Overview DISC Theory
In a previous article (in Career Convergence's Organizations Department dated March 2003) I described four dimensions of behavior identified by Dr. William Moulton Marston in his book Emotions of Normal People. The four dimensions are: dominance, inducement, steadiness and compliance. Many publishers of DISC related instruments have updated the language, so I will use the language most familiar to me: dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness.
In Marston's Model, a person's behavior is influenced by two factors: his or her perception of the environment and his or her perception of self. Some researchers believe that personality, experiences, values, or even atmospheric changes may all influence our perceptions. If we perceive the environment as favorable, most likely we have fun, enjoy the people around us, and believe we can achieve our goals. If we perceive the environment as unfavorable, we may see the situation as challenging, feel a need to exercise control, and believe there are roadblocks to achieving our goals.
As shown in Figure 1, Dominance and Conscientiousness tend to see the environment as unfavorable; thus, they see the challenges, the potential road blocks, and the possible pitfalls as they're trying to achieve goals. Influence and Steadiness tend to see the environment as favorable. He or she sees the fun, the friendliness among people, and the possible successes in the things they undertake.
For example: A popular supermarket in my area built a new store across the street from the old one. Some people commented that it is more spacious, has better lighting, offers more variety of brands and foods, and there's more room in the aisles to stop and chat with friends (favorable). Others commented that the parking is atrocious, they can't find their favorite brands, not enough help, and the aisles are blocked by people stopping to chat, etc (unfavorable). Neither is wrong, it's simply a different perspective but each adds information about the situation that isn't available if all viewed the environment the same way. (Refer to the previous article on DiSC for characteristics of the four dimensions.)
The second part of Marston's Model looks at how we perceive ourselves in relationship to the environment - do we perceive our self as more powerful or less powerful than the environment. The Steadiness and Conscientiousness folks perceive themselves as less powerful than the environment, and believe they can achieve goals by working with and through people or by establishing rules and standards to work by. Dominance and Influence folks perceive themselves as more powerful, and believe they can achieve goals by inspiring and influencing others or by demanding and directing others.
There is no right or wrong, best or worst behavior - just different. Therefore, in a work environment each team member's behavioral tendency brings value to a work group and work groups profit by having each style represented. However, unless everyone understands the value, a work group may spend its time "dealing" with the different perspectives rather than seeing them for what they are - another viewpoint to consider to achieve the best results. Here is a brief description of how DiSC helped one team in an organization. (This is a true situation.)
Technology Company: Engineering Team
Management of a technology company contacted Coach W.S. as a result of work he had performed with some of the executives in the company. The manager reported that a geographically dispersed engineering team needed to:
Coach W.S. decided to use a version known as the DiSC Personal Profile System Software - which identifies the person's behavioral tendencies and the intensity, preferred environment, motivation, interaction with others, and development possibilities. Each team member completed the DiSC profile, including the Team Leader and the CEO. This version of DiSC provided Coach with a report for each person and a group composite style. Coach met with each person privately to discuss his or her profile before meeting as a team off-site.
The purpose of individual meetings is four-fold. To (1) describe DiSC theory and the report content. (2) ensure each individual understands his or her behavioral tendencies and has an opportunity to agree or disagree with the description (3) discuss the strengths each contributes to the team and (4) identify behavior(s) potentially overused.
After learning about their individual styles, member's had a better understanding of how to view the team's composite style. Eleven of the 15 team members reported styles that included a high intensity combination of Dominance and Influence. Characteristics of these two styles are each wants control and each believes he or she has the power to achieve results their way. Yet, how the control and power is exercised looks very different.
During the ensuing days, the team explored ways it could use the DiSC information to increase its effectiveness, understand each other - including the style of the Team Leader and the CEO -- and worked on improving communication with each other. For this process, Coach gave the team time to reflect and to discuss the following questions:
An example of one outcome relates to question four: to better connect with each other. The team openly discussed ways they could accomplish this goal. They spent a considerable amount of time talking about and sharing what is important to each style, the language to use, and the level of detail that each style wants in his or her communication. They then practiced using the newly learned information to ensure it would become more natural and a way of life for them. Another important outcome is that, because of the overall group style, some team members found they needed to negotiate roles.
Recent follow-up by Coach W.S. revealed that this team is considered a high performing group, there is enhanced group openness and, in connecting with each other. (I would also add that each person's career opportunities are enhanced.)
Marston, William Moulton, Condensed Version, 1987. Emotions of Normal People. Minneapolis: Performax Systems International, Inc.; Copyright 1979 by Persona Press, Inc.
Personal Profile System, 1994. Minneapolis: Inscape Publishing Co.
Personal Profile System, Personal Profile System Software, and DiSC are registered trademarks of Inscape Publishing Co. Minneapolis, MN
MBTI is a registered trademark of Consulting Psychologists Press, Palo Alto, CA
LouElla Jackson is the principal of LouElla Jackson, HRD and has provided career services to corporations and to individuals since 1990. She has worked extensively with teams using both DiSC™ and MBTI™. Prior to starting her company she was Senior Vice President of an Evanston, IL bank. She served on the board of the Association of Career Professionals, International (ACPInternational) Chicago chapter from 1998-2001 and also served 3 years on the board of the Chicago Chapter ASTD including serving as the chapter president in 1992. She earned the designation of Certified MBTI Professional in 2001 and has been an authorized distributor of Inscape Publishing since 1992. LouElla graduated from Barat College, Lake Forest, IL
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