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DISC is one of the most popular methods of personality testing and assessment in use today. Based on the answers to a simple questionnaire, it can describe a personality in terms of four key factors: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Compliance.

This article will give you a general introduction to the concepts behind DISC, but you'll also find more extensive reference resources on the site. Pay a visit to our full DISC Reference Library to explore the ideas behind DISC in depth.

The DISC Questionnaire

A standard DISC questionnaire consists of twenty-four questions. Each of these questions presents four options, and asks the respondent is to select which of these applies most closely, and which least closely, to their approach. For example, a typical DISC question might look something like this:

MostLeast
CheckCheckBehaving compassionately towards others
CheckCheckPersuading others to your point of view
CheckCheckShowing modesty in describing your achievements
CheckCheckProducing original ideas

Marston's original questionnaire, and many others derived from it, use simple adjectives for each of the four options. The 'phrase-based' approach shown in this example, though, is becoming more popular, as it provides the respondent with a clearer idea of the intention behind the question, and is less prone to misinterpretation.

Once we have a questionnaire with all twenty-four questions completed (a process that takes typically around fifteen minutes), we need to analyse the responses on that questionnaire.

Creating a DISC Profile

A completed DISC questionnaire will contain 48 answers (one 'most' and one 'least' for each of twenty-four questions). It is possible to analyse these responses manually, such a procedure can easily introduce errors into the results derived from the questionnaire.

The preferred approach is to have a computer analyse the responses and calculate the resulting DISC profile or profiles. This is part of the function of the Discus software, for example.

The analysis process involves taking each of the forty-eight answers from the questionnaire, and associating it with a particular DISC factor. This is a more complex task than it might seem, because some answers to the same question will relate to different factors depending on whether the respondent chose them as 'most' or 'least'.

Finally, the results of this calculation are scaled, adjusted according the population averages, and plotted on a graph known as a 'DISC Profile'.

What a DISC Profile Tells Us

An example of a DISC graph

This example shows a typical DISC Profile. Each of the four points indicates the level of one of the four DISC 'Factors' present (see the section on DISC Factors for more information on these).

This example, for example shows a very low level of 'D' (Dominance), relatively low levels of 'I' (Influence) and 'C' (Compliance), and high 'S' (Steadiness). You will notice that the order in which these four factors are shown on the profile provides 'DISC' with its name.

The darker areas at the top and bottom of the profile relate to highly significant factors - where one or more of the four factors fall into these areas, they are highly significant from a statistical point of view.

The central area of the profile is also marked with dotted lines. Factors falling into this central ('medial') region of the profile lie very close to the average, and are not considered statistically significant.

The ‘Profile Series’

Most DISC systems are not limited to single DISC profile, and instead will provide at least two analyses of a questionnaire, and usually more. Together, this collection of profiles is referred to as a 'Profile Series', and will consist of one or more of the following:

Internal Profile

The 'Internal' profile can be seen as the opposite of the 'External'; after the filtering process, it displays the respondent's underlying behaviour patterns. These are the patterns of behaviour that emerge in situations where the External factors don't apply (for example, they often appear in social situations, or where a person is under a great deal of stress).

External Profile

It is natural and normal for a respondent to try to present themselves in the best possible light when completing a questionnaire. DISC takes account of this, and is able to 'filter' this information to provide a profile showing just how the respondent was trying to present themselves when they answered the questionnaire. This 'External' profile shows just that - the type of behaviour that an individual thinks is expected of them in a given situation.

Summary Profile

The most basic and most common of the possible DISC profiles is the 'Summary' variety. This incorporates all available information from a questionnaire to provide as complete a picture of a person's behaviour as possible. This profile is often described as a 'snapshot' - it doesn't provide as much specific information as some of the other types, but it is a useful overview. When a person's behaviour needs to be described by a single profile, the 'Summary' is usually the profile of choice.

Shift Profile

Perhaps the least common type of profile is the Shift Profile, which simply displays the movements of factors between the Internal and External profiles. This highlights the modifications that an individual is making in their behaviour.

Profile Interpretation

The calculation of a DISC profile or profile series is, of course, only a step in the process. The most vital link in this chain is the description of a person's real behaviour based on the numbers shown in the profile.

This is not a simple process: although each of the factors relates to particular style of behaviour, the details of that behaviour will vary according to the positions of the other three factors on a given profile. With training and experience, it becomes possible to interpret profile 'shapes' and apply them in real-world situations.

In very specific situations, there is no real substitute for experience, but in more general terms, the computer once again provides a simple solution. By building an expert system based on DISC factors and their relationships, it becomes possible to present the system with a DISC profile series and produce an individual interpretation in plain language. Again, this function is part of the Discus software.

Advanced Interpretation

DISC profiles provide far more scope for interpretation than just the production of textual report. We can expand the interpretation to provide information such as:

Traits

By looking at the relationships between different factors, we can build up a library of individual traits that a person possesses. By expanding this approach across the profile series, we can also assess traits that a person lacks, and even describe those that they are presenting in their behaviour, but which are not, in reality, present. This provides a useful 'at-a-glance' picture of a person's behavioural style.

Profile Tension

Pronounced variations between the Internal and External Profiles are often indicative of profile tension, and it is possible to measure, in general terms, just how much stress an individual was experiencing at the time they completed the questionnaire. It is also possible to estimate how effectively that individual will cope with stress, and to judge the probable source of that stress.

Job Matching

Especially where DISC is used in recruitment, Job Matching provides an extremely useful tool. This involves the construction of an ideal behavioural profile for one or more roles, and comparing these against an individual set of DISC results. This makes it possible to calculate which roles suit a person's style the best. Find out more about Job Matching in the Job Profiler section of this site.

Candidate Matching

Candidate Matching is essentially the opposite of Job Matching. Once we have a selection of role templates (called Job Profiles by Discus), we can take one of these and compare it against a sequence of candidate profiles. This helps to quickly determine which candidate (at least in terms of behaviour) is best suited to a particular role.

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