What is the DISC Assessment?

The DISC assessment is one of the most popular personality assessments available today. It is used by over one million individuals, businesses and organizations every year to help people find their ideal career, team up with the right people, and improve communication and productivity in the workplace.

DISC is an acronym for Drive, Influence, Support and Clarity. Because there are only four basic behavioral styles in the DISC system, it is easy to learn. Yet, despite its simplicity, the DISC personality assessment describes some of the most fundamental differences between individuals so it is very powerful in terms of understanding why people do what they do — and then using this knowledge to reduce conflict and improve working relationships.

What the DISC personality test measures

The DISC journey starts with a simple personality test. The results show where a person falls along two axes of behavior: task focus / people focus and action focus. Taken together, these two axes form a grid, where each quadrant represents one of the four DISC personality types. This is shown in the graphic below: 

Two axes: action orientation and task vs. people orientation

Fundamentally, DISC is designed to measure two fundamental ‘axes’ of a person’s behavior: their TASK-FOCUS versus their PEOPLE-FOCUS and whether they are more OUTGOING or more RESERVED.

You might see these axes described using other words, such as CONTROL / OPENNESS and ASSERTIVENESS / RECEPTIVENESS. While the language changes from test to test, the assessment itself is measuring the same behaviors.

Task orientation versus people orientation

Some people are focused on getting things done (tasks), whilst others are focused on feelings, relationships and interactions with others (people). This is represented in the left and right hemispheres of the circle. The left half of the circle is where you’ll find task-oriented people whose workplace style is focused on data, logic and results. The right half of the circle is where you’ll find people-focused individuals who gravitate towards feelings, experiences and relationships.

Action orientation

Some people want quick results and are decisive (outgoing) while others are more careful and quality-conscious in their work style (reserved). This is represented in the upper and lower parts of the circle. Those who land in the upper part of the circle tend to be fast-paced and outspoken. They take action quickly and are energetic in their approach. Those who land in the lower half of the circle speak more slowly and quietly. They tend to need more time to consider carefully when making decisions.

Finding your DISC type on the graph

A person's preference on both axes determines their DISC letter code. For example, someone who is task-focused and outgoing will type as a Drive personality. Drive types like to get things done and are competitive, ambitious and results-oriented.

Another person may have the same degree of task focus as a person with a preference for Drive. But if they are more introverted, different traits will emerge. This person will have a preference for Clarity, meaning they are more cautious, conscientious and careful with the details.

No DISC style is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than any other. They are just different, and each style brings its own strengths and value to the workplace. DISC simply helps us find out which style we tend to gravitate towards the most.

History and development of the DISC

The father of DISC was American psychologist William Moulton Marston, who is also credited with inventing the polygraph test. In the 1920s, Marston used his knowledge of physiology and psychology to develop a model of human behavior that he called DISC.

Marston's original model had four basic personality types, the initials of which give DISC its name: Dominance, Inducement, Submission and Compliance. These terms have largely fallen out of use and have been replaced with more user-friendly language, but the basic meanings are the same.

It's important to note that while Marston's model created the idea of DISC, he did not develop an assessment to measure it. The first DISC assessment was created in 1956 by Walter Clarke, an industrial psychologist. Clarke's model was originally designed for use in businesses to help them choose qualified employees. Clarke also renamed the four factors to Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness. Many providers still use Clarke’s terminology, but at Truity, we prefer the words Drive, Influence, Support, and Clarity as they are more easily understood today.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, and DISC theory has been incorporated into a huge number of personality assessments, for instance, the Everything DiSC® published by Wiley and Truity's own free DISC assessment. Although different publishers have different approaches to this system, and continually revise their assessments to make them more accurate and relevant, the underlying concepts are similar for all DISC assessments.

The four DISC personality types

There are four basic personality types in DISC. The following is a quick overview of the four primary styles.

Drive. Drive relates to control, power and assertiveness. People who are high in Drive like to get things done and are results-oriented. They tend to be ambitious, competitive and persuasive. If you have a lot of Drive, you're likely to enjoy taking on new challenges and being in charge.

Influence. Influence relates to people, interaction and communication. People who are high in Influence are interested in relationships, networking and persuasion. If you have a lot of Influence, you're likely to enjoy social situations and working with people.

Support. Support relates to patience, thoughtfulness and harmony. People who are high in Support are warm and accepting of others, and they like structure and organization. If you have a lot of Support, you're likely to enjoy working hard behind the scenes and being part of a team.

Clarity. Clarity relates to structure, organization and correctness. People who are high in Clarity are detail-oriented, quality-conscious and cautious when making decisions and taking action. If you have a lot of Clarity, you're likely to enjoy working intentionally to solve challenging problems.

Curious about your DISC personality type? Take the free DISC personality test.

Four personality types and more: How the four DISC types combine

Many people don't fit perfectly into just one of the four DISC personality types. In fact, for most people, either one or two predominant personality styles stand out. This gives us 12 common combinations. The first letter indicates the most prominent style, followed by the second style of influence. Here's an overview of the 12 results:

Drive styles

D: Pure Drive

  • Direct and decisive 'doer'
  • Resourceful and self-reliant in pursuing goals
  • Enjoys competition and lively debate
  • Focuses on results and realistic expectations

DC: Drive + Clarity

  • Focused on realistic results more than relationships
  • Maintains efficiency and continuous improvement
  • Is diligent and determined in the pursuit of goals
  • Has high expectations of themselves and others

DI: Drive + Influence

  • Resourceful and charismatic
  • Takes charge of social situations
  • Builds rapport and brings people together
  • Takes ownership of results

Influence Styles

I: Pure Influence

  • Prioritizes relationships and interaction with others
  • Easily builds rapport, even when first meeting someone
  • Motivates people to take action
  • Cheerful and enthusiastic; brings energy to the team

ID: Influence + Drive

  • Approaches relationships (people) and situations (tasks) with equal energy
  • Discusses big-picture ideas and future possibilities
  • Involves others in brainstorming to solve problems
  • Adventurous and able to create novel solutions to problems

IS: Influence + Support

  • Fosters a collaborative environment where everyone belongs
  • Enjoys spending time with others
  • Adapts easily to a range of work styles
  • Involves people in discussions of how things should be done

Support Styles

S: Pure Support

  • Calm, patient and respectful
  • Works cooperatively and takes care of the needs of others
  • Avoids competitive or conflict situations
  • Takes direction from a leader they trust

SC: Support + Clarity

  • Seeks predictability and consistency
  • Makes decisions carefully
  • Organized and attentive to details
  • Accommodates others to avoid creating conflict

SI: Support + Influence

  • Shows support and empathy towards other
  • Helps people achieve their goals
  • Easily adapts to difficult situations
  • Promotes the benefits of teamwork

Clarity Styles

C: Pure Clarity

  • Uses a methodical approach when solving problems
  • Makes objective decisions rather than emotional ones
  • Prefers solitary activities over group work
  • Comfortable analyzing large amounts of information

CD: Clarity + Drive

  • Purposeful, efficient and focused
  • Focused on goals rather than relationships
  • Extremely rational when making decisions
  • Strives to improve performance and maintain quality

CS: Clarity + Support

  • Responsible, reliable and accountable
  • Exacting and sometimes perfectionistic in their work
  • Considers many factors when making a decision
  • Appreciates guidance and direction from others

Uses and applications of DISC type

First and foremost, DISC is about self knowledge. As a personal development framework, it can help you understand why you do what you do. When you know your DISC type, you can learn more about what motivates you, how you respond in different work situations and on teams, and how you interact with others. The assessment gives context to behaviors that, at first glance, may seem confusing, unfamiliar or even contradictory.

Unlike other personality frameworks which are designed to help people become more self-aware in all areas of life — relationships, careers, personal development and so on — the DISC personality test is focused on behavior at work. Assessments are frequently used to help teammates better understand one another and how to work together. This makes it an ideal tool for managing teams and making workplace interactions more enjoyable and effective, as well as for individual career selection and development.

DISC for managers and teams

DISC not only helps people understand their own drivers and behaviors, it also helps to identify those same things in others. When everyone on a team takes the assessment, managers get a common framework to view each employee. This can guide decision making. For example, understanding how someone responds to deadlines, or how detail-oriented they are, can ensure that assignments are delegated to the right people. Some common applications of DISC in this area include: Team building Conflict resolution Improving communication Gaining clarity around roles and expectations Leadership development Sales training Customer service improvement Time management

DISC for individuals

Understanding your DISC type can help you find a career that's the best fit for your natural strengths. For example, if you're a high D, you may be suited for a career in law enforcement or entrepreneurship. If you're an I, you might enjoy working in public relations or customer service. Beyond career selection, there are several benefits to gaining practical and unique insights into your work style. These include better communication, better working relationships, better goal achievement, more deliberate career planning and greater self-esteem.

What should DISC not be used for?

DISC is not recommended for pre-employment screening. While it can give good insight into an individual's behavior at work, it is not a measure of intelligence, aptitude or ability. Every DISC style has the potential to succeed in a sales role, for example—not just those with Influence and Drive.

Can your DISC type change over time?

Unlike some other personality tests, the DISC model is not static and does not label people as a certain type. Instead, it provides a snapshot of how a person tends to behave in specific situations and teams. For example, someone may behave in a more task-oriented and direct way (Drive traits) when heading up a time-critical project. But when managing a team of interns, they may take on more of a coaching role (Support).

Many work behaviors are situational and/ or learned. It is common for people to learn new ways to behave at work and to approach projects differently today than they did in the past. In the language of DISC, their ‘natural’ style has not changed but their ‘adapted’ style, meaning the way they respond, has.

That said, it is rare for a person’s core personality to change. The average person’s DISC type tends to stay fairly consistent over time. When someone takes a DISC assessment a second or third time, they may not answer the questions exactly the same way – but they are unlikely to answer them the opposite way. So, you could get a small difference which may even push you into a neighboring quadrant on the DISC grid, but you’re unlikely to have a major shift in work style.

Accuracy and validity of DISC

DISC has been around for a century, is used by almost three-quarters of Fortune 500 companies, and is the go-to tool of global organizations when it comes to team building, communication training and project management.

Various studies of DISC assessment validity and reliability have shown it is on par with other industry-standard psychometric assessments, indicating that it can be effectively used in professional settings.

What does this mean? Well, there are two things we look at when figuring out if a test is accurate:

Validity, or how well the test measures what it's supposed to measure. In the case of a DISC assessment, that means looking at how well the questions identify the different personality types, and how well those personality types predict behavior in the workplace.

Reliability, or how well the test produces consistent results. In other words, if you take the test today and then again next week, will you get the same results? One common measure of reliability is Cronbach's alpha, which has been analyzed for major DISC assessments and found to be generally excellent.

It’s important to understand that no publisher or company owns DISC theory. This means that anyone can create an assessment and assign the word "DISC" to it, so standards may vary wildly from test to test. In general, purchasing a DISC assessment from a respected publisher means the assessment has been studied, often over many years, to ensure it provides accurate results.

What about free DISC tests? Well, you may get a high degree of accuracy from a free DISC test or you may not. Some free tests, like Truity’s free DISC assessment, have been thoroughly researched and developed by psychometrics professionals. Others do not meet industry standards for validation and reliability, meaning you cannot put much stock in them. To be sure of getting an accurate test, it's important to work with a reputable test provider that has put their test through a rigorous research process to ensure its validity and reliability. When in doubt, go with a paid test from a company you trust.

About the Author

Molly Owens is the CEO of Truity and holds a master's degree in counseling psychology. She founded Truity in 2012, with the goal of making quality personality tests more affordable and accessible. She has led the development of assessments based on Myers and Briggs' personality types, Holland Codes, the Big Five, DISC, and the Enneagram. She is an ENTP, a tireless brainstormer, and a wildly messy chef. Find Molly on Twitter at @mollmown.

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