Focus on Communication
If you ask a team what their biggest challenges are, most will talk about communication issues. And, if you peel back another layer, they often talk about misunderstandings or differences in the way team members communicate with each other. I love using the DISC Communication Styles model with teams because it gets to the root of many issues team members have with one another.
This three-part blog covers:
- Understanding the four DISC Communication Styles
- Why Teams are Ripe for Miscommunication (and What to Do About It)
- How Teams Can Improve Communication and Be Happier & More Effective
1. Understanding the Four DISC Communication Styles
According to Dr. William Marston, there are four communication styles. We are each a blend of all four of the styles; yet, we typically have a dominant style or a preference for how we like to communicate with others.
We can dramatically improve our ability to influence others when using a style that they prefer. Before we can determine how to adapt our approach, we must first understand the four styles. Each style has behavior clues that you can observe to figure out a person’s dominant style(s).
Here is an overview of the four communication styles.
Dominant Directors (D) are reactive, extroverted and task focused. They speak their minds, get straight to the point, and charge head first into everything they do. People who are high-Ds like to lead others and tend to be competitive. Some well-known D’s are Simon Cowell, Mark Cuban, Madonna and Venus Williams.
Interactive Socializers (I) are reactive, extroverted and people focused. High-Is enjoy socializing and working collaboratively with others. They like to have fun, are creative and inspire others. Well-known I’s include Ellen DeGeneres, Jimmy Kimmel, Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry.
Steady Relators (S) are reflective, introverted and people focused. They are supportive, accommodating, and detail oriented. High-S’s notice what needs to be done and take care of things without any need for attention. They also are highly empathetic to how others are feeling. Some well-known S’s are Mother Theresa, Peyton Manning, Princess Diana, and Gandhi.
Cautious Thinkers (C) are reflective, introverted and task-focused. They are logical and scientific in their approach to problems. C’s are meticulous and thorough, with a focus on accuracy and procedures. Well-known C’s include Bill Gates, Hermione Granger, Dr. Spock, and Condoleezza Rice.
As you think about the communication styles of both yourself and your coworkers, keep in mind that we are all mixtures of these four styles. We can adapt and flex our styles when the situation calls for it. So, you will likely see yourself in a few (if not all) of these styles; however, one is usually dominant and more natural for you.
2. Why Teams are Ripe for Miscommunication (and What to Do About It)
Now that you are familiar with the four DISC Communication Styles let’s explore why communication “issues” occurs on a regular basis for most of us.
The greatest opportunity for frustration is with the style diagonally across from yours because you have a completely opposite approach to how you prefer to communicate.
Here are the two opposite pairings:
- Dominant Directors (D) are Reactive and Task-Focused
- Steady Relators (S) are Reflective and People Focused
- Interactive Socializers (I) are Reactive and People Focused
- Cautious Thinkers (C) are Reflective and Task Focused
For example, Imagine a High-D walking up to a High-S and saying, “I need you to give me the sales numbers ASAP.” Then, they walk away. The High-S, who values relationships above task and likes more information and time to process is likely to feel very affronted. The High-S will interpret the interaction as rude and abrupt. The High-S will also typically want more information to fulfill the request.
If the roles were reversed, and the High-S walked up to the High-D for the same request, it might sound something like this, “Hi Jane, how are you doing? Did you have a nice time at the wedding last weekend? I’m sure it was beautiful. I’m working on a report due to Paul on Friday, and I could really use your help. You have the best record of our sales numbers for the last year. It would really be helpful if you could send me your Excel report with those numbers, so I can incorporate them. I’d like to get all the numbers you have, and I will pull out the ones most critical for my report. If possible, can you get them to me today, so I can start working on the report?”
Now, think about how the High-D would likely react to this? The High-D would be irritated with the small talk and all the irrelevant information and questions. Jane (High-D) would likely be looking at her watch and thinking, “Just tell me what you want and let’s get on with what we were doing.”
Neither approach is right or wrong. However, these approaches may innocently cause ill-will because the receiver of the message PREFERS to be communicated within a very different way.
Here is another example…
In a meeting, a High-I says, “We all know we have had a lot of complaints about our Call Center response times. I’ve got some ideas on how we can quickly address this. Let me tell you some ideas I have and then I’d like to hear your thoughts too.” In this situation, a High-C is going to pump the brakes. They will say, “How can we even begin to brainstorm solutions, when we don’t have a thorough understanding of the problem, nor have we identified the metric we are trying to improve. We need to slow down here, we have the cart before the horse.” This, in turn, will likely agitate the High-I who is thinking, “Why does this person always have to get into the weeds? This is not rocket science and I see no need to spend hours of time defining the problem when we know we need to improve our response time.”
Again, neither approach is necessarily correct or incorrect. Yet, because the two have very different communication preferences, these two people are going to be aggravated with each other.
In these two examples, we compared opposite styles. But the styles don’t have to be opposites to cause friction. For example:
- A High-I’s “friendly, talkative” approach can conflict with a High-D’s “direct, give me the executive summary” approach.
- A High S’s need to process information might conflict with a High-I’s desire to think out loud during a meeting.
- A High-D’s desire to choose a path and get started will likely conflict with a High-C’s need to plan and research prior to action.
Improved communication begins with understanding the styles of your team members and knowing what they prefer. Next, we will explore more about how to adapt to the styles of others to increase your ability to influence others.
3. How Teams Can Improve Communication and Be Happier & More Effective
Overall, your ability to influence people goes up astronomically when you flex your approach to meet their needs. If someone needs lots of details, you know to provide them with lots of details. Or, if relationships are important to someone, you can make an effort to build rapport before jumping into the work.
I’m not suggesting you make major modifications to who you are and behave inauthentically. Adapting behaviors does not change who you are, nor your desired goal. It simply changes how you go about communicating so you are more likely to achieve your goal AND maintain good relationships.
Altogether, I find that when teams understand each other’s communication styles and talk about it openly, they have a simple, light and sometimes funny way to work through them. Someone might say, “Well, you know my High-C really needs to explore all our options first to be sure this is the best way to go forward.” Or, “Thanks for letting me brainstorm out loud, my High-I really needed to process that.”
Having one-on-one conversations with team members who have a different style can really turn around relationships. By better understanding how (and why) each person prefers to be communicated with, two people who used to struggle (or avoid) each other, can collaborate to find a way that works for both.
For example, I once knew a High-I who was quick to fire off emails when she had ideas or questions. The High-I checked her emails all day and really like to collaborate on everything. She was partnering on a project with a High-C. The High-C she partnered with checked his emails once a day because he thought that was much more efficient. Every time he checked his emails he would have at least five from the High-I. He was overwhelmed by the number of emails, each one taking him significant time to respond to because he wrote very thoughtful and thorough responses for each. Sometimes he didn’t respond to an email for days because he needed time to think about draft his response. Meanwhile, the High-I felt like the High-C was very unresponsive and disconnected. She felt like she was always waiting for responses and couldn’t move forward. She didn’t feel like she had a true partner.
After a month of frustration, they finally discussed this and talked about what they both wanted and needed. Together, they came up with a plan that satisfied both.
Here is what they did…
The High-I committed to send fewer emails and consolidate them when possible. In the subject line of her emails, she would first type a number to let the High-C know how important it was. A “1” meant, “Stop everything and read this NOW!” A “2” meant, “Important, get to it ASAP!” A “3” was “Less important, get to it in 2-3 days”. A “4” meant, “FYI – No action required”.
The High-C agreed to check for the High-I’s emails first when he checked messages. He agreed to respond according to the 1-4 rating described above.
Just by talking and creating a plan, the relationship was immediately changed for the better because they now understood the preferences of the other and had agreed to adapt to each other. Executing this plan helped the relationship and their results, with some minor tweaks and revisions along the way.
Talking openly about our communication needs and wants and adapting to those around us enables us to work more effectively and harmoniously.
If you want a detailed DISC reports and a customized workshop on DISC facilitated by a Certified Professional Facilitator, just reach out to me at Contact
1. We must understand all four styles and be able to recognize them in others.
- Dominant Directors (D) are reactive, extroverted and task focused.
- Interactive Socializers (I) are reactive, extroverted and people focused.
- Steady Relators (S) are reflective, introverted and people focused.
- Cautious Thinkers (C) are reflective, introverted and task focused.
2. Because these styles differ, it is easy to misunderstand and/or be frustrated with how others communicate. In turn, others may be frustrated with us because we are not communicating with them in a style they prefer.
3. When we talk with others about their needs and preferences and then adapt/adjust our communication approach we will improve both the relationship and the results. This is especially true if both willingly adapt to each other.
About the Author: Leigh Ann Rodgers, Founder of Better Teams and Forward, is an IAF Certified Professional Facilitator with 20 years of experience in the human development field. Leigh Ann is a skilled meeting facilitator, trainer, and coach working across the globe to help leaders cultivate teams that are happy and high-performing.
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