Why Understanding DISC Matters in the Workplace
Every day while driving we are faced with a decision – to hit the gas or step on the brake when the green light turns to yellow.
Likewise each April we are required to file our tax returns. And every April 15 hundreds of thousands of people rush to the post office with their tax returns in hand trying to beat the midnight deadline. It’s not like the arrival of April 15 isn’t predictable. Everyone knows that it arrives every 365th day – like it or not.
So why is it that so many people wait until the last minute when they know the deadline won’t pass and the penalties are stiff for ignoring it? And why do some people try to beat the red light while others cautiously slow down?
One answer lies in DISC behavioral styles. A very popular profile test uses the letters D-I-S-C to describe four different styles, or individual preferences. The “C” is one style and it describes the behavior of people who are energized with “complying” by rules set by other people vs those who prefer to write their own rules.
As individuals energized by Compliance tend to file taxes early and slow down on yellow, low C individuals tend to demonstrate their independence by challenging the deadline (and the light) and testing the rules. The low “C” may file a tax extension even if they are owed money while the high “C” may file early when they owe the government money. Regardless if an individual is high “C” or low “C,” the job will get done – each individual will just do it differently according to their preferred DISC style.
How does the high C/low C scenario play out at work?
Let’s say an office meeting is scheduled for 8:00 AM. High C people set their alarm a few minutes early on the day of the meeting – just in case the traffic is bad. In fact, they may set two alarms. You never know when you might sleep through the first one. They arrive in the office fifteen minutes early. They are usually the first to arrive. They make the coffee and clean up the counter, fill their coffee cups and are in their seats waiting for the others to arrive at least five minutes before the top of the hour.
Middle or situational Cs also may set their alarms early. But hitting the snooze button one time won’t hurt. In fact, they might have even set the clock a few minutes fast just to fake themselves out. They leave their home fifteen minutes before 8:00 AM. Of course it takes twelve minutes on a good day to get to work on time. On this day, they arrive just a minute or two early but stop off in the break room to re-fill their coffee cups before joining the meeting. They enter the meeting room “around 8” to the chagrin of the high Cs who were ready to begin promptly at eight.
The meeting begins. Noticeably missing are a few key employees. These empty seats of course belong to low Cs. These individuals had all intentions of leaving home early and being on time. Unfortunately, they woke up just a few minutes late after hitting the snooze one too many times. Then they forgot it was garbage day. The dog needed to be walked – and of course, Fido decided to take a long walk this day. And where oh where did those car keys go? Finally they arrive at the meeting at 8:23. Hey, what’s twenty minutes or so when the real discussion doesn’t ever start right away. “Sorry I’m late”, they say and then go on to describe why they are late this time. You can just picture the glares and disgust directed at them from the high Cs.
Why does style matter?
How people respond to the rules and procedures at work (and in life) is just one of the many causes of interpersonal conflicts. When you pit individuals who believe everything should run by clockwork with those who believe it’s more important to enjoy every minute and not count them, the focus shifts from how effective is the performance to how the job is accomplished. It now becomes personal.
Interpersonal conflict is not productive and organizations can ill afford even a minute of non- productivity these days. Although differences in behavioral styles are a primary cause of workplace conflict, the truth about behaviors is that there is no right or wrong style – there are just different styles. When different people approach work differently, sometimes they simply get on other people’s nerves. (Want to have fun? Just re-arrange the desk of a high C.)
Organizations today are finding it more and more difficult to locate enough people who have the skills to do a job. What they can ill afford is to hire people who are qualified but then get upset when they do the job differently than “the way we do things around here”. The result of differing work styles is stress between the employee and others, and between the employee and the requirements of the job. More often than not this ends up in the individual leaving the organization voluntarily or involuntarily, but not after a lot of unnecessary tension and hard feelings.
Understanding an employee’s work style or how he or she prefers to respond to problems (D), people (I), pace (S) and procedures (C) is essential for job satisfaction, job retention, and productivity. Profit margins in today’s world have no room for losses due to low morale, turnover, and ineffective activities and people. Mismatching employees to the jobs and teams is avoidable and placing the right people in the right positions is no longer best left to chance.