Overview of the Disc Model of Human Behavior

Throughout time people have enjoyed classifying things, naming things. Is it animal, vegetable or mineral? Is it a solid, a liquid or a gas? And when working in a group does that person next to you prefer to use Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, or Conscientious to complete a project? The first letters of these behavior styles spell the acronym DISC,  a behavioral model developed to help people learn to work together more effectively by William Marston in the 1920’s (Marston was a fascinating person in his own right; a contributor to the development of the modern polygraph and creator of Wonder Woman to mention just a couple of achievements).

The DISC model, and rating scales derived from it, measures human behavior within a context, generally a context of work with others. People’s preferred behavioral styles are first divided into two groups, more out-going, or more reserved. Each of these groups is split into 2 again defining the preference for working on task related projects or for working on relationship or person-focused projects. These four sections give us the four quadrants of a square or circle.


The upper left quadrant represents folk who are out-going and who like to focus on tasks. They like to see results and are less concerned with maintaining relationships or understanding why things work a certain way. They tend to be more action oriented and prefer a fast pace. Obivously these are people who will tend to lead. Their motivation is in making progress towards a goal and in getting results.


The right upper quadrant is filled with those who are out-going and prefer working with people over interacting with things. Like their dominant partners to their left, they are also more focused on action, but their main concern is accomplishing goals through relationships with others, rather than towards a specific result. These people are motivated by recognition from others, either peers or those in authority.


The right lower quadrant represents those who are reserved and whose focus is on relating with others. They are slower paced people, who like to maintain relationships and support others. This group was initially called submissive when Marsten developed this theory in the 1920’s. The supportive person is motivated by developing and sustaining relationships with others, but not so much by persuading others as the Dominant and Inspiring types are. 


Continuing clockwise to the lower left quadrant we find those who are task -oriented and reserved folks. They like to make sure  everything is done accurately and to specifications. They are detail oriented and patient,  motivated by understanding the logic and reasoning for the rules, goals, and standards they carefully follow. 

Why not Myers-Briggs?

One of the main differences between DISC and some other personality measures is that DISC focuses on strengths. Also DISC focuses on the blending of a persons preferences of style in a group or on a project. Also the theory allows for people to change over time and from one context to another. Thinking about your own behavior in different contexts can make this clear. For example many people become loud, results oriented and out-going at a football game, but put them in court as a defendant and a totally different style may emerge. This acknowledgement of context makes the DISC model especially useful for any situation in which people must work in concert, as a team. Also the emphasis in DISC is on the blending of preferred behavioral styles both within an individual and among those in a group. When in a group a specific person may not prefer to be a leader, however if they are more comfortable leading than others in the group, they may use this relative strength and emerge as a leader.

The ever popular Myers-Briggs assessment measures temperament and at least in theory people don’t tend to change temperament after their mid -twenties. Myers-Briggs can also be used to assess a person’s temperamental strengths, but in a more static fashion.

 All in all the DISC behavior model has a more fluid view of people and can be useful any time that people work together, so that everyone can be aware of the roles they are likely to take and what supports they can be to each other. Every complex task requires a mix of personality styles… a leader or conductor to make sure everyone stays on track and focused on the result. A persuasive voice to provide encouragement, motivation and communication to help make a good working environment, a person who is able to work even in trying circumstances by being adaptable and cooperative,  and those who are both adaptable and focused on making sure the details come out right. In our world today with so much depending on people who can communicate well and rely on each other to attain goals, the DISC model may prove more useful than ever.