The DISC Test is an Assessment, It’s not a Test

When I hear people talk about the DISC Assessment, I often hear them say things like: “Hey, how'd you come out on that test?” I really don't like that type of reference to the DISC model. While I understand the question, it makes me cringe a little bit because it's not really an accurate way to talk about the DISC assessment.

Here's why it bothers me…

We use tests to find out what you know or don't know. We also use them to figure out what is good or bad about something. We use assessments to learn about a perspective or way of thinking.

Tests have right and wrong answers. Assessments just have answers that are neither right nor wrong.

The DISC Assessment is an assessment. It is not a test.

It might sound like I'm making a point based solely on semantics, and that it doesn't really matter that much. I think the difference is critically important.

When people see the DISC assessment as a test, they tend to get nervous or over-think it because they don't want to get it “wrong.”

It's really an assessment. It has no right or wrong answers. You cannot pass or fail the assessment. Answering the questions only indicates a person's view or perspective. There is no way to get it wrong.

Talking about the DISC profile as a test gravitates towards stereotyping, labeling, and other negative applications. I can't stop people from labeling, stereotyping and judging others based on the results of a DISC assessment report, and I do not want to promote that approach for applying the information.

I would rather use the DISC model as a way to better understand people so that we can build healthier and more productive relationships. With that idea in mind, I prefer to call it a DISC assessment rather than a DISC test.

All of this discussion begs a question: “Why do you call your site DISC Personality Testing when you would prefer to call it an assessment?”

The answer is really pretty practical. It's based on how the world actually works than on how I would prefer that it work.

When people talk about the DISC model, they usually call it the “DISC test.” I live in a world where that is the common language even though I don't personally prefer it.

I have also learned that I have to first connect with a person the way they speak rather than insist on them speaking the way that I do. Then, after we have built a trusting relationship, I might get the opportunity to share my perspective with them. I work on connecting with people the way that they are likely to best hear me and then hope that we can have a conversation that leads to both of us understanding each other's perspective in a better way.

So, as a nod to practicality, I call my site DISC Personality Testing so that we can make that first connection with people rather than call it DISC Personality Assessments and miss the chance to talk at all.

Use the Right Style at the Right Time


Every stage of team development has different characteristics. These different characteristics mean that every stage calls for leaders to behave in different ways to support team growth.

In From Bud to Boss, Kevin Eikenberry and I reference the Tuckman Model of team development as a useful tool for understanding what is happening in your team at each stage of development as it moves from a group of individuals working in the same location to a high-performing team working towards a common goal.  The four stages of team development – in order – are Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing

We also reference the DISC model as a useful tool for understanding both yourself and others so that you can adjust your communication style for maximum effectiveness. The DISC model is based on recognizing and adapting to both pace (faster or slower) and priority (tasks or relationships) differences between people. The four DISC styles are Dominant (faster pace and task priority), Inspiring (faster pace and relationship priority), Supportive (slower pace and relationship priority), and Cautious (slower pace and task priority).

By combining the models you can gain insights for how to best lead your team through each of the four stages. You will use many different leadership behaviors at all stages of team development. And, based on where your team is at a given time, you can focus your efforts for maximum effectiveness.

In the Forming stage, your team will likely exhibit polite, cautious behaviors and look to you for strong guidance and direction. Team members do not yet know exactly what is expected of them as they work together. While many of the concerns at this stage are related to relationship development, you can often help them best by giving clarity about what needs to get done. You can use Dominant behaviors – directing activities, setting goals, and solving problems – to help your team gain the clarity and direction they need to grow from a group of individuals to a high-performing team.

In the Storming stage, your team might experience conflicts and struggles. This is a very dangerous phase of team development because relationships can be irreparably harmed by conflicts, relationship struggles, and wrestling with organizational issues. To navigate these rough waters, you can use Cautious behaviors – asking thoughtful questions, carefully evaluating information, and developing processes – to guide your team on to the next stage of development.

As your team enters the Norming stage, they will focus more on task accomplishment and less on interpersonal issues. There might still be a few left-over relationship issues to resolve and some gentle guidance to offer to keep them growing. You can use Supportive behaviors – offering reassurance, encouraging, and listening – to solidify the team growth gains you made in the previous two stages.

Finally, your team moves into the Performing stage. They are pretty self-sufficient. They know what needs to be done and how to do it. They are almost totally focused on goal achievement. Now, you can use Inspiring behaviors – enthusiasm, cheerleading, and celebrating – to keep your team’s energy up for the long haul.

The suggestions I offer here are targeted at maximizing your leadership effectiveness based on the stage of team development by tying your leadership behaviors to an objective model. Use these suggestions to identify what your team needs from you at each stage.

With individuals, you need to adjust to their particular style without regard to the team’s stage of development.

photo credit: gfpeck via photopin cc

Using the DISC Model: Four Steps to Success with Others

The video pretty much says it all for this post. It quickly gives you four steps for applying the DISC model for success with others.

In a nutshell, the four steps are…

  1. Understand the DISC model
  2. Understand your style (where you fit in the model).
  3. Understand the other person's style (where they fit in the model).
  4. Adjust your words, behaviors, and tone to best fit how they receive information.

The video is about 7 minutes long.

If you would like insights for how to apply these four steps better, you can check out my Connecting With People and DISC Model FAQ's post series. For even deeper insights, check out my products. If you really want to master these four steps, take a look at The Ultimate Communicator Workshop.

Applying the DISC Model: Breaking Through A Common Frustration

Today, I led a DISC communication skills workshop that ended with a role-play exercise to allow participants the opportunity to practice the skills we had been discussing.

For many of the people in the class, this was their first in-depth exposure to the DISC model and how to use it to more effectively communicate with others. The class was lively, engaged, and energetic with everyone in the room displaying a highly positive approach to learning. And, the role-play exercise brought to the surface a common frustration many people feel as they learn to apply the concepts I teach for becoming a better communicator.

As people attempted to “put on” the style of another person during the role-play, many of them felt awkward. Their role-play partners sensed this awkwardness. As a result, the participants attempts to connect with people with a different natural behavior style actually decreased the connection between them rather than increasing it.

They were frustrated. I was encouraged.

I was encouraged because they were making a genuine effort to connect with other people in a way that would make the recipient of the communication attempt feel most comfortable. Even though the results were not all that great initially, the effort to bridge the difference gap encouraged me.

They saw their efforts as failures. I saw their efforts as natural parts of the learning process.

A model for learning I often use speaks of learning happening in four stages:

  1. Unconscious incompetence
    The “I don't know that I don't know” stage.
  2. Conscious incompetence
    The “I realize that I don't know something” stage.
  3. Conscious competence
    The “I understand how to do this, and I have to think about it to make it work” stage.
  4. Unconscious competence
    The “this has become natural to me and I don't have to think about it any more” stage.

In attempting to apply the learning from the session, they were confronted with both the difficulty and awkwardness of learning to apply a new skill.

When I talked with them about the skills and they asked me questions, my answers seemed rather simple and effortless to them. For me, the answers were simple and effortless. In many situations, I have achieved (after much struggle and many failures) the unconscious competence level of learning for this material.

They are at the uncomfortable level of learning somewhere between conscious incompetence and conscious competence.

To break through this frustration, I encouraged them to keep at it even though the communication approach felt odd. I also encouraged them to seek feedback from other people about how their communication efforts were progressing. For example, I told people with Dominant traits to seek feedback from people with Supportive traits and vice-versa.

If you want to master using the DISC model to become a better communicator, I encourage you to do the same thing. Keep practicing and getting feedback on your efforts. You will eventually break through the awkwardness of trying to put on another person's communication style to the comfort of authentically communicating by understanding their communication style.