Understanding DISC

By Erin Boettge

DISC model

The world of personality-type indicator tests can be vast and confusing. While we know these tests are helpful for understanding one another in the workplace, we often don’t know where to start. There’s the MBTI, DISC, NTRINSX and more… So how do we make sense of all this alphabet soup?

The first step is to choose a test. We’ve chosen to focus on DISC because it’s a simpler model than some of the others and focuses primarily on 4 different personality types. These personality types were first detailed in the 1928 book, Emotions of Normal People, by William Moulton Marston.

Marston viewed people’s behavior as either active or passive and their environment as either favorable or antagonistic. This created a quadrant model that resulted in the DISC types. Industrial psychologist Walter Vernon Clarke later developed a behavioral assessment tool for DISC, which became the foundation for many of the systems available today.

DISC Personality Types:


These are results-oriented people. You can describe them with D-words such as: domineering, demanding, determined, direct, and decisive.

A High-D is a take-charge person. Someone has to run things. Many times it’s the High-D. High-D’s have strong ego needs. They’re super-competitive. If you want to drive High-D’s crazy, tell them they’re dumb. Or that they’re weak. Or that they lost.


High I’s are people-oriented. You can describe them with I-words such as: interactive, involved, informing, influential, and impulsive.

If a High-D leads through a position of power, a High-I leads through strength of personality. You HAVE to follow a High-D. You WANT to follow a High-I. High-I’s are all about relationships. If you want to drive High-I’s crazy, tell them you don’t like them. Or that they’ve wronged you somehow.


High S’s are task-oriented. You can describe them with S-words such as: steady, stable, safe, and set in their ways.

High-S’s do the work. If you need something done, give it to a High-S. Also, they crave stability. And they definitely dislike taking risks, or dealing with change. If you want to drive High-S’s crazy, tell them that there’s big reorganization coming up soon, but that you’ll talk about it later.


High C’s are focused on process. You can describe them with C-words such as: compliant, careful, consistent, controlled, and concise.

High-C’s are analytical and logical. They love data, and are good with numbers. If you want to get something done right, give it to a High-C. They love order, and they want to be right. If you want to drive High-C’s crazy, tell them they’re wrong. Or that they missed an important point. Or that their logic’s flawed. Or that they overlooked a step.

Measuring Personality Test Results

Some people complete a DISC assessment instrument, and no style emerges as dominant. Some assessments will say that you have “style ambiguity,” and suggest that you complete it again later. Some people joke, “I must not have a personality,” and feel like they’ve failed the assessment.

That’s not at all what’s happening. Every model has assumptions, which may or may not be true for everyone on Earth. DISC assumes that there are these four personality types. If nothing emerges as high on an assessment, then one conclusion is that this model doesn’t apply to you personally. It’s just not a valid model for you. Another valid interpretation is that you are personally very flexible as to style.

Even so, DISC can still help you in understanding others, where the model DOES apply, and in changing your own approach with people.

For a deeper dive into DISC, check out a preview of our video course on understanding the different DISC styles. To watch the full video and see if our employee training content library is the right fit for your organization, just request a demo!

Erin Boettge researches and writes on a variety of business topics, including workplace dynamics, HR strategies, and training trends and technology.