The DISC personality assessment is all over the working world. Companies use it to test person-team and person-organization fit. Managers take it to figure out their leadership style. It’s so well-known as a business tool, it’s easy to overlook how useful it can be in figuring out relationships.

I made the connection when I first took the DISC assessment last year, and it explained so much about how I interact within my social circles. 

I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that the DISC was originally created to explain interpersonal relationships.

A Brief History of the DISC

The DISC system was the brainchild of Harvard-trained psychologist William Moulton Marston, who wrote about it in his 1928 book, Emotions of Normal People. Marston wrote the book to help people understand how their emotional lives affect their relationships.

The DISC didn’t become a test until 20 years later, when industrial psychologist Walter V. Clarke got a hold of the system. He used it to create a personality profile that would help businesses choose among job applicants.

The structure of his test became the DISC as we know it today—the test that I took to figure out my collaboration style.

How Does the DISC Work?

The DISC is based on four basic styles of interpersonal interaction.

Drive: Prefers to take charge and make decisions

Influence: Enjoys engaging and motivating others; sociable and friendly by default

Support: Helps others to succeed, a natural caretaker

Clarity: Focuses on the details, motivated but not a motivator

Everyone uses all four styles at one time or another, but each person has their dominant style. When I took the test, I found out that my primary style is Clarity, with a fair amount of Drive thrown in for good measure.

As a “C,” I focus deeply on something and I work at it until I get it right. I have enough “D” (as in Drive) to be tireless in my pursuit of goals, but I’m mostly concerned with motivating myself.

My style also means that I don’t always collaborate easily. When I’m working on a group project or on a committee, I usually need to remind myself to check in with other people and make sure we’re all on the same page.

This is what the DISC does. It highlights your strong points and shows you how those strengths can help you as a team member or leader. It also points out the ways other people might be more skilled than you are, and how you can work with those people better.

Most people use these lessons at work, but they’re also incredibly useful for helping you figure out your personal relationships.

DISC in the World of Relationships

Your DISC profile explains how your emotions influence your social behavior, so it’s as relevant at a party as it is in the conference room.

I’m a C/D with family and friends just as much as I’m a C/D at work. When it’s time to go somewhere, I’m at the door with shoes on and keys in hand, waiting for everyone else to get themselves together. I have an idea for a group event and have the details all planned out, but I forget to make sure I’ve picked a spot that everyone can get to.

Some of my friends are C/D’s like me, but a lot are S’s and I’s. It’s made an incredible difference to be able to think in these terms. I don’t have to assume that Person A understands me more easily than Person B simply because we’re better friends. I can look at all of us as different personalities with different communication needs.

It works the other way too. If someone just “gets” me, I can figure out why and make the most of it.

When Your DISC Types Are Similar

I have some friends who are on the C/D side of things like me, and I value them immensely. We “get” each other in a way that doesn’t happen with my other friends. 

Jamal always says what he means. Why does Liz talk around the issue so much?  

Now that I know that “Jamal” is straightforward with me because we both have strong Drive qualities, I can appreciate that about him without needing everyone to be like that. On the flip side, though, it’s easy to take that alignment for granted and wonder why it isn’t in all my relationships!

DISC types don’t have to be exactly the same to feel compatible, either. For instance, I’m mostly a C, but I communicate well with driven D’s. We’re both goal-oriented and independently motivated.

As well as getting along with their own types, Influential “I” types typically get along with Supportive “S’s”. Those I’s and S’s are so emotionally open, they latch onto each other like Velcro.

If you’re really jiving with someone, think about what DISC profile you have and what theirs is likely to be. You’ll learn about why you get along so well and can empathize with each other even better, a major key to a solid relationship.

When Your DISC Types are Different

Understanding DISC types can help even more when you’re different. I go back to my DISC knowledge often in my social life because I have a lot of friends who lead with Influence and Support.

Before DISC came along, I spent a lot of time shaming myself for not being as “nice” as my S-dominant friends or as popular as my I-inclined friends. Now, I can look at all of us as meetings of different personalities. I can appreciate what those I’s and S’s have to offer, and more importantly, I can adapt my communication style to help them feel more comfortable.

I don’t get as frustrated with an “S” friend when she cancels plans. It’s usually because another friend is going through a rough time and needs her. I don’t feel as pressured to join in all of my “I” friend’s crazy ideas because I know she’s always going to be trying to get people on board.

The way I approach these two friends is different, now that I understand DISC. I know my Influencer “I” friend needs to motivate and get people together, so I’ll join in when I feel motivated, and I’ll back her up in other ways, too. 

I know my Supportive “S” friend needs me to understand that people are important to her, so I’ll ask about those other friends when I talk to her next.

This can work for you too, no matter what type you are. Think about your DISC type, then think about those friends who sometimes just seem really different than you. What DISC type do you think they have?

You don’t need to give them a test—it’s enough just to think about their inclinations. Are they helpers? Leaders? Energizers? Take that knowledge and read about their profile type. If you think they have strong people qualities, then maybe they’re an Influencer and a Supporter. Read about both.

Think about how they respond to other people and what makes them feel comfortable. If you can give them a little bit more of what they need, and communicate your needs in a way they understand, you’ll inevitably build a stronger relationship.

DISC and Your Social World

There’s no reason why DISC has to stay at work. We collaborate and sometimes clash with people in our personal lives too. DISC helps us understand how to clash less and meet each other where we are.

DISC doesn’t solve all of our relationship problems—nothing does—but it helps us to understand each other better. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s the foundation of any good relationship.

Laura DeCesare
Laura is a freelance writer and ghostwriter focused mainly on mental health, wellness, and self-care. She received her master's degree in Expressive Therapies from Lesley University but discovered she is far too much a Thinker and Judger to be a therapist. She now uses her knowledge of psychology and human behavior to connect with people via words. Her Introvert self is much happier with this arrangement.