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For Everything DiSC® Facilitators: Using Everything DiSC to Understand Needs

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Early in my tenure as a DiSC® facilitator I was co-facilitating with a colleague whose style is i. I interpreted his behaviors as consistent with the i or Influence style in every way except one. He was very focused on having every detail of the setup and delivery of the session perfect. At the time I found it confusing because my perception was that those behaviors were more consistent with someone with a C style. 

As I gained experience and delved deeper into DiSC theory, I learned several possible reasons for what appeared to be behavior inconsistent with my colleague’s i style. He could have had an additional priority in the C quadrant, or this could have been learned behavior to compensate for a limitation such as disorganization typical of the i style. I believe in this particular case though there was another more nuanced explanation. His underlying need for social recognition and a desire to “look good” were likely driving these behaviors. 

Typically, when we teach the DiSC model, we focus on behaviors associated with each style. This makes sense because behaviors are observable. We can see if someone is impatient, or if they get input from others before making a decision. We can hear the words they choose and see their body language. Using a metaphor, behaviors are the 7 to 10% of the iceberg that is above the surface of the water. However, those behaviors are being driven by values, beliefs, and needs that are below the surface of the water. DiSC is a model that can help us understand the underlying psychological needs that are driving behavior. 

Drawing from the Interpersonal Circumplex model, which influenced the development of Everything DiSC, we can look at needs on two dimensions. The vertical access represents the need for control and the horizontal access represents the need for affiliation. Those styles at the top of the circle have a higher need for control while those at the bottom of the circle have a lower need for control. The styles on the left side of the circle have a lower need for affiliation and those on the right side have a higher need for affiliation as shown in the diagram below. Where someone falls on these two continuums can be used to explain many of the observable behaviors that are associated with each DiSC style. 

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The Underlying Psychological Needs of Each DiSC Style 

People with the D style are typically motivated by achievement and success. They believe that by taking control they will be able to achieve success more quickly. The low need for affiliation means they typically prefer working alone to achieve their goals. They believe they can achieve greater success on their own because things will be done better and quicker.  

Those with the i style are motivated by social approval and recognition. On the flip side, they fear social rejection and disapproval. They believe that by being in control helps them avoid what they fear. Therefore, the desire that my i colleague from the opening story had for everything to be perfect was likely driven by his need for approval and social recognition.  

Individuals with an S style are motivated by the underlying need for appreciation. This need leads them to offer help and provide support. They, like those with the i style, have a high need for affiliation so they like to collaborate and be part of a team. Unlike the i style, their lower need for control means they prefer to work behind the scenes out of the limelight. 

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People with the C style are motivated by the need for accuracy and correctness. Their fear of criticism and being wrong leads them to desire everything to be perfect. This need for perfection can lead to limitations often associated with the C style like being overly critical and “analysis paralysis”. 

An understanding of the underlying psychological needs driving behavior for each style can be helpful when we see behaviors that we may not associate with someone’s DiSC style. For example, all four styles may exhibit the desire for things to be done right. This behavior is being driven though by a different need for each style.  

A person with the D style wants things to be done right because it will help them achieve their goals more quickly. Someone with the i style wants things to be perfect so they can receive approval and social recognition. An individual with an S style wants to do things right so they can gain approval. Someone with the C style wants things to be correct so they can avoid being wrong or criticized. 

For DiSC facilitators, understanding the psychological needs which may be driving behavior can help us have more nuanced discussions, especially when someone’s actions may appear to be inconsistent with their style. As leaders understanding the psychological need underlying certain behaviors can help us more effectively meet the needs of our team members and help them achieve their full potential.  

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