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.

Data Tells and Stories Sell

StoryEarly in my career, I worked in the plastics industry as a process and product development engineer. At the time, I had a degree in chemical engineering, and I had just completed service as a nuclear engineering officer in the U.S. Navy. I had a pretty good technical background, and I knew almost nothing about polymers.

This lack of knowledge created a bit of a problem for me. I really struggled to understand why we did some of the things we did to modify our products and processes.

To help me understand, one of my mentors shared technical data with me that described all sorts of chemical and physical concepts of polymers. It was nice. It helped a little. And I still struggled to connect all of the information to our practical applications.

One day, I went to him with my frustration, and he told me that I could think of polymers like a bowl of spaghetti with sauce on it. The different noodle lengths are like the different molecule sizes and the sauce is like one of the things we added to make the polymer easier to process.

With that physical representation in mind, I immediately had a clear way of thinking about, and remembering, some basic concepts of polymer chemistry. I called it the “spaghetti bowl model of polymer interaction.”

In that moment, my mentor converted abstract data into a mental picture that I could see when I needed to remember some basic polymer chemistry concepts. He converted facts – molecular weight, frictional coefficients, and molecular entanglement – into a story with a picture – spaghetti and sauce in a bowl. He successfully applied a concept captured in a phrase that I later learned from a sales trainer:  “Data tells and stories sell.”

When I was a new leader, I quickly learned the practicality of this concept as I learned how to persuade others to take actions that they did not necessarily want to take. In many of my first attempts at persuasion, I relied primarily on logic and reason. I thought that I could persuade people to take action if I could help them to understand the logical basis for my request. As I applied logic, I sometimes slipped into coercion rather than persuasion.

You can probably predict the outcome from most of these efforts: failure. I frequently got arguments and push-back from people and little or no real cooperation.

Eventually, the lesson of the spaghetti bowl analogy for polymer chemistry became clear to me – converting data and logic into stories and analogies dramatically improves the persuasive power of any presentation.

When you make presentations of any kind, whether they are one-to-one or one-to-many, remember this concept. Find ways to convert your ideas and concepts into stories and analogies that people can easily relate to and remember. Do this one thing, and you will improve the odds that people “buy” your ideas and take action on them.

Emotions are the Greatest Barrier to Change


I often say that facts dictate the need for change and emotions create the barrier to it. The issue of understanding and addressing the emotional factors that slow change efforts – both organizational and personal – appears in many ways across the landscape of change management and behavior change literature.

Changing from one way of doing things (behavior) to a different one always involves loss, and loss triggers powerful negative emotions. It is these negative emotions that you must understand and address to successfully influence change.

Previously, I wrote about the power that having a weight loss goal had in driving my choices with regard to diet and exercise. Even though I had a weight goal in mind at the time of that change, the greatest barrier I faced in achieving it were the emotions triggered by the “loss” of some of my favorite foods.

I really like cheese, chocolate, and a long list of other relatively high fat, high calorie foods. I knew that I would survive quite well if I chose to eat less of them and to eat more broccoli, oranges, apples, and asparagus instead. While I like broccoli, oranges, apples, and asparagus, none of them gives me the emotional satisfaction of cheese or chocolate.

My weight (a fact) drives the need for change. An emotion – a grilled cheese sandwich makes me feel better than a turkey or grilled vegetable sandwich – was the barrier to change.  To overcome this emotional barrier, I had to anticipate these emotional responses and protect myself in advance. For example, my wife and I made (and continue to make) as many eating choices as possible before we are hungry by keeping less cheese and more cheese alternatives in our house.

The leadership lesson is this – emotions are often fickle, transitory, and situational. They are usually difficult to overcome in-the-moment, and they often create unpredictable behaviors.

To maximize the speed of change implementation and to create an environment that reinforces and supports change efforts, remember both the points about goal setting that I raised previously and these points about protecting you and the people around you from the emotional side of change:

  • Anticipate the emotions that the change might trigger. Before you communicate about a change, think how others might view it. What are they losing? What will it cost them? During the change, listen for the emotions people express in addition to the facts that they bring to your attention.
  • Make it easier to do things the new way. Do everything you can to remove physical barriers people face to do things the new way. Physical barriers will trigger negative emotional reactions.
  • Create barriers to using old behaviors. If people can do things the old way, they probably will. Create physical barriers to using old procedures and practices.
  • Create specific steps – actions – to get and keep the change moving. Develop support mechanisms and reminders to help people when they are confronted with short-term distractions and a desire to “do things the old way.”

Both the facts and the emotions are important elements in driving changed behavior. Ignore either one, and your change effort will fail.

Your Now Step: What changes are you trying to make? What emotions do those changes create? Think through the issues and situations where strong emotions could derail your change efforts. Write them down. In the next 24 hours, do something to protect you and your team from those emotional responses.

photo credit: Barbed wire for SNIPS via photopin (license)

Three Ways to Deal with an Angry Person


How do you like dealing with an angry person?

If you're like most of the people I know, you hate it. And, you occasionally have to do it.

While some people seem to have a knack for helping others “back off the edge,” most people feel at least a little bit nervous or apprehensive about these situations. I happen to be one of those people.

In my effort to master this skill, I have learned that having pre-planned strategies often helps me to keep my cool and to manage the situation more calmly.

If you're like me, and you really don't have a natural gift for handling situations where other people are angry, here are three pre-planned strategies you can use to navigate tense, angry conversations more skillfully…

Shift to the Future

When emotions get elevated, it is tempting to engage in long conversations about what the other person said or did or to explain what you said or did. Resist that urge. A little deviation towards what has already happened might help to set the context for future conversation, and diving deeply into a discussion about the past tends to…

  • Focus on blame and fault-finding
  • Create a feeling of powerlessness

When you shift the conversation towards the future you can focus the conversation on…

  • Solutions
  • Positive actions

The key point here is that you can learn from the past, you don't want to live there.

One strategy you can use to apply this concept is to move the conversation to what you would like the person to DO in the FUTURE using The Power of  AND. A statement might sound like this…

“The next time this situation develops, I would like to see _____ happen.”

Relieve the pressure

People have a strong need to be heard and understood. As a result, when they get a chance to say what they are thinking or feeling, they often feel less threatened. When you can help a person to feel less threatened, their anger will tend to ease

I call one strategy you can use to apply this idea the “Anything Else?” Strategy. It could be applied like this…

You listen to the person's immediate concern or complaint fully, and you say “anything else?”, and then you let them talk until they naturally decompress. You can repeat the general idea with some variation. For example, “Is that everything that is frustrating you?” In most cases, you won't need to repeat more than 2 or 3 times to relieve their emotional pressure. Then, they are ready to engage in a different, less angry discussion.

Acknowledge the perspective

At the risk of being redundant, I'll repeat what I said above. People have a strong need to be heard and understood. When you show that you understand how or what they think or feel, you help them to lower their anger level. Here's an important point: You do NOT have to agree with them. You only need to show that you hear an understand them.

Here's one way you could convey that you both hear and understand their perspective…

“It sounds like you are feeling ____. You know, if I were you, I would feel the same way.”

In most cases you'll probably need to use more than one strategy in a tense situation. Here's what a statement would sound like if you combined Acknowledge the Perspective and Shift to the Future…

“I now understand that you meant no disrespect and that you were frustrated at the time. If I were you, I probably would have been frustrated, too. And, if it's okay with you, I'd like to discuss how we can address these issues better in the future.”

If you look carefully at that statement, you'll see that I slipped in a fourth tactic – Ask Permission to change the topic or direction of the conversation.

As always, I have to add the caveat that none of these strategies is perfect. They have their limitations and liabilities. There are situations where they will work beautifully, and there are situations where they will be disastrous. It's possible that a tactic will work in one situation with a person and wreak havoc on a different day in a different situation with the same person.

To use them well, you do need to develop the finesse and ability “read” a conflict situation so that you can adapt and adjust to the specific circumstances.

I have found that building a large repertoire of pre-planned strategies can help you stay cool, calm, and collected in even the most heated situations. Take these ideas, add them to your conflict communication tool box, and keep practicing.

Three Communication Strategies Guaranteed to Irritate Others


In workshops and coaching conversations, I receive many questions about the right way to communicate an idea. Sadly, I cannot define the absolutely, most correct, “right” way to communicate an idea – particularly if the idea is communicated during a conflict conversation. I can, however, identify several definitively wrong ways to do it. In today’s post, I’m going to share three communication strategies that are virtually guaranteed to irritate other people, and I’ll tell you what to do instead.

If you really want to irritate another person, use these three “I” communication strategies*…

Insinuation – to say (something, especially something bad or insulting) in an indirect way

Innuendo – a statement which indirectly suggests that someone has done something immoral, improper, etc.

Implication – something that is suggested without being said directly

When you look closely at each of the definitions, you’ll note that the word “indirect” appears in each of them, and, from an emotional perspective, that is the problem with each of these communication techniques.

Most people resort to one or more of these strategies in conflict situations because they feel a need to have their point heard, and they want to avoid upsetting the other person. As a result, they use an indirect approach in an effort to strike the balance between making their point and avoiding the pain of offending the other person.

And, it doesn’t work that way.

Here’s why.

Indirect communication approaches leave a gap between the words used and the real message. The danger lies in the fact that the gap will be filled by the person hearing the message. In most cases, it will be filled with their assumptions about the real message, and their assumptions will generally be more negative than the intended message. A message intended to convey mild irritation sounds – to the person hearing the message – like a strong personal attack.

A better, and a slightly counterintuitive, approach is to speak directly with people. It is more powerful, more persuasive, and less irritating to say exactly what you mean than it is to insinuate, infer, or imply.

As with any technique or tactic for working with people, this one can be taken to a ridiculous extreme. Yes, I am advocating direct, honest communication as a way to reduce and resolve conflicts. I do not advocate taking the approach to the extreme of rude and aggressive communication.

To minimize misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and miscommunication, learn to use assertive and direct communication approaches that make your point clearly, concisely, and confidently.

Here's a related podcast episode…

*Definitions from

What a Diverted United Airlines Flight Can Teach You about Conflict Resolution

aircraft landing

Shock and dismay are the best words I can use to describe my initial response to the news that a United Airlines flight from Newark to Denver had been diverted to Chicago due to a dispute between passengers over leg room.

In the days that followed, I heard of two more similar disputes on other flights.

Again, my initial response was much like the newscasters and commentators I saw reporting on the incidents…

“Really! How could they be that irrational!”

Then, I saw a report on the Today Show featuring one of the participants in the first dispute. The man who reacted aggressively to a woman reclining her seat into “his space” reported that, after the fact, he was not proud of his response.

This report lead me to reflect on what you can learn from what happens between strangers in an airplane that you can apply to the interactions you have in your day-to-day work and personal life.

As I reflected, I realized that, while the response of everyone involved in these incidents was both extreme and a bit irrational, it is easily explainable. In fact, it's not really all that surprising when you understand some things about human nature.

Since I can't have a discussion with the people involved in these incidents, I'll never know for sure what drove them. Based on what I can see though, the most obvious lessons are explained by…

  1. Our desire to feel like we have been treated fairly. The desire to create fairness can drive us to react strongly and in ways that are objectively harmful to ourselves and our best interests
  2. Our desire to behave consistently with our past decisions and actions. Once we verbalize a commitment or commit to a course of action, we find it difficult to change that commitment even in the face of new information. This tendency can lead to what is sometimes called non-rational escalation of commitment — a willingness to continue escalating the investment of time, energy, emotion, or money to “winning” the situation.

In calmer moments, the people in each of these incidents are probably pretty reasonable and rational. They are probably not “bad” or “stupid” people. More likely, they are just people who let themselves get trapped by two natural responses that almost all of us fall prey to at some point in our lives.

In reading the news reports, it looks to me like the man involved in the first incident on the United Airlines flight (the person who had the seat reclined into his lap) perceived that the other person was unfairly infringing on “his” space and was interrupting him from doing work that he had decided to do while on the plane. The combined impact of perceived unfairness and an interruption to his committed course of action (working on his computer) triggered a strong emotional reaction that, for the moment, made him irrational.

Sad, yes. Surprising, not really.

By understanding the underlying psychological principles and how they can impact your response to situations, here are two lessons you can learn to help you build your ability to successfully resolve conflicts and reach peaceable agreements with others.

Beware of verbalizing or committing to a position early in a negotiation or a conflict resolution discussion.

When you verbalize your position before you have had the opportunity to uncover all of the facts of a situation, you can trap yourself into a desire to “save face” by remaining committed to your starting position. Stay open, curious, and uncommitted as long as you can when you are working to solve a problem with another person.

Beware of behaving in a way that is perceived as threatening by the other person. 

Ramping up your energy level or the strength of your demand is tempting. It often seems like a way to strongly make your case so that you can force a conclusion to the discussion. It's both tempting and dangerous.

Here's how it apparently played out on the United flight…

Man puts “knee defender” blocking devices in tray table supports to restrict seat recline of the woman in front of him. Flight attendant asks man to remove devices from his tray table. Woman in front of man then rapidly and forcefully reclines. Man pushes seat forward and re-inserts blocking devices. Woman then throws a cup of water on man. Airplane lands in Chicago rather than Denver.

The man behaved in a way that was threatening to the woman. The woman behaved in a way that was threatening to the man. Nobody won.

When you behave in a way that the other person sees as threatening, the probability of a peaceful and successful resolution is incredibly low. The more likely outcome is a rapidly escalating conflict with no easy way out.

To successfully resolve conflicts and negotiate agreements…

  1. Remain curious about the other person and their perspective rather than judging it, and
  2. Learn to communicate assertively rather than aggressively.

You Have to Have a Goal to Achieve a Goal

setting goals word cloud on blackboardOne January day about  thirteen years ago, I stepped on the scales in my bathroom, and I did not like the feedback I received. I was at the highest weight I had ever been in my life. My clothes were starting to get a bit tight, and I was feeling uncomfortable in them.

That day, I resolved to lose weight. I do not remember the exact timeline, but I do remember that before the week was over, I had written a goal weight, developed a weight loss plan, and started implementing it. Over the next few months, I got back to a weight that was both comfortable and healthy.

I managed to maintain the exercise and diet regimen that lead to that weight loss for awhile, and then I started to lose focus on my personal fitness. I was still sort of paying attention. I went through periods of being careful with my exercise and diet, but I did not consistently focus on achieving anything in that area of my life. I was coasting.

Again in January about three years ago, I stepped on the scales and realized that my weight had crept to three pounds over the weight that drove me to action ten years earler. I made a mental note of it, and made some effort to exercise more and to eat better more consistently. In mid-October of that year, I had lost a grand total of three pounds.

Then, I set a new goal. As soon as I set the goal, I created a plan and started following the plan. I once again found the discipline and focus I had shown in this area of my life ten years before.

In eight months of “thinking about losing weight,” I had lost three whopping pounds. In late November, four weeks after setting a definite goal, I lost 10 pounds, and, within a few months after that, I lost a total of 35 pounds to get back to my goal weight. With a definite goal in mind, in a little more than ten percent of the time I spent “thinking about it,” I achieved over three times the results. Finally, with a specific goal and achievement plan in place, I achieved over ten times the results in four months that I had achieved in the previous eight months.

Here are the leadership lessons from my experience:

  • Thinking about doing something is not the same as setting a definite goal. You must set a specific goal for what you hope to do or the results you hope to achieve. Otherwise, you will coast along and “think about it” a great deal without taking consistent, focused action towards it.
  • You have to share your goal with someone you trust. Very few of us are good at holding ourselves accountable, and accountability is a key ingredient of goal achievement. My wife also set a weight loss goal at that time. I knew her goal, and she knew mine. We helped each other, and we held each other accountable.
  • You have to keep the goal in front of you. If you do not see it frequently, you will forget about it. I had my weight loss goal written in a place where I saw it every day.
  • You have to track your progress – frequently. The specific time frame depends on how long it takes to see measurable progress, and the key concept is that you have to track it. If you do not track progress, you probably will not make any. In the case of losing weight, I logged my weight every week. Yes, I kept a running log of my weight each week.
  • You have to take daily, specific actions. You have to take specific actions every day towards goal achievement. I had a daily eating plan to make sure I got a balanced diet and stayed on track with my weight loss goal.

Your Now Step: Almost everyone has something they have you been “thinking about doing” for some time. What is it for you? Before the week is out, take 30 minutes to find a way to reduce it to a specific, written goal. Within 24 hours of writing it down, find someone to share the goal with, develop an action plan, and start taking daily actions towards that goal.