What does DISC measure?

As I’ve said in previous posts, one of the assessments I use when teaching emotional intelligence is the DISC Assessment, but I often get the question, What does DISC measure?  If you’re not familiar with DISC, or even if you are, what follows is a background on the DISC language.

Essentially, DISC is a behavioral assessment that measures our tendencies in four key areas:

    • How we respond to problems
    • The ways we influence people
    • Our preferred pace
    • The way we respond to procedures

That’s the short answer for the question, “What does DISC measure,” but if you’re wondering why we call it DISC, a brief history lesson will help.

Let’s go back to 400 BC, when a guy named Hippocrates – you may have heard of him – observed four main behavioral styles. Six hundred years later, a Roman philosopher named Galen made the same observation of four behavioral styles. But it wasn’t until the 1920’s that a professor at Columbia University named William Marston found a scientific way to determine people’s predominant style.

He did this by creating two perpendicular axes.  Essentially, one was for how people deal with risk.  At one end he placed people who were more bold or outgoing, and comfortable making higher-risk decisions.  The other end was for people who were more reserved, preferring to take their time with risky decisions.

The second axis was a Task / People spectrum.  One end was for people who focused more on tasks, while the other end was for those who were focusing more on people.

When Marston did a perpendicular overlay of these two spectra, he noticed each quadrant had a predominant behavioral characteristic.

In the quadrant for those are task-focused and more bold, Marston observed their predominate characteristic was Dominating problems.  Whenever these people were faced with a problem, they wanted to solve it right away – in other words, dominate the problem.

What does DISC measureFor those who are more outgoing but focused more on people, Marston observed their predominant characteristic to be Influencing People. If they had an opinion about something, they wanted to share it.

For those who focused more on people but were more reserved and took their time with risky decisions, he found their predominant characteristic to be a Steady Pace. They didn’t like a lot of change, and were a stabilizing factor on teams. They were steady.

And, for those preferred taking time with risky decisions but focused more on tasks, their predominant characteristic was Complying with procedures.  They wanted to understand and follow the rules.

With this, Marston created the Acrostic DISCDominate problems, Influence people, maintain a Steady pace, and Comply with procedures.

And that’s why we call it DISC. So in the future, if someone ever asks you, “What does DISC measure?” you can answer with confidence.

By the way, it helps to remember the alliteration of Problems, People, Pace, and Procedures. Then just fill in the DISC words as you go.

Finally, you should know that there’s no “good” or “bad” in DISC.  Your preferred style can be more effective or less effective in given situations, but there’s no good/bad.  Your DISC preferences is just that – the way you are wired and prefer to behave in the face of problems, people, pace, and procedures.

NOTE:  Daniel Bobinski is certified in DISC and has been teaching it for nearly 30 years. If you would like to get DISC Assessments or DISC training for yourself or for your team, just contact us at info@eqfactor.net.  

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