What Is a DISC Assessment? | Guide for 2023
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A DISC assessment is a judgment-free test that provides insight into an individual’s personality and behavioral characteristics.
It does not require certification to be administered and is commonly used by businesses and organizations that want to achieve more effective teamwork - to increase sales output or improve working relationships, for example.
The test allows individuals to access easy-to-understand data about themselves and the way they interact with the people around them. They will find out more about what motivates them and what causes them stress, as well as how they respond to conflict and solve problems. This data can then be used to modify behavior when interacting with specific people and improve working relationships.
The personality traits it may assess are conscientiousness, self-awareness, behavioral styles, conflict resolution, emotional intelligence and communication style.
Success, both individually and within a team, is generally measured by how well people can communicate with each other. The DISC assessment recognizes that people are inherently different and have different needs when interacting with others. If an individual is made aware of their personality type, and the types of personality that surround them, they can learn to communicate more effectively.
Analysing the communication needs of team members or employees allows the flow of information to be optimized. The theory being, the more people know about how they and their colleagues handle and disseminate information, the more effective interpersonal relationships can become.
By scrutinizing the strengths and weaknesses of certain DISC profiles, a person can develop a more flexible approach to work-based communications, intuitively adapting behavior to suit their immediate environment. Understanding how different profile types send and receive information makes it easier to avoid conflict or misinterpretation.
For a manager or team leader, knowing what motivates or distresses the different profile types within the workplace can be a great way of getting the best from their team.
It is difficult to be accurate about which companies will use a DISC assessment as part of their hiring process, since it does not measure skills or aptitudes specific to any position. Nor will assessments predict the likelihood of success for a potential employee - if used, it will represent one of many factors considered in an employment decision.
However, it is certainly true that numerous organisations use some form of ‘personal profile system’ based on the DISC theory. Currently, around 70% of Fortune 500 companies have used a DISC assessment at some stage in their business.
The DISC model is built upon the theories of Dr. William Marston, who penned The Emotions of Normal People in 1928 and posited that humans are compelled to act by four intrinsic drives. It is these drives which direct our behavioral patterns. While Marston is credited with contributing to the development of the DISC assessment we know today, he was not the one who came up with the original concept.
In 1956 it was the turn of industrial psychologist Walter Clarke to put together the DISC profile test based on Marston's theory. He drew up a checklist of descriptions called the Activity Vector Analysis. Using this, he prompted participants to pick the adjectives that best applied to themselves.
By 1965, Walter Clarke Associates had published their research in the Journal of Clinical Psychology. Rather than using a checklist model, they developed a ‘Self-Description’ test. This test required respondents to register a choice between at least two terms.
In the 1970s, ‘Self-Description’ was used by John Geier to develop what became the original Personal Profile System and, from this, many versions of the DISC theory and assessment have been spawned.
The DISC model itself is illustrated by a circle which represents the range of ‘normal behavior’ for a human being. The circle is divided along two axes to form four quadrants. The horizontal axis is often called the ‘Motor’ or ‘Pace Drive’, while the vertical axis is known as the ‘Compass’ or ‘Priority Drive’.
(The term ‘normal behavior’ is used to describe the range of emotions and perspectives derived from a healthy psychology. It should be noted that nothing in the DISC assessment diagnoses, discusses or defines any form of mental dysfunction, neurosis or abnormality.)
The Motor Drive defines the upper and lower halves of the circle, where the top-most half represents extroverts (outgoing people) and the lower half represents introverts (those who are more reserved).
Rapid movements, faster speech and quick decision-making are all associated with outgoing individuals. Introverts often speak more slowly and with a softer tone of voice. They may also take more time for careful consideration when making decisions.
The Compass Drive represents the left and right hemispheres of the circle and describes whether a person is oriented toward performing tasks or interacting with people. The left half of the circle represents task-focused people, whose behavior tends to focus on logic, data, results and projects. The right half depicts those who are people-focused, who favor concentrating on experiences, feelings, relationships and social interaction.
When the Motor Drive axis and the Compass Drive axis are combined, the circle is divided into quadrants and they form what is commonly known as The DISC Model of Human Behavior.
Where the results fall within the circle shows not only the subsequent profile type but also the varying intensity of the behavior expressed. The closer the result of the test is to the edge of the circle, the more intense the behavior. Conversely, the closer it is to the axes, the less intense the result becomes.
The four DISC profile types described in the DISC Model of Human Behavior are each represented by the letters: D, I, S and C (hence the name). These are the first letters of the original words used by Dr. Marston to describe the four intrinsic drives of human behavioral tendencies, which are:
This is where the acronym DISC originally comes from and although it is common for the words to differ, depending on where the test is taken or who administers it, the intrinsic meaning or value of each profile type largely remains constant.
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, the DISC assessment is a judgment-free test; this means that there are no right or wrong answers. It is important to keep in mind that no single profile type is better or worse, they just happen to be different. All four profiles have strengths and limitations, positives and negatives, which are all things that can be learned from and developed.
There are successful people from each profile type. A person’s DISC profile does not dictate or prevent what can be accomplished or how successful someone can be. It simply predicts how we tend to approach our daily work.
Below is a detailed description of each of the four DISC personality types:
People in this category are assertive and task-focused. It is estimated that 12% of the world’s population is Type D.
When building a relationship with a person of this type, it is important to value admiration and success. The Type D profile is known for being the most outspoken and demanding group. Type D people are often competitive and results-oriented, and for this reason, others can perceive them as being aggressive, direct or offensive.
When Type D people are under pressure they tend to concentrate more on accomplishing goals, and can seem insensitive or appear to display very little regard for others. The truth is, their coping mechanism is to simply direct their energy toward being in control of jobs and the people performing them.
People who fall within the Type D category prefer to move at a fast pace, and they are prepared to take risks if it means getting things accomplished as quickly as possible. They welcome change, setbacks and tests of character, and can be restless or even controlling because they want things to be achieved quickly and according to their own way.
They can lack humility, which may be deemed as overconfidence, and which can prove to be a weakness. Their listening skills may not be the best and they tend to make decisions on a whim. However, they shine at multi-tasking and having the perspective to view an overall situation or problem, rather than focusing on one area.
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Those that fall into this category are assertive and people-focused. It is estimated that 32% of the world’s population is Type I.
They enjoy socializing, interacting with others and having fun. They may prioritize the opinions they believe others hold about them, so some fundamental concepts to promote a good relationship with these individuals are admiration and recognition.
Type I people are very chatty, often brimming with optimism. It often seems like they relish being the center of attention. They prefer not to focus on the small details and would rather be in company than alone.
They are adept at influencing other individuals and can inspire loyalty in those they meet. They are ambitious and know how to bring people together to achieve their aims. They are good at providing positive, constructive feedback, and while they may not be direct, Type I people can be instinctive and unpredictable. They desire social acceptance and consequently are perceived as friendly, energetic and lively.
On the downside, Type I people can be too talkative, lack focus and be overly emotional. They tend to promise more than they can deliver because they have a positive frame of mind and an intense desire to be liked, which may blur their perspective. Moreover, they are often viewed as irresponsible and slightly chaotic. When under pressure, their focus is more on the people in a situation, rather than the specifics.
Type I: the sociable ones.
In this category, individuals are reserved and people-focused. It is estimated that 30% of the world’s population is Type S.
When developing a meaningful relationship with persons of this type, it is best to prioritize sincerity, gratitude and friendliness.
Individuals who are categorized as having Type S profiles tend to be reliable, relaxed and amiable. They feel more comfortable with people that they know. They don't like change and feel more secure and comfortable with stable environments. Friends and family are very important in their lives, and they are often prepared to defend their own people or team.
Type S people place great emphasis on justice and honesty. They are reliable and stable with a strong belief in cooperation, particularly with leaders, to ensure tasks are completed. They prefer to be told the details of how a job should be done and, once they know, they will happily start work. Without all the necessary details, they could be hesitant to begin for fear of making mistakes. They are reserved in their actions and will always consider other individuals and try to keep things harmonious.
Since Type S people prefer stable and secure situations, they may need help to adjust to change. When under pressure they may become too pliant, leading them into agreements they would not ordinarily have made for fear of disrupting things.
Like the Type D profiles, Type S people also prefer one-directional communication, but they prefer interactions in one-on-one settings. They respond when prompted but their preference is to listen first rather than speak and to only discuss areas they know well, which they can do in detail. Their manner is calm and friendly, and they will seek out markers of trust when engaging with others.
The people in this category are reserved and task-focused. It is estimated that 26% of the world’s population is Type C.
Those people with a Type C profile prioritize accuracy and seek value, consistency and quality. To build lasting relationships with persons of this type it is important to value trust and integrity.
Of all the DISC personality types, Type C profiles tend to be the most analytical. They are also the most reserved and cautious, tending to home in on the details, preferring to work with facts and verifiable evidence.
They are good independent workers and impose high expectations on themselves. They thrive on analyzing tasks and quality, whether of a service or product. Type C people are keen to ensure things run like clockwork.
Type C personalities can often seem to be judgmental of others since their chief focus is picking up on flaws and expecting everyone to adhere to their standards. The result is that others may view them as being pedantic when, really, they just show close attention to detail. This need for accuracy and fear of making mistakes can also mean they are slow to make decisions and may over-analyze situations and hesitate if they don't have all the information.
They prefer to use written communication, like emails. They want detailed, fact-based information to ensure they make the correct decisions and they do not readily express dissenting views.
Since Type C people focus so much on details and data, they may miss the big picture. They prefer conversations where they do not have to concentrate on opinions or abstract matters. They can be extremely diplomatic. Their authority is based on rules and proven standards, so they prefer to keep their distance from people and, as a result, Type C leaders place emphasis on rules and quality; they are more interested in facts, details and analyses.
It is possible that an individual may be expected to take some form of the DISC assessment as part of training within certain departments at work – especially if working in a business driven by sales, customer service or competitive growth. It may also be as part of a team-building exercise when working for a small business or in a close-knit group within a company.
Anywhere that it is expected that a person will interact closely with a group of people or as a first point of contact with the public, it is reasonable to expect some form of personality assessment as part of training and development for the role.
It might be that the test is administered early on in employment or as part of a strategy designed to energize a team that is perhaps not functioning smoothly. Team leaders, managers or facilitators might use comparison, group or other reports to provide a greater understanding of team members, clients or colleagues.
If someone is taking a DISC test during a hiring or promotion process, the insights gained can be used to analyse their strengths and other positive attributes during an interview. It can also be used to determine the best approaches for working with a new manager or new team.
The DISC test is, in simple terms, a personal questionnaire about an individual’s behavior. As stated previously, there are no right or wrong answers and no best outcome. The questionnaire comprises a series of statements to which a person must choose a response along a rating scale – I strongly agree, I agree, I am neutral, I disagree, I strongly disagree.
Most DISC assessments are now administered electronically or online for speed and accuracy, although there are still tests available that use paper and pen. These older paper tests use a slightly different format than most newer versions and are made up of a ‘forced choice’ questionnaire, which requires a selection from a fixed list of words – for instance, ‘happy’ describes me most, or ‘closed’ describes me least.
Once the results of the test have been compiled, the personal profile type (see above) and the profile report can be accessed. Each profile report identifies key areas of behavioral tendencies and includes information about the other DISC types, which can be useful for recognizing how other people respond in similar situations.
There is no given method for preparing for a DISC assessment, since it is expected that an individual is best placed to answer questions about themselves.
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when taking a DISC test is to answer as honestly as possible. It is tempting to answer questions with a prejudice toward a perception of what is ‘right’ or to maintain a favorable image of yourself.
This, in the long term, is of little use, since the outcome of the test will display a skewed result that will not accurately reflect the person completing the test. This is particularly unhelpful if others are using the same data to understand how best to work or communicate with that person.
To get the most value from the DISC assessment, the best preparation is simply to approach it with a view to answering as honestly as possible and not creating a false image by attempting to please others.
You can read more about how to prepare for the DISC Personality Inventory here.