As we sit here in our homes facing uncertain times, I want to bring some perspective on communication. Many folks have posted tips and tricks on staying connected with family, friends, colleagues, and clients and how to maintain those relationships in this time of “Social Distancing.” However, I haven’t seen much written about how to keep communication flowing for the opposite side of the spectrum. Many of us now have whole families working and schooling in the same small space 24/7. If you’re like me (I have 7 teens), then you and your spouse are now working from home and sharing internet access with more than just one child attempting to shift to online learning. It is difficult for many adults to shift to a remote workspace. I find it’s even harder for our kids and teens. In this tight space, tempers can flare and communication can break down. Our children only have our reactions at home to observe as we navigate this time. They don’t understand all the aspects of life that we as adults have to consider. While we’re wondering how to get bills paid, keep food on the table, wash everything, check on our loved ones, work from home, AND stay sane, the kids just want to veg and eat everything in sight! Now that the schools have closed (I’m in Louisiana) and the students are migrating to online learning, it’s particularly challenging to explain to them how to set up a procedure for each of them to be more independent and disciplined in their approach to this new environment. Add two working (now from home) parents to the mix and it can get dicey!
So, what can we do?
In my career, I have studied and taught the DISC styles to many of my clients. This became very helpful to them and to me, not only at work, but in familial relationships as well. The thing is, just as your clients and colleagues communicate a certain way, so do our kids! If they’re about 7 years old or older, you should be able to identify the way they like to express themselves and how they receive information. Now, this doesn’t just require us all to have more patience; I believe if we have more insight into how we really communicate with each other, we can navigate this whole scenario and come out the other side with some new and exciting value in our family relationships. Please understand, this isn’t about parenting per se, but rather more truly communicating with all the wonderful humans under your roof. This will require more from us than from others. It will mean that we will have to look inward and first understand our own ways of communicating without judgment. Once we begin to move onto identifying how others communicate, we must really seek out how best to close the gaps.
There is no one way to do this. Many resources are available to us to help us understand ourselves better, DISC just happens to be the one in which I’m most familiar. If you relate better to another method, then by all means apply it. The goal of this exercise is to get us thinking outside of the box and minimize the potential (and eventual in my case) blowups at home.
The first thing we must understand is that no one communication style is better than another. They just exist. They all have their merits and detriments. This isn’t designed for us to say, “my way is better or easier or harder than yours.” The DISC method is designed for us to create understanding. Of course, each of has our own styles and we are partial to them. However, if we can extend beyond ourselves for a minute, we may be able to create some peace where there is none. I am by far no expert, so please understand that I’m including myself in this effort and have to reach down to gather my own fortitude as I’m asking you to do. To quote High School Musical, “we’re all in this together!”
So…let’s dive in!
First, a bit of history. The idea that personalities, human behavior, and communication styles can be explained and described within four basic quadrants isn’t new. From as early as 400 B.C., philosophers were noticing these behaviors and attributing them to external then internal factors to understand how we interact. In the 1920’s, Carl Jung created another set of definitions that is used most widely today in the Myers-Briggs personality test. In the late 1920’s William Marston explained the same concept in another way which brought about the currently known DISC Personality styles. This history alone reminds us there’s no one way to go about this.
The basic quadrants that are identified in the DISC profiles include:
We will explore each one in overview, and I will give you some basic ideas for comfort areas and tips for what not to do. I will be drawing from my own Extended Disc™ profile as well as my husband’s. We’re opposites in many ways and very much alike in others, which makes life interesting at our house!
First, we will split the square into orientation and energy. Like so:
Orientation describes what a person gravitates toward as in tasks versus people. Those communicators on the right side of the line are oriented toward people whereas those on the left are oriented towards tasks. Energy describes how we as communicators become energized. This is also often described as “introverted” or “extroverted.” DISC uses the terms Reserved and Active. Those communicators above the middle line are active and those below the line are reserved. Remember, there is no judgement here. All of these styles have their capabilities in leadership and roles in our home. There are no “bad” or “good” styles. They just are. Most people will have two or more of these styles that are high for them and they may even conflict somewhat within themselves, which is the case for me. So, if you find that more than one of these seems to fit you and your loved ones, that’s totally OK. Remember, this is just a guide.
Dominant communicators are Active and Task-Oriented. Here are some ways to identify a D-style:
May interrupt you
Direct and speaks what they think
“What’s the bottom line?”
Big picture focus
Often states their own opinions as facts
“How does this benefit me?”
In a hurry
Makes decision quickly
May have difficulty understanding others’ viewpoints/feelings
At first glance, many people assume that D-style communicators are horrible people who are so self-absorbed they can’t see past their own noses. I got that in class a lot. However, D’s often are the C-level individual in a company that you may be trying to reach at the office. They may also be the 10-year-old CEO at home. The one with the vision and leadership and a confidence to follow their own path in the face of peer pressure. They can come across (especially when immature) as selfish and even cruel with others. But as they grow into their own personality and learn from the hard knocks they often choose to take, they can become great leaders. Mature D-style communicators will make very hard decisions based on FACTS, not emotions and will often bear unpopularity for the good of the family, company, even the world. I’ve always described the D-style as that one person who is willing to step in front of an oncoming train to achieve a goal, especially when that goal is significant for those they love. In a family situation, D-styles will often seem callous, but they often have deep wells of feeling for those they love and protect. Personally, in a crisis, I want a mature D-style communicator by my side, even if I might get my head bitten off on the regular!
Influence communicators are Active and People-Oriented. Here are some ways to identify an I-style:
Talks a lot
Open and Friendly
Doesn’t listen for long
Stays away from hard facts
Doesn’t pay close attention
Jumps from subject to subject
Doesn’t focus much on details
I have to admit, I’m very torn with these first two. My natural communication style, the one I use when I’m most comfortable in a situation, is quite tight across the D-style (40%) and the I-style (45%). I am one of those conflicted folks I mentioned earlier! I-style communicators are natural storytellers. They are optimistic, outgoing, super friendly, and want to be liked. They may even want others to like you! They can be very creative and out-front. Think about the performers on stage…you know the ones that use flowery language and seem to be able to handle monologues that are hours long! Most people associate this style mostly with women. I got that in class a lot, too. However, there are some great teachers, orators, writers, and performers that fit this bill and aren’t women. Just because your wife needs to talk to you in the evening, doesn’t necessarily mean she’s an I-style in total, but she may well have some of these tendencies. This style is seen this in those kids who are “busting out all over!” These are the ones who can make friends down the street or in the grocery store with no hesitation and hang on to them forever! Sometimes, after a busy day, it’s hard for us parents to give the attention our I-style children will often demand. They can sometimes be easily wounded if we brush them off too harshly or too often. This can also be hard when they aren’t liked in school or struggle with friendships. This social distancing can be particularly hard on them. Influencer kids can really become great leaders like their Dominant siblings. When they grow into themselves, the Influencers will make sure that everyone is entertained, positive outlooks are pursued, and friendships are valued!
Steady communicators are Reserved and People-Oriented. Here are some ways to identify an S-style:
Nods and goes along
“Let me think about it”
Likes their own physical space
Doesn’t get easily excited
Ponders alternatives, slow in making decisions
Asks questions and inquires about specifics
Seems to have strong opinions, but doesn’t express them vocally
Completely new ideas/things seem to make them uncomfortable
I have often described the S-style communicators as “coaches.” As adults these people will seek out everyone’s opinion and every fact specifically before making any decision. They will carry the weight of everyone’s well-being much more than the other styles. They want to make sure that any decision is right for as many folks as possible before they move. They don’t like to be pushed to move quickly or to be innovative. I once had a boss that was a strong S-style communicator. Personally, we got along very well. He was always very friendly, kind, and concerned about my well-being. Professionally, I frustrated him a lot because my very loud, big mannerisms, and talking wore him out. These communicators need quiet to recharge and yet, they are always concerned about how their actions affect others. I see this trait in one of my children. She doesn’t want to upset the apple cart. She retreats to her room often for space but will seek us out individually just to see if “we’re ok!” These communicators are going to handle this distancing in that they don’t need to be with others 24-7, but they may stress about how the rest of the world is faring during a crisis. These kids are going to worry about their family members and friends. They may ask lots of questions about who, what, when, and where and seek to make sure all is well. S-style kids may need more reassuring during this time because they can’t reach out directly to see if someone is ok. The world needs these very kind and concerned communicators because they teach us how to be empathetic to others in any given situation. They have a special way of making the rest of us feel grounded and loved.
Compliant communicators are Reserved and Task-Oriented. Here are some ways to identify an C-style:
Focuses on details
Asks many questions
Appears reserved and somewhat timid
Doesn’t easily express disagreeing views
Studies specifications and other information carefully
Makes decisions only after studying pertinent facts and issues
May be very critical; criticism based on facts not opinions
The C-Style communicators are often associated with their job descriptions. These folks tend to be most comfortable in positions that require very little interaction with others. Most compliant communicators are very comfortable with numbers, data, and facts, but not so much with people and chit-chat. These people are extremely intelligent and, like D-Style communicators, are very deep feeling when it comes to their families and loved ones. However, they struggle when answering the simple question “how’s your mom an’ ‘em?” One of the girls in our class talked openly about this issue. She said that the simple friendly questions like that made her feel put on the spot and exposed. She didn’t know how to answer the question without revealing all the family secrets, and feeling like she didn’t want to get so deep, she would just clam up. Some compliant communicators will clam up or look like a “deer in the headlights” when approached with a high energy talker. However, compliant communicators are very necessary for any business. These folks will keep everything running behind the scenes. They will explore the data and numbers in detail and with fervor to ensure success and their own sense of fulfillment. The C-child will very often retreat from large family gatherings and sometimes be accused of being anti-social. These kids will hyper-focus on social media and their very specific group of friends. They will work very hard to get things right, but will be hard-pressed to express their own thoughts and feelings except in very close, quiet, safe settings. When approaching these people be sure to be prepared with real facts and hard evidence. Make your argument regarding those facts and NOT about their person as they will quickly and easily feel attacked and overwhelmed. Compliant communicators serve the world, their families, and their companies through their research, precision and no-nonsense approach.
So, here’s the part where you say, “hmmmm…I think I can identify with this!” You should be able just through these simple thoughts to pinpoint, not only yourself, but your family members and colleagues on this spectrum. As I said earlier, you may have more than one strong style as I do. Some of you may be more like my husband who’s a D-style and have only one really strong trait. In these times when we’re overwhelmed with everyone working in one area all at once and developing feelings of stir-craziness, here are some ways to help ease the tension. When dealing with your children, it may be helpful to “sell” them as you would a prospect. Think of your opinion or discipline or schoolwork as your “product.” These styles exist in EVERYONE at all times. So, if you are used to “reading your audience” at work, perhaps try doing the same at home! It could do wonders for your relationship.
If you would like the opportunity to take a DISC assessment, check out the following links