The core of the ideas behind DISC date back as far as the ancient Greeks. It was Hippocrates, originator of the famous Hippocratic Oath, who first considered the human personality in terms of four separate factors.

His ideas, based on the four Greek elements of Fire, Air, Water and Earth, were still being used by physicians more than a thousand years after Hippocrates’ death

Of course, the modern DISC technique has a more scientific basis than the four elements used by Hippocrates.

Nonetheless, many of his principles are still valid today, and terms invented by him, such as ‘melancholic’ and ‘phlegmatic’ are still in common use today.

The modern DISC theory first appeared in the 1920’s in William Moulton Marston’s book, “The Emotions of Normal People”, one of the first attempts to apply psychology to ordinary people, outside a purely clinical setting.

Marston developed DISC to help demonstrate his ideas of human motivation. Its simple twenty-four questions test was intended to help him quickly appraise different personality types for analysis and comparison.

From these humble origins, the DISC system has grown to become one of the most widely used assessment systems in the world.

A major step forward came with the development of the ‘DISC Graph’.

Now it was possible to present the complex results produced by a psychometric test in the form of a simple ’profile shape’ that could be understood and interpreted by a layman.

While some training was still necessary to analyse a DISC profile shape, the psychological and statistical background that had once been a prerequisite of personality profiling was no longer necessary.

The advent of the Personal Computer proved to be a turning point in the development of DISC. This technology made it possible to automate fully the testing and interpretation process, introducing complete accuracy and objectivity into personality assessment.

Advances in software development have seen the recent appearance of flexible and intelligent computerised solutions, able to test a candidate and interpret the results in a matter of minutes.


As you might expect, the actual mechanism behind DISC is fairly complicated. The beauty of the technique, however, is that its complexity is hidden from the user.

DISC profiles are presented in a simple graphical form, which can be easily understood with only a little experience. Modern computerised systems can even interpret these graphs automatically.

In this section, we look at the basics of DISC graphs and the fundamentals of profile interpretation.

Anatomy of a Test DISC tests vary in style and content, but all have certain basic elements in common.

24 Questions All true DISC tests consist of 24 questions, each consisting of four options. These options might be sentences, phrases or adjectives.

Most and Least Each question in the test asks a candidate to identify which of four options is most applicable, and which is least applicable.

Results Modern systems typically calculate results by means of computer. Tests requiring manual calculation by the user are still sometimes found, however.

A DISC test produces not just one, but three, distinct profile shapes. These are based on analyses of different sets of answers, and each describes a different aspect of the personality. The significance of each of these three profile shapes will vary according to the particular situation.

The Internal profile, sometimes called the ‘Underlying’ or ‘Pressure’ profile, reflects the personality’s true motivations and desires. This is the type of behaviour that often appears when an individual is placed under pressure.

The External profile describes a person’s perceptions of the type of personality they should ideally project. Also known as the ‘Mask’ or ‘Work’ style, this shape usually represents the type of personality that an individual will try to adopt at work.

In reality, people will usually act in ways consistent with elements from both the preceding types. The Summary profile is a combination of the other two profiles, describing a person’s likely normal behaviour.

Four Pillars of DISC

A DISC test measures four main traits, or ‘factors’, of the personality, from which the system takes its name. These are:

Dominance Influence Steadiness Compliance

A Disc graph shows the relative levels of each of these four factors in a given personality. All DISC interpretations start from these four fundamental factors, as we will see on the following pages.

Of course, in reality, people’s personalities are made up from different combinations of the four basic factors of D, I, S and C. There are various ways in which we can measure these combinations, but perhaps the most straightforward is to use the idea of the ‘sub-trait’. A sub-trait is simply a measure of the difference between two DISC factors in a single graph.

In this example, we see how the sub-trait of ’Self-motivation’ is assessed by measuring the difference between the Dominance and Steadiness in a DISC graph. Each of the sub-traits is made up, like this, from a pair of DISC factors. As you might expect, there are twelve standard sub-traits, each corresponding to a possible pairing of DISC factors.

The Four DISC Traits


Dominance is the factor of control and power.

A DISC graph that shows a high level of Dominance relates to a personality that is direct, demanding and competitive.

Highly Dominant individuals need to feel in control of a situation.

They will seek to take command and dictate solutions whenever they can.

Those with high levels of Dominance will tend to be quite ambitious in style and will value results and efficiency.

They look to achieve their ends as quickly as possible, but tend to place less importance on others’ feelings.

Dominance is the factor of motivation and drive.

People with this as a high factor are interested in success and achievement, and will seek personal advantage in any appropriate situation.


Influence is the DISC factor describing outgoing sociable behaviour.

People with a high Influence score on their profile are open, friendly and gregarious.

They enjoy the company of others and feel relaxed and confident in almost any social situation.

Highly ‘Influential’ people enjoy the company of others and feel relaxed and confident in almost any social situation.

They are particularly motivated by the attention and appreciation of other people...

They will often go out of their way to make themselves the centre of attention.


High-I’s (people with high Influence factors) tend to live by their feelings, and respond emotionally to situations.

While this can lead to impulsive, and sometime erratic, behaviour, it also means that they have a real interest in the feelings of other people.

Talkative and open, they trust others easily but can be deeply hurt if they feel rejected.


Steadiness is the third of the four DISC traits.

It relates to qualities of patience, persistence and sympathy. Steady individuals are warm and personable, but lack the social confidence of the ‘I’ (Influence) factor.

‘Steady’ people enjoy the company of others, but are listeners rather than talkers.

The most important element of a high-Steadiness personality is the need for time, to patiently and thoughtfully plan their words and actions.

When high Steadiness appears in a DISC graph, it suggest that the individual being analysed dislikes change, and prefers to maintain a predictable status quo than to be subjected to interruptions or sudden change.

Calm and level-headed, high-S’s are loyal and trustworthy by nature.

They are also very persistent, and will tend to continue doggedly with a task until it is successfully completed.


Compliance is the fourth and final DISC factor. It relates to a logical, dispassionate approach to life.

Highly Compliant individuals are interested in fact and detail, and tend to look at things in practical, long-term ways.

They rarely act emotionally or impulsively, and instead prefer to plan their actions and take account of all known possibilities.

Those with a high Compliance score, because of their like of procedure and structure, will normally follow rules and obey instructions.

They value accuracy and precision, and have little time for broad generalising.

High-C’s greatly dislike taking risks, and under pressure will tend to evade the issue or prevaricate.

They are solid problem-solvers, however, and possess a natural ability to structure and interpret information.

DISC in Practice

The effectiveness of any assessment system is dependent on the ways that it can be put to practical use.

In this section, we look at some of the more common applications of DISC in the workplace, from recruitment to career guidance.

Whatever your assessment needs, DISC can help match the right person to the right job.

The Recruitment Process

DISC has a part to play at every stage in the recruitment cycle, from beginning to end. On the next few pages, we will see how the DISC system can enhance the selection and integration of new staff members.


By sending manual DISC test questionnaires with application forms, you can build a picture of a candidate’s personality without ever meeting the candidate. This can help in creating shortlists.

Pre-interview Testing

Personality assessment is often performed on-site before an interview, to give the interviewer a clear idea of the personality type they will be dealing with.


Information from a DISC test can be vitally important during an interview, highlighting significant areas for the interviewer to probe, and giving guidelines to help ease the progress of the interview and improve communication.


A vital part of any recruitment process is the successful integration of a new staff member into the existing corporate culture. Once again, DISC has a major part to play in helping to achieve this.


A more specific aspect of the integration problem is that of team building. DISC can help to indicate the ideal membership for a team, and isolate those areas where personality conflicts are likely to break out.


Inevitably, some candidates for a job will be unsuccessful. If DISC was used as part of the interview process, including a copy of their personality report with a rejection letter can ease their rejection.


An increasingly common use of DISC is as a regular assessment tool for existing staff members. Such regular assessments can help to detect and resolve certain problems before they become serious.


There may be times when you wish to fill a vacancy from your company’s existing staff. In the same way that DISC can assist with ordinary recruitment, it can also be an invaluable resource in selecting existing staff for redeployment.

Career Development

DISC can help not only an organisation, but also has a part to play in personal career development. The DISC system can be used to suggest career directions suited to a particular individual’s personality style.

Specific Problems

From time to time, problems of personality conflict or low motivation will occur in any organisation. DISC can help to uncover the roots of problems like these, and also suggest possible solutions to them.

Over the last few pages, we have made some extraordinary claims for the DISC system. How are these advantages achieved? Experience of the DISC technique plays a part, but equally important is the crucial concept of the Job Match. To learn more about this important idea, read on...

A Job Match is the process of comparing a candidate’s DISC profile with a set of ideal profile shapes. Because these ideal profiles will typically refer to different jobs, they are usually known as ‘Job Profiles’ or ‘Job Templates’. The example below shows the variety of applications for a Job Profile. By matching a candidate’s DISC profile against a library of these templates (clearly a job best suited to a computerised system) it is possible to provide an analysis of that candidate’s suitability for different job styles. More advanced computerised DISC tools provide an automated Job Profiling feature to create and edit Job Profiles for highly specific tasks, such as matching a candidate to a particular team.