is that both higher Ds and lower Ds make great decisions. It’s their decision making process that’s different.
The Interactive Dimension
Interactive is about meeting new people in a persuasive and charismatic way with a focus on creating relationships. The higher the I the more likely it is that someone will appear talkative, interactive, and quite open even with people they’re meeting for the first time. You might look at them as being socially assertive, gregarious, and outgoing. Big, loud group gatherings could well be right up their alley.
A lower I on the other hand still likes people, they just might prefer to meet them in a smaller group setting or even 1 on 1. That quieter environment can help them to open up. They could value a quieter, more controlled or reserved environment and place a premium on the control of emotions rather than wearing their hearts on their sleeves like those with a higher I.
Now, many folks think their score in this dimension is going to identify if they’re an introvert or an extrovert. Reminding you again about the situational-ness of our scores. The environment someone happens to be in plays a distinct role in how they will react to others. It has to do with energy level. A higher I gains energy being in a room full of people while a lower I might have their energy drained if they have to operate in that big group for a long period of time. Think of it like this:
Lower I + big group = draining battery
Higher I + big group = full battery charge
Don’t discount that lower I in a large group, though! Just make sure they have ample time to recharge their battery when they need to.
The Stabilizing Dimension
Stabilizing is about supportive energy with an emphasis on loyalty. Those with a higher S scores have a tendency to prefer a more controlled and predictable environment. They may prefer stability and discipline rather than change and chaos. Many times you’ll experience their exceptional listening ability and quite often they’ll gravitate to being mentors or coaches to others on the team.
The lower someone’s S, however, you’ll most likely experience their preference for a flexible, ever-changing work environment. They have a tendency to value freedom of expression and the ability to move from one activity to another very quickly. You might experience their high sense of urgency to seek outlets for their also-high energy levels. The lower the S, the more spontaneous they may appear.
An individual with an S in the mid-range can value both rigidity and flexibility depending on the situation. They can see the value in structure as well as change.
The Cautious Dimension
Cautious is about procedural detail-oriented behavior with a focus on policy adherence. In someone with a higher C, you’ll most likely see a preference for rules and standards that have been previously set by someone they respect. Operating manuals could have a keen level of importance for them. And if there isn’t one, well let’s just get cracking and make one. Once those rules are in place, holding to them is of great value. Higher C scorers have a preference for holding to the status quo.
A lower C, however, might enjoy operating more independently from the procedures manual. If they can find an easier way to do something, they’ll do it by enacting some creative strategies as the situation demands.
Someone in the middle range could be said to have a switch they can turn on and off depending on their environment. They could see a need for the rules and status quo but are not as beholden to them.
Knowing these dimensions can provide you with valuable insight into how you respond to different situations in different environments.
Common Combinations of the DISC Dimensions
It’s typical to see some of the dimensions traveling together when you’re looking at DISC assessment results. Note that they don’t always group in these ways; it’s just additional possibilities you may see. Here are the most common combinations. And to help you understand the differences between the patterns, let’s enter a real estate brokerage and look at who might be better at certain types of jobs inside that office.
High Decisive + High Interactive
Folks with high scores in both the D and the I could present themselves as socially assertive, high energy, and quick-thinking. Many times you’ll find people with these DISC assessment results have a tendency to gravitate to sales roles since team initiatives and groups ‘wins’ are valued by people with this pattern. They could take action easily and be less concerned with details. The more freedom you can give them and the more action they can take, the better they’ll like it. Sound like real estate sales professionals to you?
High Interactive + High Stabilizing
Those with a high I and a high S are likely great listeners and relationship builders. That higher I keeps them focused on people while the S provides a great deal of patience. They enjoy interacting with others on a deeper level and typically exhibit high levels of empathy. They like it best when they can smooth a path for someone else. If you put a person with these DISC assessment results in a sales position, they’ll be great at developing long-term relationships but may struggle to operate as quickly as someone with a higher D/I. The high I/S will be patient enough with buyers to show them the 34th house whereas the high D/I has started eye-rolling by the 5th showing. This is why the high I/S behavioral pattern suits a Showing Agent quite well.
High Stabilizing + High Cautious
Individuals presenting higher scores in the S and C typically love dotting I’s and crossing T’s. They like when order is kept, systems are set, and rules are followed. People with these high scores on their DISC assessment results can make great accountants, administrative assistants, and auditors. The ideal role for higher S/C scorers in the real estate realm would be transaction coordinators. Those are the people sales professionals hand off their closed sales to. Transaction coordinators are the ones who pull all that paperwork together that needs to be signed when transferring real estate from one party to another. Think back to a real estate transaction or rental agreement you may have experienced. Remember how exhausting it was to just sit and sign all that paper? Now imagine what it takes to put that huge pile of paper together! Higher S and C scorers love doing just that, and they’re great at it because of those high scores.
High Decisive + High Cautious
Now on the surface you might think these two dimensions wouldn’t travel together, and you’d be right. It’s a rarer pattern we see in DISC assessment results but it still happens often enough to talk about. Folks with a higher D in combination with a higher C can present a somewhat conflicted style. They like to get things done rather quickly AND want them done with precision. You might refer to people like this as aggressively perfectionistic. People with this style can be successful in management roles or at the top of the house. Many business owners present this style. They like to operate quickly AND efficiently. Sound like the real estate broker whose name is on the door to you?
What’s interesting in real estate circles is that most agents start out their practices by doing everything, even though they typically have a higher D and I:
- Prospecting for clients (they love it!)
- Showing homes, however many it takes to make a sale (even though that 34th house makes them crazy)
- Processing all the paperwork (even though they hate doing it)
- Sitting through endless closing sessions (even though they lack patience)
Is it any wonder that the first hire a top agent will make is a transaction coordinator? We always recommend that people hire others who love to do what you loathe to do. Bottom line, if you hate doing it the odds of you making mistakes with it increase like crazy. And why bog yourself down with activities that don’t generate revenue which is where your genius lies?
That’s the most beautiful thing about DISC: it helps to identify everyone’s unique genius. Once you can pinpoint what makes people happy and put them in a position where they can use that genius, they will shine. And if they’re shining, they’re more likely to be happy, content workers. And who doesn’t want their team loaded with people like that?
How to Interpret Your Profile Results & Make Meaningful Connections
After completing a DISC assessment, you’ll be able to interpret your profile results and make meaningful connections between yourself and others in your life. While certain areas of personal preference can remain hidden, by being observant of your own behavior as you’re interacting with others, the key traits of each person become clearer. It might not be possible that you have DISC assessment results available for everyone in your life, but you now know enough about each style to make some assumptions about others’ highs and lows. We all talk our patterns, so if you’re paying attention you can make some assumptions about people’s behavioral preferences. From there, you can choose to modify your behaviors to best fit different situations, leading to more successful relationships in both professional and personal contexts.
We recommend you do that behavior modifying on as short-term a basis as possible. Longer term adaptation of your preferred behavioral style can cause stress, which we’ll discuss in a later post. In the interim, can you tap into a colleague or coworker who possesses those behavioral qualities you may run short on? Maybe even make a part time or contract hire. The most meaningful connection you can make with your DISC assessment results is finding and nurturing YOUR genius.
Tips for Applying DISC Assessment Results in Everyday Life and the Workplace
Being aware of your DISC profile results can help you in all areas of life but it’s especially beneficial for the workplace. You may already have an idea of how well other people’s styles mesh with yours, but if not, look no further than DISC assessments to find out! With this knowledge, you and those around you can be more self-aware of what drives individuals’ behavior and build a strong relationship that compliments each other’s communication styles. Additionally, being aware of your personal profile gives insight on perceived strengths as well as potential weaknesses which allows for better decision making.
Using DISC assessments helps you understand how your behavior affects others and how you can use that knowledge to improve your communication skills, collaboration efforts on teams, and the ability to connect with others. Plus, it can give you an idea of how changes in your environment, job roles, or team dynamics may affect your performance and well-being. By knowing more about your personality and behavioral style, you can make faster, deeper connections with others, solve problems more effectively, and have an improved sense of your talents and preferences in life. If you’re feeling frustrated with your life or results, maybe you need to take a DISC assessment to help you find your genius.