Opinion Column

DELFI: No Virginia, our personalities are not all the same

By Larry Schruder, The Delfi Group

As individuals, we find it easiest to relate to people if we make the assumption that everyone is, or should be, quite similar to ourselves. We do understand that we are not physically the same on the outside. But inside we must all be the same - 'after all- we are all human' as the saying goes.

We know how we feel, what our priorities are, where our comforts and discomforts lie, and how we react to different situations. And our egocentric nature convinces us that we are no different than anyone else, which quickly translates into everyone is really the same as we are. And onwards we go into our daily interactions with people.

So - if we are so smart and so similar to others, then why do inter-personal collisions keep happening as we interact with people? There is a simple fact. No Virginia - we are not all the same - not on the outside - nor on the inside.

Our uniqueness as individuals means that we have different emotional reactions to the same external situation, we have different needs and wants as we go about our daily activities, different approaches and different priorities. We need to get better at understanding ourselves and the areas where we are different from others. We then learn how we can recognize these differences in others and steer around some of the potholes that can dent our relationships.

Sounds easy - although it has occupied personality specialists for centuries. However recent theorists and assessment products have made great gains on all fronts. There are two main dimensions where people can be fundamentally different. The first dimension is anchored at one end by sense of urgency or fast-paced and at the other by a sense of reflection and caution. The second dimension runs from skeptical and questioning at one end to trusting and accepting at the other. When you put these two dimensions at right angles to one another you get a four-quadrant picture like the one here - and it enables a fairly simple to describe four very common but different behavioural style preferences that exist in humans.

These four distinct style preferences, often called Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness, form the basis of DISC theory, first described by William Marston almost 90 years ago. More recent writers and theorists have propelled these behavioural categories into fairly common usage and application in understanding workplace and personal relationship matters.

No one style is better than any other - and we all have the ability to focus and stretch ourselves into behaving a little more like any one of the styles. But almost all of us have a style that just appears to come natural to us, a style that we use most often, demonstrating the personal attributes that people have come to know us by. Let's give it a try to see how well it fits you and some of your closer friends.

The Dominance style represents the overlap of skeptical and fast-paced descriptors. D's are characterized by a powerful personal drive, strong will, a focus on results, a firm and forceful style, with a general attitude of 'Get it Done.' Words like 'action,' 'results' and 'challenge' are often the best descriptors. While D's are fast paced and get things done, they are often seen as impatient, quick to show irritation and become argumentative, are perceived to be more direct and blunt with others and brimming with self-confidence. Recognize anyone?

The Influence style represents the overlap between being fast-paced and warm and accepting. I's are usually seen as enthusiastic, high-spirited, lively, optimistic and socially outgoing. Words like 'action,' 'enthusiasm', and 'collaboration' are often the best descriptors, and describe a general attitude of 'Get it Together'. While I's have high energy and are interpersonally positive, they are often seen as too talkative, changing direction frequently , impulsive, disorganized at times with lack of follow-through on plans or commitments. Recognize anyone?

The Steadiness style represent the overlap between the warm and accepting and the cautious and reflective dimensions. S's tend to be humble, even tempered, patient, tactful, bridge-building, collaborative and supportive. Words like 'stable', 'support' and 'collaboration' are often the best descriptors and describe a general attitude of 'Get Along'. While S's are steady and stable, they are often seen as lacking a competitive edge, more worried about getting along than achieving full results, avoiding tough decisions to spare feelings, allowing resentment to build beneath the surface, and struggling with indecisiveness. Recognize anyone?

And the last style, the Conscientious, represents the overlap between the cautious /reflective and questioning /skeptical dimensions. C's tend to be analytical and precise, systematic, questioning, reserved and more private or introverted. Words like 'stability', 'accuracy' and 'challenge' are typical best descriptors with a strong attitude of 'Get it Right'. While C's can be counted on for accuracy and completeness, quality, dependability and on-time performance, they can also be seen as overly cautious, critical and cold, over analysing, and lacking excitement and energy. Last chance to recognize someone - and to plug yourself into one of the categories, at least temporarily.

DISC is a simple model of understanding human behaviour and interaction styles. There are assessment tools that can quickly and accurately give you insight into your own personal style. DISC is simple, but not necessarily simplistic, with a couple of very important caveats. All DISC styles are equally valuable. Everyone has a blend of all four DISC styles, although the proportions can be very different. Understanding yourself better is the first step to becoming more effective working with others.

Future articles will explore how to use this basic information about self and others to create more productive relationships both on the home front - and in the workplace.

Larry Schruder is president and co-owner of The Delfi Group, Pembroke and can be reached at larry. schruder@thedelfigroup.com.