DISC is one of the most commonly used and popular employee assessments on the planet.  But as is the case with so many things, success attracts evangelists, dedicated advocates, and passionate naysayers.  This article attempts to set the record straight about what DISC is and isn’t.

1. DISC describes 4 styles of human behavior.

It’s a very practical but simple model. But despite all the hoopla, DISC is based on only 2 personality scales – task/people orientation and tendency to tell/ask (or if you prefer direct/indirect). The intersection of these 2 scales produces the 4 styles of Direct, Influence, Steady, and Conscientiousness (or Compliance).  While DISC is a wonderful first step into human behavior, it is hardly the microscope into human behavior, especially when it comes to job fit, that many people promote.

2. DISC is as old as the ancient Greeks.

Yes, that’s correct. It’s not some new thing that I/O psychologists or consultants recently created.  The DISC model was first proposed by none other than Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine.  And that was in the 4th century B.C. He believed that the body contained four fluids that effected a person’s mood and therefore responsible for different types of behavior. Hippocrates was the first to describe behavior in a systematic way. Thankfully, modern profiling does not rely on measuring the amount of blood, bile, and phlegm in a person to determine their style, but the ideas behind it can be traced back to Hippocrates’ theories.

3. DISC is an observable language.

Despite the popular belief that DISC can reveal an individual’s deepest and darkest inner secrets, it is just not true. To identify someone’s DISC behavioral style, all one needs to do is observe and listen. Each of us has a preferred style that can neatly be described with a characteristic body language and tone. Some styles speak loudly, others softly. Some speak fast, others slow. Some communicate with distinct and expressive movements, while others are subtle and reserved. Even the words people use reveal a person’s behavioral style. Because DISC can be observed, others can be taught how to read another’s DISC style and adapt their communication accordingly in order to be heard and trusted.

4. DISC is a neutral language – no good, bad, best, or worst style.

Another myth associated with DISC is that some styles are better than others.  That is completely untrue. DISC is neutral -it just reveals how an individual prefers to communicate and approach tasks and work. For sure, one style may be a better fit or more comfortable in different situations, but that doesn’t make the person good or bad. Fortunately, behavior can be modified.  DISC is a language just like English, Spanish, Chinese, and French. The more languages you speak, the more opportunities you’ll find . As humans, we can adapt to different experiences and situations when we want to…and then return to our “native” style.  By understanding the principles of DISC one can learn to communicate in his natural style as well as 3 additional behavioral styles.

5. The father of Modern DISC is William Moulton Marston.

While Dr. Marston may not be a household name because of DISC, most people will recognize the character he created -Wonder Woman. Marston was a bit of an eccentric genius and entrepreneur. His “day” job was as a psychologist, lawyer, and inventor. And when not writing his comic, he is credited with creating the systolic blood pressure test, which later became an integral part of the polygraph test. When he published Emotions of Normal People in 1928, he introduced DISC into the mainstream.

6. Walter Clarke developed the 1st DISC assessment.

Clarke too was an industrial psychologist who accidentally created an assessment called the Activity Vector Analysis based on Marston’s theory. He later teamed up with John Cleaver for an improved version which served as the foundation for many of the DISC instruments use today.

Is there one DISC that is better than the other? DId you know that DISC can be used to determine how an employee is motivated?  Those answers will be provided in a follow-up post: 12 Things Every Manager Should Know about DISC-Part 2.

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