What does Wonder Woman have in common with a personality assessment tool that helps teams work more effectively? They’re both the creations of American psychologist William Moulton Marston, who also invented an early version of the polygraph. His 1920s book Emotions of Normal People laid the groundwork for the DiSC assessment and personality model, which today, after a bit of evolution in the hands of University of Minnesota researchers, creates better connection and understanding in the workplace among teams and organizations.
What is a DiSC assessment?
The DiSC assessment is a personal assessment tool based on behavioral and emotional theory to help improve communication, productivity and teamwork in the workplace. The DiSC assessment is used by more than one million people every year.
In today’s psychological zeitgeist, the Big 5 personality traits model prevails:
DiSC doesn’t aim to capture every facet of someone’s personality. Rather, the model focuses on two dimensions relating to interpersonal relationships: agreeableness and introversion/extroversion, says Mark Scullard, senior director of product innovation at Wiley, which holds the trademark for DiSC Classic and Everything DiSC. “The goal is simplicity.
Those two dimensions don’t describe every aspect of interpersonal relationships, but you get a lot of bang for your buck there,” he says.
What are the 4 DiSC personality types?
The DiSC personality assessment describes four basic personality styles:
- Dominance personality styles prioritize immediate results and action and find motivation in power, competition and success.
- Influence, originally labeled “inducement,” personality styles focus on expressing enthusiasm and encouraging collaboration and social recognition. Building relationships and being a team player motivates people with this style.
- Steadiness, originally called “submission,” styles focus on giving support, offering collaboration and cultivating stable environments.
- Conscientiousness, previously named “compliance,” personality styles prioritize accuracy, challenge assumptions and find motivation in opportunities to gain knowledge.
Benefits of a DiSC assessment for employers and employees
Julie Chance, founder of business consultancy Action-Strategies-By-Design, first encountered DiSC as a young manager when the assessment helped her turn an adversarial working relationship into a functional one. She is now a certified Everything DiSC workplace facilitator. Chance values the model because it provides “a common language… a common understanding and awareness. It helps people move from judging differences to valuing differences,” she says.
Scullard says that teams become more effective and efficient by sharing a sense of connection, building morale, being able to be frank with each other and productively resolving conflict. “Those are the active ingredients that lead to teams performing better,” he says.
Chance has helped companies both big and small utilize the model. It can be deployed for team development, fostering emotional intelligence in leaders and in organizations adapting to change. She says using the model’s success depends more on how it’s integrated than the type of company or situation it’s being used in.
DiSC assessment can improve connection among remote workers
With the rise of distance and hybrid work, the DiSC assessment may have an important role in connecting remote teams. “One of the most powerful things that these types of tools create is a sense of connection among people where it might be lacking. Just seeing people virtually, you often don’t get to know their passions,” Scullard says. “Getting to know them on a personal level, you can see them and feel seen.”
What doesn’t DiSC do?
DiSC isn’t meant to label or pigeonhole people. One personality type isn’t viewed as better or worse than the other in this model. Although certain positions are archetypically connected to certain traits—for example, a salesperson may be assumed to need a dominant style to be successful—but the experts agree, there is no association between job type and personality traits. “The research shows that the correlation is not strong in terms of predicting job success. All the styles are equally capable. The DiSC is not speaking about capability or skills, it’s about preferences and tendencies,” Scullard says.
That’s why the DiSC assessment isn’t recommended during hiring, but it could be applied as early as the onboarding process. “There are excellent managers that fall into every category and poor managers that fall into every category. Effective managers have to adapt to and use characteristics from every style, and that’s true of every position,” Chance says.
Maximizing the transformative impact of DiSC results
“By far, the most powerful thing you can do to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck is an in-person discussion about the results,” Scullard says. “People have that ‘a-ha!’ experience and, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so creepy. This fits me so perfectly.’ But then you hear other people describe how they see the world so much differently than you, and that moment is transformative.”
Scullard says these sessions, which can last as long as eight hours but can be accomplished in two, establish a shared framework to begin working more effectively. These conversations lay the groundwork for a language to discuss differences and grant permission to do it. “After we’ve gone through these sessions, there’s a social contract to say it’s OK to discuss,” he says.
Beyond these initial comparison sessions, managers, human resources professionals and other leaders can integrate regular discussions about DiSC personality assessment. The Catalyst dashboard, which Wiley developed as part of Everything DiSC, allows individuals to compare their personality types to their colleagues’ types anytime. It highlights qualities such as whether people are structured or unstructured, focused on realities versus focused on possibilities and if they are fast paced or prefer time to consider their choices. Scullard says these discussions help keep the model alive well beyond the initial a-ha moments and can continue helping teams work effectively.
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