Why the DISC Letters Have Failed Us…But the Styles Could Change Everything

HRDQ-U Blog | Why the DISC Letters Have Failed

Written by: Merrick Rosenberg

Models of behavior and personality go back thousands of years to the ancient Greek and Chinese civilizations. In modern times, the DISC model was created by Dr. William Moulton Marston in his 1928 book, The Emotions of Normal People. In the 1950s, people started creating assessments to help individuals understand their style. And since nobody owns DISC, many organizations have created their own version of a DISC assessment that generates a graph and an accompanying report to explain the styles and results.

Of course, the end goal isn’t to simply understand your graph, but rather to increase self-awareness and provide a foundation for improving relationships and getting better results. After administering DISC assessments to more than 100,000 people, I noticed a clear pattern – People do not remember their letters. Further, they barely remember what they represent.


>> Learn more at the webinar: What If Everything You Know About Personality Is Wrong?


In fact, there isn’t even a consensus as to the words that are used in the DISC model. Dr. Marston’s words included: Dominance, Inducement, Submission and Compliance. With the exception of Dominance, most DISC publishers have swapped in new words for the styles while still honoring Marston’s original DISC letters. In some profiles, the I-style is represented by the word Influencing. In others, it’s Interacting. The S-style can be Steadiness or Supportiveness.

It’s confusing. There isn’t even consensus on what the letters stand for. It’s no wonder people can’t remember the words.

How did people try to make it easier? They stripped away the words and left the letters. But that leads to an even bigger problem – the letters lack meaning. This makes them difficult to remember. And if you can’t remember the letters, how can you possibly be applying them throughout your life?

The answer is: People don’t use the DISC model. While DISC training programs often get rave reviews, a few weeks after the training, their profiles are placed in a folder and so is their DISC knowledge.

How do we fix this problem? We need to replace the DISC acronym with something visual…something intuitive…something that doesn’t need to be memorized. We need a mnemonic.

A mnemonic or mnemonic device is any learning technique or tool that helps you remember information.  Mnemonics translate information into a form that is easier to retain than its original form, thereby putting the new knowledge into long-term rather than short-term memory. A common example is “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” which helps to trigger the notes on the treble clef when reading music.

In my first book, Taking Flight!, I introduced a mnemonic to help remember the four styles. By linking each style to a bird, people intuitively grasp and remember the styles.  If I were to say to someone two years after a DISC session to describe the S-style, they will, in all likelihood, have a difficult retrieving the characteristics from their memory banks. But if I were to ask them to describe a Dove style, they immediately conjure images of someone who is caring, helpful, harmonious, and compassionate.

To help people remember the D-style, think about the Eagle. These folks are confident, direct, results-driven and risk-takers. Parrots symbolize the I-style. Parrots are talkative, social, optimistic and enthusiastic. Owls represent the C-style, as they are logical, accurate, questioning and analytical.

Ironically, in stripping away the words and leaving just the letters, it may be user-friendly, but not brain-friendly. If we want people to utilize the DISC styles, we need to make them memorable. So the next time you think about the DISC styles, get rid of the empty letters and replace them with Eagles, Parrots, Doves and Owls.

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