DISC Behavioural Profiling: Understand Yourself & Others

You may have noticed that when you fire off an email to a group of people at work, you get a variety of styles in the responses. One co-worker might reply with a terse “thank you” (no caps, no punctuation), while another replies with an effusive series of sentences that starts by praising your awesomeness and ends by asking you about your weekend and including a funny reference to last week’s episode of The Good Place.

Differences in communication are not necessarily reflective of the respondent’s personal feelings about you. Instead, such differences may have more to do with personality and established patterns of behaviour. Different people will respond to their environments with varying degrees of reserve or activity, attention to tasks vs. attention to people, and responses to power dynamics.

Understanding your own behavioural style, and those of your co-workers, can be a key factor in creating and enjoying a positive workplace culture.

Understanding different communication styles can also help your team members reduce or resolve interpersonal conflict, serve clients and customers better, and understand how best to lead and influence those around them.

DISC Profiles: The Universe and You

PersonalityOne of the most commonly used tools to assess communication and behavioural styles is the DISC assessment, whose letters stand for Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness.

DISC behavioural analysis is based on the personality types identified by Dr. William Marston early in the 20th century. Marston was also the creator of Wonder Woman for DC comics, as well as the inventor of the polygraph (Lasso of Truth, anyone?). Marston theorized that people’s expressions of emotions could be categorized into four types, stemming from a person’s perceptions of himself or herself and of the environment.

Subsequent researchers have built on Marston’s work on DISC personality types to create the DISC assessment, a tool for identifying people’s behavioural differences. The assessment is commonly used by employers to develop current employees or assess new ones as part of hiring processes. DISC participants complete a series of questions that produce a detailed report about their behaviours, with strategies for working with people of other styles.

DISC Behavioural Analysis: What’s Your Superpower?

While most people will exhibit each of the DISC behaviours to some extent, there are often one or two behaviours that the assessment finds they display most often. (These will be displayed in graph form in the assessment; a high score counts as anything above 50% or 65%, depending on who you ask).

High Dominance

Highly dominant individuals place emphasis on results. They are confident and assertive, and like taking risks. They are also decisive and driven, with a high need to achieve.

High D personalities are well-suited to stressful situations, as they crave rather than fear challenges, and they may drive innovation at their organizations. As leaders, they are suited to situations that require formal, traditional styles of authority, rather than leadership based on service and relationships.

High Influence

The high influence result is often termed the “communicator” profile. Such people value persuasion, openness, and relationships. They are confident, talkative, and genuinely interested in the ideas and feelings of others, a combination that makes them both assertive and adaptable. This group craves praise and will thrive in environments where they feel accepted. They are also likely to motivate and encourage others to succeed.

High Steadiness

Less common than some of the other profiles, a high S indicates patience, dependability, and warmth. Such people sympathize with others and, although they may be introverted, they are skilled at maintaining relationships. They are also able to work steadily at tasks that others might find too labourious. However, high S personalities need time to adjust to change and may not respond well to criticism. They work best when they feel the support of those around them.

High Conscientiousness

People with high conscientiousness value quality, accuracy, expertise, and competency. Their need for control and their focus on facts may make them appear cold to others, but they will maintain friendships based on mutual interests.

High C personalities may have clear goals, but struggle to achieve them through relationships, and will be more likely to appeal to rules and logic to make headway. They tend to be quick-thinking and able to organize details within complex systems.

Mashups: Combination DISC Personality Types

As noted above, many DISC profiles show more than one prominent behavioural style. Here are a few examples of combination types:

High Dominance & High Influence

Someone with this profile is likely capable of dynamic action or charm, depending on the situation. Such people will have clear goals and will be very determined to achieve them, using both assertiveness and persuasion to get others to do what they want.

This profile is common among effective sales teams.

High Dominance & High Conscientiousness

Individuals with both high dominance and high conscientiousness are formal in behaviour, preferring structure in their work environment, and may tend towards bluntness in communication. They also have very high standards. Of all DISC profiles, this one is the least likely to share personal and emotional matters easily.

High Influence & High Steadiness

People of this profile are highly communicative and emphasize emotions over practicalities. They are warm and friendly, and more capable of being open to others’ perspectives than someone with high influence only. This profile is the most effective at relating to other people and is often described as the “counsellor” profile. They likely excel at collaboration.

High Influence & Conscientiousness

This is one of the more common profiles. While the high influence suggests extroversion, the high conscientiousness indicates an attention to details and rules.

In practice, those with this profile, rather than integrating their high I and high C behaviours, will gravitate to one or the other, depending on the situation. Among those they know well, the high I behaviour will be more apparent; in a high-pressure or unfamiliar environment, the high C behaviour will be more observable.

High Steadiness & High Conscientiousness

People with high steadiness and high conscientiousness tend to be both detail-oriented and patient, making them natural problem solvers and excellent candidates for technical work.

While they may appear to be reserved, they value their relationships, and need to feel comfortable before expressing themselves. They tend to work well with more outgoing behavioural types, as the latter can take the social lead.

More Mashups: Rarer DISC Personality Types

The above is only a sampling of the potential behavioural types. It is possible to have not just one or two high behavioural styles, but three, although I have left out descriptions of these in the interests of brevity.

Those with sharp eyes (perhaps the high Cs among readers of this blog) will notice that I have not discussed profiles with both high steadiness and high dominance. This is because this profile is extremely rare, since its two sets of characteristics would oppose each other.

There are also other profile possibilities:

  • Compressed Profile, where all four behaviours lie in the middle (no clear high or low behaviours). This result may indicate high stress in a person’s work or home life, where he or she must constantly adapt to changing circumstances.
  • Overshifted Profile, where an assessment participant gets high scores in all four categories of behaviour. This suggests that he or she is trying to influence results to give the impression of being good at everything. This profile occasionally appears when job candidates are trying to impress a potential employer.

Use Your DISC Superpowers

Using a DISC assessment in the workplace can be a valuable strategy for both employers and employees. Once you know your own style, you can be aware of your own challenges in communicating with others, and work to address these challenges, in order to help build relationships and achieve your professional goals.

Employers and employees may also want to consider sharing their DISC assessment results, even at a high level, with others.

Once you know the behavioural styles of those around you, you can work to adapt your own style to the needs of your team members, and better understand their own vulnerabilities and strengths. You may then decide to follow up with soft skills training, for yourself or for your team, to further put your DISC results to good use.

If your organization is interested in offering employee training for professional development, make sure to register for one of Mentor Works’ upcoming Hiring and Training Webinars to learn which programs to take advantage of.

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Sunnie holds a PhD in English from Dalhousie University, and has published her writing in several academic journals, as well as in magazines, newspapers, and blogs. She combines years of experience as a professor in English with practical experience in the private sector as a trainer in writing and analytical thinking.

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