In the 1970s I met two people who had a profound impact on me. They were John G. Geier, Ph.D., and Dorothy E. Downey, M.S., creators of the original Personal Profile System test, an accurate, inexpensive, self-scoring, and fun approach to understanding a person’s behaviour and personality type.
Their four behavioural categories, identified by the letters D, I, S, and C, are often called DISC (pronounced like a computer “disk”). A good place to begin exploring this system is to look at a high-level interpretation of each category.
Early in our relationship, I suggested converting the categories, or styles, of behaviour into primary colours. This was based on my reluctance to describe people’s behaviour in one word, such as “driver.” Behaviours come in clusters, so if we label each cluster a particular colour, we leave lots of room for expanded descriptions.
For clarity, we’ll begin with the “pure” styles and then move toward combinations of behaviour indicator clues. The pure styles are as follows:
• D: Red, action-oriented. These individuals are doers rather than talkers or thinkers. They relish the new and different and love to lead the field.
• I: Amber, social-minded. These individuals love to talk and value enthusiasm. They like to have the “latest” in order to create a positive impression.
• S: Blue, thinkers. These people are individualistic. They see themselves as unique individuals and do not like to be compared to others.
• C: Green, counters. These individuals love to count and measure things. They mistrust people’s judgement and appear skeptical of change.
A favourite criticism of this approach is, “I don’t like to put people in boxes.” Geier’s reply is classic, “I don’t put people in boxes. I find them there.”
If we truly want to connect with others, we can do so based on responding to others’ behavioural clues.
Reading people by behavioural clues can be carried to an extreme. My advice is to begin by heightening your awareness of others’ behaviours. Look at behavioural clues in a broad sense. Then work toward refining your skills. While no one is an example of a “pure” behaviour style, all of us lean toward certain habits of behaviour.
Behavioural clues are often coloured by our own preconceived notions, so it’s important to accurately describe what we observe. If we’re not careful, we may label others with negative traits, while confining our self-analysis to positive terms. For example, “I am caring and sensitive. You, on the other hand, are picky, rigid and stubborn!”
According to Dale Carnegie, it’s important to “talk in term of the other person’s interest.” It’s important for salespeople to sell the way customers prefer to buy, and for managers to manage to the style of their employees.
Unfortunately, most salespeople sell as if they are selling to a mirror image of themselves, and many managers treat others as carbon copies of themselves. This is a big mistake that creates plenty of unnecessary conflict. This is also true in personal relationships.
As high-sounding as “treat people the way you want to be treated” is, it is a paraphrase of the golden rule. The spirit of the rule is to treat others with kindness and respect. However, literally treating others the way we want to be treated often leads to frustration on both ends of the interaction.
According to Dale Carnegie, it’s important to “talk in term of the other person’s interest.”
If you prefer a blunt approach, and you are dealing with someone who sees this approach as insensitive, you’ll get a negative reaction. Perhaps we’re better off to take a “treat people the way they want to be treated” approach.
Some psychologists insist that we change very little after age 5 or 6. Based on most people’s behaviours, this appears to be true. However, after 40 years of working with adult learners, I’ve seen many people drastically change their worldview and their subsequent behaviour toward others.
We can change, but some of our behaviours are deeply rooted in the past. Under pressure, we tend to default toward instinctive behaviours.
Luckily, it is not necessary to “understand” others to increase our skill in human interactions. If we truly want to connect with others, we can do so based on responding to others’ behavioural clues.
If a person appears to be impatient, I have options. I can choose to act impatient myself, withdraw, or shout at the other person. We could contend that they are at fault because of their behaviour; however, our response is totally up to us.
Like Pinocchio, we can cut the strings between their action and our reaction. Another person cannot make us angry, happy, or sad. Conversely, we cannot actually motivate others, but we can create a motivating environment in our relationships in which people motivate themselves.
This is Part 1 of a series. Our next columns will take a deeper dive into the four general categories of behaviour.
Dave Mather is a Performance Improvement Specialist at Dale Carnegie Business Group in Toronto. His columns can be read at ept.ms/dave-mather
Find Dave on LinkedIn.
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