DISC is one of the most widely used personality profiling systems in business today. From a simple personality questionnaire, it measures a set of core behavioral factors that can provide vital information about a person's motivations, preferences and working style.
We're often asked questions about DISC, and we've put together this page to help to answer some of the more common queries. Perhaps you're already a DISC user, or perhaps you're interested in what it can do for your organization. Maybe you've just been asked to complete a DISC questionnaire, and you're interested in how it works. Whatever your questions, we hope you'll find some useful answers here.
In its simplest terms, a DISC assessment is a method of producing a picture of a person's personality and behavior. It works by taking the answers to a simple personality questionnaire, and using those answers as a basis for calculating the values four core behavioral factors. Those four factors are known as Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Compliance (and from their initials we derive the name 'DISC').
Producing four factor values is just the start of the story. From those values, and the ways they interact with one another, we can gain a deep understanding of a person's most important behavioral features, as well as their motivations and situations they will prefer to avoid. That can help us predict how a person might behave in different situations, as well as how they will interact with those around them.
Obviously DISC (or any similar assessment system) is limited to the factors it can measure through its personality questionnaire, but it does provide an important piece of the puzzle when assessing how an individual will fit into different working roles or situations.
We use the term 'profile' broadly for the set of four numbers that describe a person's personality style. These four numbers are usually presented in the form of a line graph showing the scores in sequence for Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Compliance. That means that different combinations of factors create distinctive graphical shapes, and it's to these shapes that the word 'profile' is commonly applied. For example, if a person shows particularly strong Dominance and Compliance among their results, they might be said to have a 'DC profile'.
In fact, most DISC systems don't produce a single set of four values, but instead a selection of DISC shapes that relate to different work and life conditions. Taken together, this collection of profile shapes is typically referred to as a person's 'profile series'.
There are lots of possible uses for DISC results. In a commercial setting, DISC is most commonly used as part of a recruitment process, and it's commonplace for candidates to be asked to complete a test. In this kind of situation, the results will usually be used to help judge how well a person matches the needs of a job, but they can also be used for more specific tasks, such as devising behavioral questions for use at interview. More widely, within an organization, DISC can be used as part of various other projects, such as (for example) a regular assessment program, or reviewing the interactions of members within a team.
DISC isn't limited to the business sphere, and there can be many advantages to creating an individual personality profile. This can be interesting and revealing in itself, but it also offers more concrete advantages. Creating a DISC profile like this can be useful in preparing for a job applications, for example, and more broadly it can even suggest career directions that are particularly well suited to a person's individual style.
The acronym 'DISC' comes from the four primary personality factors measured by the system. In fact different systems can use slightly different terms for some of these, but their names always use the same initials that give the system its name. In summary, the four factors are:
These factors are commonly known by their initials D, I, S and C, which are also used to describe certain personality types. For instance, a person who's style is characterized by a particularly strong Steadiness score would be known as a 'High-S' type.
The principles behind DISC originated with the work of psychologist William Moulton Marston during the 1920's, and since then it has undergone considerable development and evaluation. The system has been validated against the standard 16-PF system, and its reliability (that is, its consistency over time and between analyses) has been carefully assessed. For more detail on how the effectiveness of the system is measured, and a full report on the validity and reliability of DISC, follow the link below.
There are variations in the way that DISC tests can be structured and presented, but typically each question will consist of a set of four descriptive words or phrases, from which an individual selects one that describes them most closely, and another that describes them least closely. Most standard DISC tests consist of a set of twenty-four questions like this.
Traditionally, the DISC test was presented as a list of questions on a printed form. There are situations where this approach can still be useful, and it is sometimes used, but it's now much more common to see a DISC test administered on a screen rather than a sheet of paper. Commonly, the test will display one question at a time, from which the 'most' and 'least' responses are selected before moving on to the next question in sequence.
After the test, the responses are used as the basis of a set of calculations to compute a person's DISC factors, and these values go on to form the basis of more sophisticated interpretations.
A standard DISC test consists of just twenty-four questions, and so does not take long to complete: most people can answer all of the questions in about ten minutes. Naturally, there are variations from person to person, so the process may take a little less than this, or a little more, depending on the individual. Ideally, the person completing the test should answer as quickly as they can, rather than take time to analyze each of the options in detail, so while there is no strict time limit, a test will ideally take no longer than about twenty minutes to complete at the most.
In a commercial sense, it's typical for an organization to invite candidates to complete DISC questionnaires and compile the results for themselves. However, you may want to complete the profile for yourself, and indeed it can be extremely useful to read your own DISC report.
There are various services that will allow you to do this online, and indeed you can try a free DISC test. Naturally, being a free service, this DISC test offers only a brief overview of your results, but more extensive profiling options are also available. For example, follow the link below for a much fuller and more comprehensive personal profiling service.
A DISC test is designed to provide an objective assessment of the factors in a personality, so the idea of 'passing' or 'failing' the test cannot really apply. All personality styles have their own particular set of strengths, and none is in any sense 'better' than any other.
To qualify this slightly, it's often the case that DISC profiles will be used as part of a selection process, and as such a recruiter may be looking for a particular personality type to fit a role. In that sense, it's possible for some profiles to come closer to the ideal than others, though the nature of the ideal profile itself might be of almost any type, according to the particular needs of the role.
There's no formal lower age limit on the test, and a DISC questionnaire will typically produce meaningful results for relatively young people. Indeed, because particular DISC profiles tend to point towards certain types of working roles, DISC can be helpful in helping to guide young people towards a particular career path.
However, it is important to bear in mind that younger people are often in the process of developing their personality, and it is not uncommon to see the key factors change and evolve over relatively brief periods of time. For this reason, while DISC can provide some useful and indicative results for younger users, the system is better suited to assessing adults. For those younger than their late teens, we recommend that the results are treated with due caution.
It is often counter-productive for the same person to complete two DISC tests soon after one another. In situations like this, there's a tendency for their recollection of their answers to the earlier test to affect the outcome of the later one, and this can affect the results. For maximum reliability, then, a period of weeks or - ideally - several months should be allowed to pass before repeating the test. There may be situations where a repeat test within this period is unavoidable, and in cases like this, it is recommended to use a different DISC questionnaire to minimize any impact from a person's previously selected answers.
One exception to this is the case of the 'compressed' profile, in which the test was unable to produce meaningful results from a set of answers. There can be various reasons for this outcome, but a common case is that the individual concerned has failed to understand the test mechanism, and so their answers could not be compiled into a useful profile. In cases like this, a retest is usually the only recourse, after first ensuring that the individual in question has a more complete understanding of how the questions should be answered.
In general, it's not essential to be trained in interpreting DISC results. That's not to say that a certain level of expertise is needed to make sense of the different profile shapes, but in general automated DISC systems will take care of this, providing meaningful analyses without relying on any specialist knowledge from the user.
Naturally, though, the more you understand the workings of DISC, the more you'll be able to gain from the results, so while training - or at least a degree of background knowledge - tends not to be essential, it can certainly be advantageous. Lots of background material is available to help you gain this knowledge online, such as the Understanding DISC reference guide. If you want to investigate even more deeply, then online training is available, as for example through the link below.
The process of interpretation, as in taking a person's answers to a DISC test and converting them to usable profile results, is theoretically relatively complex. Fortunately, this isn't a step that a user needs to manage for themselves, as automated systems can take care of the relevant calculations and present the results directly.
Interpretation in the broader sense, as in deriving meaning from calculated results, is a rather deeper question. Users who are familiar with DISC will be able to immediately pick out certain common characteristics, but for less expert users, sophisticated interpretation systems are capable of producing meaningful explanations of the results in clear and accessible language, without the need for any advanced understanding of the DISC system.
Experienced DISC users can immediately grasp the nature of common personality types simply by looking at the shape of a DISC graph, but to do this needs a great deal of familiarity and practice. More practically for most users, automated analysis tools are common, and these can take the raw results of a test and provide additional levels of interpretation. At the higher levels, this can involve an dedicated expert system analyzing and interpreting the results in accessible language. It's also relatively common to see multiple different types of DISC reports, providing additional levels of assessment in specific areas of interest.
For most people, the basic trends of their personality remain relatively stable, but there can be situations that cause this to change. An obvious and important example is the working environment, and it's not unusual for an individual to feel a need to present a different aspect of their personality. The DISC assessment in fact contains a technique to help to identify such variations, using variations in a person's answers to tease out two separate DISC profiles. One of these relates to the way a person feels that they should present themselves, while the other represents an underlying, more natural style.
It's often the case that these two profiles show very little difference between them, implying that the personality remains consistent across different situations. Equally, it's not uncommon to see some distinct differences between the two, showing that a person feels a need to emphasize different features of their personality in a working situation. It's common, for example, for individuals to present themselves as having lower Steadiness (that is, as being more responsive and flexible) in a work context than might be natural to their underlying style. In the rarer cases where the variations are really extreme, these kinds of 'shifts' (as they are called) can point to potential problems, and the particular factors involved can help to identify the situation causing this variation.
This depends on the individual and their situation, but it is certainly possible. Individual personalities tend to develop and evolve over time, and so therefore do the DISC profiles that describe them. There a numerous different factors that can drive change like this, but one common cause is that a person will simply adapt over time to the demands of their current circumstances. For example, a person who finds themselves in a role that requires frequent communication with others might see their Influence factor become more prominent, while someone who finds themselves needing make decisions or direct others may see an increase in their Dominance factor. Of course, there are a host of other factors that might influence personal change like this, but this is one relatively common trend.
Usually, when a person completes a DISC test, their answers will follow consistent trends that allow us to assess the underlying factors, but this isn't always the case. Occasionally, a sequence of answers can't be compiled into a meaningful personality profile. The result is a relatively flat line running across the center of a DISC graph, a situation described as a 'compressed profile', in which none of the factors stand out sufficiently for a meaningful assessment.
There can be various reasons behind this kind of effect, and probably the most common is simple confusion; that is, the person answering the questions failed to understand how the test worked. This is a situation easily remedied by repeating the test, and indeed a repeat test is recommended in situations where a compressed profile appears.
In a small number of cases, a compressed profile can actually reflect a true effect in the personality. For example, if someone truly feels that the kind of personality they should project is entirely at odds with their natural style, then this can cause a compressed result. In this kind of situation, a full assessment isn't possible, but we're often able to derive enough detail from the results to estimate what may lie behind the issue.
The underlying DISC system itself doesn't specify particular color relations for the four factors, but it is convenient to be able to represent DISC factors with recognisable colors, and it's common for each factor to be shown in its own specific color. Because the core DISC theory doesn't specify these colors, they can vary from application to application, though a typical scheme would be as follows:
In any kind of general sense, there is no ideal personality type. Each of the DISC factors in a profile, wherever they fall on the scale, will bring with them a specific set of strengths and a corresponding set of disadvantages. What this means in practice is that an individual with a personality that's particularly effective in some situations will tend to find themselves ill-equipped to deal with different sets of circumstances, and this applies to all different personality types.
In practice, however, particularly where DISC is being used as part of a selection process, there may be a set of ideal styles in play. In this kind of situation, a particular style or set of styles might be chosen to define the best kinds of approach for a particular role, and in that specific sense some profiles will represent better matches than others. In case like this, though, the ideal isn't a fixed personality type, but will vary according to the particular definitions relevant to the role in question.
The kinds of personality features classically associated with leadership (such as decisiveness, drive, and personal motivation) are aspects of the DISC factor of Dominance, and in this sense Dominant personality styles are those that match the conventional view of a 'leader' in a broad sense. In practice, however, the effectiveness of a leader will depend on the needs of the people they are leading, and how well suited they are to meet those needs. For specific groups, it may be more important for a leader to show patience, for example, or demonstrate strong communication skills. In this broader sense, there is no such thing as an ideal 'leader' profile that fits all possible situations.
Profiles showing high Steadiness and high Compliance are approximately equal as the most common profile shape, and in fact show little significant difference between them in these terms. (Steadiness is a factor relating to an accepting and patient attitude, while Compliance describes a person who is exacting and cautious in their approach.) It's also very common to see these two factors combined in a single profile, and in fact combined Steadiness and Compliance is the single most common DISC profile shape.
Of the four simple factors, DISC profiles showing high Dominance and no other factors tend to be the rarest among the population as a whole. In general, more complex profile shapes also tend to be less common, so even rarer than a pure High-D profile would be a shape showing (for example) high Dominance, Influence and Compliance in combination.
Certain kinds of personalities are clearly better suited to certain roles than others (the kind of person that makes an assertive and dynamic direct salesperson, for example, would not be expected to work as effectively in an administrative or supportive role). Creating a DISC profile helps us to formalize part of this equation by describing an individual's personality, but can we do the same for a particular role? In fact, we can, by creating a 'job profile' that describes ideal behavioral factors for a particular job or job function).
A job profile uses the same four factors as a standard DISC assessment, and is often created in the same way (typically by using a specialized questionnaire). It gives us a template for a role, against which we can compare the DISC results of individuals to judge how well their personalities suit the role's needs. Indeed, because we're comparing the same factors, it's even possible to look in detail at the specific ways in which an individual fits a job well, as well as those where they may experience difficulties.
It's critical to note that this entire process is restricted to specific features of personality. There are many other questions that bear on a person's suitability for a given role (with training and skills being obvious examples) but a 'job match' like this can provide a useful part of a fuller set of insights.
A 'working style' is a shorthand term describing the way that person tends to approach their work, looked at here in terms such as motivation, dedication, reliability, personal drive and responsibility, and so on. While the term might also encompass features that aren't strictly part of the personality, there's clearly a great deal of overlap between the two concepts, and for that reason a DISC type can, in large part, describe a particular working style.
This is the case for individual personality profiles, which allow us to anticipate specific questions (such as how responsive a person will be to events, for example, or how willing they'll be to take charge of a situation). The same point applies in the abstract, so that we can describe the kind of qualities we'd ideally wish to see in a particular job function or role, and we can use that information to compare actual individual personalities to see how their styles match against a theoretical optimum.
One of the most useful features of DISC is the way that it can be used to assess working relationships, and we can approach questions of leadership as special case of such a relationship. An especially useful approach is to use DISC to create a model of a team and its leader, and compare the results. In this way, for example, we can see what a group is looking for in their leader, and how effective the leader's personality is at meeting those needs (and, conversely, how well a team will match its leader's expectations). In this way, it's possible to use a DISC analysis to identify areas where leadership can be improved and developed to help a team reach its optimum performance.
As well as assessing a specific leader's attitude and approach, DISC can also be used in a more abstract way to find leaders best suited to particular circumstances. The leader of (for example) a sales team will need quite different qualities to the leader of an administrative group, and we can use DISC to identify the most effective leaders in a way that's tailored to particular circumstances like this.
Classically, a specific DISC profile shape is often described as the ideal for a 'sales' profile. This ideal shape shows a high Dominance score and a high Influence score, combining a forceful and competitive attitude with natural openness and communication. This ideal profile also typically shows low Steadiness and low Compliance, granting a sense of both dynamism and self-reliance.
This ideal sales profile gives a useful illustration of how different factors can work together, but in fact it represents only a rather specific type of sales profile, relating to a person working independently in direct sales. There are in fact many different kinds of sales roles, and each of those roles will require their own combination of factors. As an example, a salesperson working in a retail setting, or from a call center, will need a quite different approach. In this sense there is no single ideal 'salesperson' profile, but rather an array of different profiles suited to different kinds of sales work.
Hiring or recruitment is probably the major area where DISC is used, in a commercial sense. There are obvious advantages in being able to understand how well a person is likely to fit into a role, and into an organization's culture, before hiring them. More than that, DISC can help to guide the recruitment process itself to some extent, for example suggesting avenues for investigation during an interview. Even after a successful hire, DISC be useful in integrating a new member into an existing team, and finding their optimum role.
Of course, none of this is to suggest that DISC can provide all this on its own. As a personality assessment, its scope is necessarily limited to that field, and in practice the insights it provides will need to be fitted into the broader hiring process at each stage.
In a commercial setting, selection is in fact the most common application of DISC assessment. Of course, personality profiling by itself only forms a part of the network of techniques needed for effective selection, it can provide invaluable assistance in identifying the most promising candidates for a role. After identifying key personality features needed for success, DISC profiles for each candidate can be used to detect how closely they match these ideal requirements, and that brings an obvious advantage to the selection process. This application has the added benefit of being entirely objective, based on pre-determined criteria rather than personal judgment.
Naturally, a decision as far-reaching as the choice of a career has many different aspects to it. Personality is only one of these aspects, but it is an important one, and DISC can help to ensure that a chosen career path will be as motivating and rewarding as possible.
In practical terms, we can use DISC to match a person's individual profile against those for a whole range of different careers and roles in order to find those options that potentially suit a set of individual needs as closely as possible. Naturally, DISC can't provide a career selection on its own, but using this kind of approach can help to narrow and prioritize the available options.
DISC can be as useful in assessment of existing staff as it can in recruitment or career development. It can provide an objective and quantifiable assessment of an individual's attitude to their role, as a vital supplement to other aspects of performance review. By defining the role in DISC terms as well as the person, it's possible to gain insights into those areas where a person feels motivated and engaged by their work, and those areas where some kind of adjustment will be helpful. This kind of periodic review of individual DISC profiles can be crucial in helping to anticipate and identify potential problems before they begin to impact performance.
DISC can be used in a group setting on two different levels. The first of these is probably the more intuitive: by creating DISC profiles of individuals within a team, we interpret the dynamics in their relationships to see how they will likely fit within the team as a whole. Indeed, we can take this further and investigate the kinds of roles each member is best suited to in a team setting. A specialized case of this applies to the team's leader, and we can use additional layers of assessment to help identify a leader's style, and the ways that the leader will interact with the other members of their team.
At the next level, we can combine the profiles of individual members to create a single profile describing the team as a whole. This is an analogue of a DISC profile known as a 'team profile', showing four 'team factors' that derive from the underlying DISC factors of its members. So, for example, a team with many high-Dominance individuals is rated as having high 'Direction', because of the decisive and driving nature of such individuals.
DISC can indeed be used to understand relationships, or at least those aspects of relationships that have their roots in personality factors. If we take the DISC profiles for two individuals, then the factors in those profiles will tend to interact with each other following predictable patterns (patterns we call 'DISC dynamics'). We can in principle use these dynamics to understand the personality forces at work in any relationship between any two individuals.