The DISC personality system measures four primary personality types: Drive, Influence, Support and Clarity. Each type has different strengths, weaknesses and motivations that help explain how we interact with others and our environment in the workplace.
On this page, we discuss some of the practical applications of the versatile DISC personality assessment.
DISC and teamwork
One of the most obvious benefits of using DISC in the workplace is to improve team dynamics. A high-performing team will alway be greater than the sum of its individual parts and, by understanding the unique strengths and blindspots of each team member, that becomes a real possibility. For example, a person with a Drive-type personality may do very well in a team leadership role or with a project that requires lots of initiative and fast decision-making. They may do less well with a slow-moving project that follows a rigid process. Managers who understand these natural tendencies are in a great position to put the right team members in the right situations and roles.
While DISC profiles are often used during the forming and storming phases of team building, where team members are still getting to know each other and individual work styles are appearing, they can also be used on an ongoing basis to help teams work together better. For example, DISC profiles can provide critical insights in the following areas:
- Building agile teams - An agile team is one that can quickly adapt to change. It is composed of members who are flexible in the way they work and adaptable to the needs of the project, which means that role boundaries are difficult to define. Using DISC in this situation gives valuable insight into each team member’s natural style of working. Team leaders can capitalize on those strengths and include the right range of personality styles to fit the project.
- Unsticking stuck teams – Long-standing teams can sometimes get bogged down in roles and routines and become stuck. DISC can give team members insights into why they’ve fallen into a rut and a new energy to break out of old patterns. It's a way to press the reset button on team dynamics and get everyone back on the same page.
- Integrating new team members - Another problem with long-standing teams is they have to get used to team members cycling in and out over time. A DISC assessment can help team members get to grips with their own behavior patterns and those of their coworkers, so they know right off the bat what people have in common and where they may diverge.
- Repairing fractured teams - Unresolved personality clashes within a team can lead to a breakdown in communication and trust. Often, the cause of these fractures can be traced back to a simple misunderstanding about how someone prefers to work. A DISC assessment can help team members understand their differences and find common ground. It can also help managers identify problem areas and put measures in place to prevent future conflict, so the team can better weather the storms.
DISC and leadership development
The DISC model can provide excellent insights into an individual's leadership style, helping leaders and their organizations understand the strength of leadership capacities in the areas of:
- Influencing and relationship building
- Decision making
- Communication and negotiation
- Planning and delivery
- Change management
- Taking action and risks
This information can be used to identify areas where a leader may need to grow and develop. For example, a leader with a high Drive-type personality might be highly effective at driving bottom-line results but may need to work on their ability to delegate tasks and consider the inputs of others. A leader with a high Clarity-type personality might be very detail-oriented and excel at planning and delivery, but may need to work on their ability to take risks and make decisions quickly.
DISC can also be used to assess an individual's potential for leadership roles. Typically, high-potential individuals are assessed on their successes to date, which may not translate into effective leadership. A DISC assessment can provide insights into an individual's natural behaviors and motivations, and how they are likely to cope with the demands of a leadership role in that organization. This information can be used to identify individuals who have the potential to step up into leadership roles in the future and ensure those people are placed in the right development programs so they are ready when the time comes.
DISC and productivity
Productivity is a measure of a person’s efficiency in completing a task, but it involves more than just getting the job done. It's also about doing the job well, on time and to high quality standards. As such, many factors can affect someone’s productivity levels, including their motivation, stress levels, time management skills, how easy the task is for them to do, and their ability to focus.
The DISC model can provide insights into all of these areas and more. Once you recognize an employee's particular workplace style, you can assign tasks, delegate, engage and motivate that person more effectively, leading to higher levels of productivity.
How does that work in practice? Here’s a snapshot of a manager might help increase productivity of their various team members, according to the person’s DISC style:
- DO: Set ambitious performance goals as Drive-style people orient themselves around goals and results. But you may need to slow projects down to help them avoid making mistakes and forgetting the small 'unimportant' details.
- DON'T: Micro-manage or nitpick a Drive personality, or allow focus to drift by giving them too many things at one time.
- DO: Ensure tasks are started immediately to avoid procrastination. Also, take some time to review and Influence personality’s plans and schedules – are they realistic or too optimistic?
- DON'T: Allow distractions with too many exciting new projects and watch out for them socializing at the expense of getting the job done.
- DO: Break large tasks into manageable chunks so the Support style personality can pace themselves to avoid getting overwhelmed. And try to build in opportunities for collaboration, mentoring and team building where possible.
- DON'T: Allow a Support style to overwork or confuse ‘doing work’ with results.
- DO: Set timelines and deadlines to avoid a Clarity personality getting bogged down in the details; keep a watchful eye to make sure they're prioritizing the right things.
- DON'T: Change the goalposts or be vague about what is expected. And make sure they’re not seeking perfection to the point where they spend more time than a task is worth.
DISC and employee satisfaction
Managers have the greatest impact when they know the strengths of their employees, respect them for the contribution they make, and show appreciation for a job well done. A study by the Society for Human Resource Management found that employees who feel appreciated are more likely to stay with their organization, have higher job satisfaction and are more productive.
While all employees appreciate being recognized for whe work they do, different personality types have different motivations. The DISC model can help you to understand what makes your employees tick and how best to show appreciation.
For example, a Drive personality would be motivated by a sense of challenge and will be the most satisfied when they feel that they are making a real difference. They want to be in on the action and see things happen.
An Influence personality is happiest when working on highly collaborative projects that involve a lot of interaction with others, when they can 'sell' their ideas and see them come to fruition.
A Support personality is happiest in collaborative projects that are reasonably paced, steady and involve consistent processes. They feel most satisfied when they can contribute to making things run smoothly.
And a Clarity personality is happiest when they can work independently, at their own pace and have the opportunity to really dig into the analysis and all the small details. They feel most satisfied when they can see the tangible results of their work.
So, what's the take-away? When it comes to employee satisfaction, one size does not fit all. By understanding the DISC personality styles of your employees, you can tailor your recognition and appreciation strategies to meet their individual needs. And that's a win-win for everyone.
DISC and communication
Do you ever feel awkward when talking to certain people? Or find that some people are too accommodating – or too confrontational? It may have something to do with the way they communicate. Teams may have the best ideas and the best intentions, but if they cannot communicate effectively, there can be misunderstandings and tension.
The DISC model can help you to understand communication preferences and bridge the gaps between different work styles. For example, when you know your own DISC type and those of your team, you can quickly see whether someone:
- Needs you to go into the detail when describing something, or would prefer you to give the big picture
- Needs an agenda upfront, or prefers to wing meetings and conversations
- Likes to be asked their opinion before a decision is made, or prefers to be told what to do
- Will back off if you put them on the spot, or enjoys debate and confrontation
- Wants to receive information as facts and data, or prefers to talk in opinions and stories
- Likes to receive clear instructions about next steps, or would prefer to receive alternatives and choices
- Likes to plan for socializing in the conversation, or needs you to get straight to the point, no beating around the bush
Increasing your awareness around these communication styles and adapting your own style in response is a key skill to have. It can help you influence others with ease, and enables you to build better relationships, resolve conflicts more effectively, and generally just make things run more smoothly.
DISC and conflict
There is usually no one cause or simple resolution for conflict between coworkers. However, being able to identify the personality styles of those involved can be a helpful piece of the puzzle. That’s because different personality types tend to approach and react to conflict in different ways. When you understand where the other person is coming from, you can adjust your own dials so you don’t automatically respond in a way that escalates, rather than diffuses, the situation.
To give you an idea of how this might play out in the workplace, take a look at how the different DISC types typically will respond to conflict:
Drives tend to be direct and to the point – they want to get down to business. They are likely to approach conflict head-on and may come across as confrontational, especially to Support types who may perceive their bluntness as being insensitive.
What to do: When communicating with a Drive personality in conflict, it's important to be clear, concise and direct yourself. Don't try to sugarcoat the issue – that will only frustrate them. Be prepared to state your case and be ready to back it up with facts and logic.
Key diffusing phrases: Can you help me solve this? / Let's figure this out together / I need your help with something.
Because they prefer harmony, Influence types may avoid conflict altogether. Or, if they do find themselves in the middle of a disagreement, they may try to smooth things over by being conciliatory and agreeable, and hide what they're really feeling. This can be seen as appeasing or even disingenuous by Drive and Clarity types who want everything out in the open.
What to do: Stay upbeat and use humor to diffuse tense situations. Influence types tend to go off on tangents so keep the conversation focused on the conflict at hand. Don't let them sweep the issue under the rug or try to bring up old conflicts – that will only make things worse in the long run.
Key diffusing phrases: I'm sorry you feel that way / I understand how you could see it that way / Let's agree to disagree.
Support types are typically loyal, warm and empathetic, and they can sometimes have a hard time seeing both sides of a disagreement. They may take things personally and may need some time to process their feelings before they're ready to discuss the issue.
What to do: Be sincere, understanding and diplomatic. Don't try to rush them into a decision – they need time to think things through. Avoid coming across as confrontational or aggressive as that will only make them more resistant to resolving the issue.
Key diffusing phrases: I'm sorry you're feeling so upset / I understand how you feel / Let's take a break and talk about this later.
Clarity types tend to be very logical and objective, and they may have a hard time understanding why people get emotional about certain things. They may come across as cold or insensitive, especially to Support and Influence types who may see them as lacking empathy.
What to do: When communicating with a Clarity personality in conflict, it's important to be clear and concise. Stick to the facts and avoid getting emotional – that will only make them more resistant to resolving the issue. Be prepared to state your case and be ready to back it up with logic and reason.
Key diffusing phrases: I see your point / That makes sense / Let's look at this from a different perspective.
DISC and understanding others
The ability to empathize with others is an essential skill to help you work well with others who may have different perspectives. DISC assessments make emotional intelligence easier in several ways that have a direct impact on job and team performance. For example, DISC can help you:
- Respond rather than react. When you understand your natural tendencies and the tendencies of others, it’s easier to listen first and control your reactions in challenging situations.
- Change your approach. By using the information from a DISC assessment, you can learn how to change your communication style and approach to better suit the needs of those around you.
- Create common ground. When you know more about the DISC styles of those around you, it’s easier to focus on the things you have in common instead of the areas where you are apart.
- Avoid becoming defensive in the face of criticism. Instead of blaming others or getting defensive, you can learn to take responsibility for your part in the situation and work together to find a solution.
- Express yourself freely. Instead of holding your tongue or becoming passive-aggressive, you can learn to assert yourself in a way that is respectful and diplomatic.
- Stay professional in every situation. DISC is a valuable tool to help you avoid negative, knee-jerk responses in the form of dismissive, disparaging or judgmental comments and assert yourself in a way that is respectful and diplomatic.
In summary, DISC personality testing can help individuals and teams understand how they communicate, work together, lead others and resolve conflicts. When team members are able to understand their own styles and the styles of those around them, they are better equipped to produce results that count.