At the heart of all we do at Teleos is self-awareness. Without self-awareness, it is difficult to self-manage, understand the emotions of others and skillfully manage relationships. Self-awareness is also important because it gives us choice – choice about how we “do” ourselves in different environments. Tasha Eurich, a leading researcher on self-awareness, outlines the seven pillars of self-awareness in her book, Insight, which is based on her extensive research. One of the key pillars that she asserts is essential to knowing oneself is what she dubs, “patterns” – that is habits of thinking, feeling and behaving that typify our internal processes and how we show up with others. Frameworks that identify our specific temperament or personality can help us to identify our particular patterns. And, one of my very favorite constructs for self-reflection on personal “patterns” is the DISC behavior styles framework which is increasingly being used in organizations today.
The DISC framework is essentially a way of understanding temperament or innate behavior style and disposition. It helps us understand, why, in the exact same situation, two people have two very different behavioral instincts. For example, in a conflict situation, why does one person gear up for battle and another retreat into hiding? DISC helps us to understand different inborn temperaments that impact our “go-to” behaviors. This four temperaments theory has roots in ancient Greece (sanguine, melancholy, choleric, phlegmatic) and was even used in Hippocrates’ medical theories. But, the theory we know and use today was developed by a Harvard Psychologist, William Marston, who was, interestingly, also the creator of the character Wonder Woman.
The DISC theory plots people along two axes, their tendency to orient more towards tasks or towards people and their inclination to be more outgoing or more reserved. From these two axes, the four temperaments or behavior styles emerge, providing a framework that is increasingly being used to promote self-awareness and interpersonal understanding in organizations. Though Myers-Briggs and the Big 5 personality trait model dominate the scholarly research, DISC is quickly taking precedence over these tools in the workplace which I attribute to the following reasons:
- Simplicity – As a temperament/personality assessment aficionado, I have studied Myers-Briggs (MBTI) backwards and forwards and have been in many conversations asking someone about their experience with the MBTI. And, the conversations generally have gone something like this…”I think I’m an ERNZ…I can’t really remember?”, including letters that are definitely NOT in the MBTI! Conversely, those same conversations I’ve had with people who participated in the DISC workshop have gone very differently. People often remember the DISC tool, their preferred temperament and how it helped them very clearly, sometimes years after the original workshop. A big part of this is due to the fact that it has four basic styles instead of 16 personalities and therefore is easy to understand, remember and apply back in their workplace or social environment.
- Temperament not Personality – Secondly, DISC is a framework for understanding temperament, which is a foundational disposition and way of behaving in the world as opposed to a tool for assessing personality. Personality is what is built on top of temperament by our family system, environment and other very influential shaping forces in our lives. Understanding one’s personality can be very helpful and interesting in certain contexts but the four temperament theory is more foundational and therefore, people tend to identify with their “style” more so than with the MBTI or Big 5 whose many scales leave more room for variability.
- It’s about Behavior Not Internal Processes – Finally, DISC is gaining ground over other workplace assessments because it is based on behavior styles, which are observable, and not on internal processes. Conversely, the MBTI’s Sensing-Intuition or Thinking-Feeling scales gauge one’s preference for taking in information and making decisions two fairly abstract concepts. Those scales are definitely interesting but not always super helpful in the context of the modern workplace. Being able to observe a person’s behavior and apply techniques to work with them more easily based on that observed behavior, however, is much more helpful to getting work done.
Now that I have made the case for DISC as the tool of choice for the modern workforce, stay tuned for my DISC blog series where I will typify each of the styles and provide tips for effectively relating to each one.