When leaders hear the word “diversity,” they often think about gender, or race, or geography. Those are all important issues to consider, of course. But there’s an under-examined aspect of diversity that too many leaders overlook: behavioral styles. This aspect of diversity is the great unexplored topic the contemporary workplace. We find that managers who address this issue of behavioral diversity, and train and reinforce accordingly, benefit from a team with varying perspectives. That means better problem-solving, better communication, and better outcomes.
If you’re not sure what I mean by “behavioral diversity,” consider these questions. Have you ever noticed that some people jump to quick conclusions, don’t like to get bogged down with details, and like to take the 30,000-foot view of issues? Or that others want, first and foremost, to make and keep friends? Or that still others just don’t like change and conflict and want to avoid making decisions? Have you ever noticed that there are some people who want all the details before they act—and may even suffer from the “paralysis of analysis?”
If you’ve ever noticed anyone who fit those descriptions—and I’m certain you have—then you’re in a perfect position to improve your team’s behavioral diversity. Each of these behavioral styles is valid, important to understand, and important to hear. The problem, for many teams, arises when one behavior style—typically that of the manager—predominates in terms of hiring, promotion, and/or recognition. In many cases, this signals a tendency toward “groupthink” that leaves the team at a competitive disadvantage.
The popular DISC behavioral model is an important tool that can help you develop a much deeper understanding of what the potential members of your team have to offer. DISC outlines four clear sets of behavioral characteristics that describe, with remarkable accuracy, just how human beings process information and emotion… and how they prefer to interact with others.
You may have guessed by now that DISC is an acronym. “D” stands for Dominant. “I” stands for Influencer. “S” stands for Steady Relator. “C” stands for Compliant. Each collection of characteristics is referred to as a behavioral style. No one is exclusively one of the four DISC styles, but most people do have a dominant or preferred main style plus one or two supporting styles, depending on the person they’re dealing with and the particular situation. No style is better than another. There is no “good,” “bad,” “right,” or “wrong” style when it comes to DISC. And a good leader will value and seek out contributions from all four groups before making a major decision. That’s behavioral diversity!
Once you become familiar with these styles, you will begin to see others differently and appreciate and value their differences. DISC can help you understand how your team members like to communicate, collaborate, and contribute.
If you lead a team, it’s important to make sure you don’t favor one behavioral group too heavily to the exclusion of the other three. It’s also vitally important that you understand your own primary DISC style. Once you do, you can adapt your behavior to each of the styles, and you will exponentially increase the effectiveness of communication to your team members—and anyone else. The following overview will help.
Dominants: Dominants are extroverted, often opinionated people who love to take action. They prefer to be in charge of situations. When they aren’t in control, they are uncomfortable. They are bored if they aren’t challenged. Dominants do not like small talk. They like to win and get ahead. They are not natural team players, but they are organized, direct, and to the point. They don’t want to hear the why—just the what. Get to the point and cut the social stuff with Dominants.
How to support behavioral diversity if this is you: If you’re a Dominant, remember to give people time to talk things through. Let people self-discover; don’t just jump in and give them the answer. Try to have more patience when dealing with others.
Influencers: Influencers are personable and trusting. They like to talk, interact, and leave the action to others. Since they want to be liked, they are eager team players. Influencers are creative and humorous, but are also disorganized. They can be impulsive and intuitive, relying on feelings, but they’re not logical decision makers.
How to support behavioral diversity if this is you: If you’re an Influencer, you will want to make sure you and the other Influencers on the team don’t end up dominating workplace conversations. Elicit the viewpoints of others who may not have your social skills. Try to stay with the agenda and get clear on the next steps arising from the interaction.
Steady Relators: Steady Relators are amiable, patient people who know how to keep the peace and avoid conflict. Since they practice and prefer constancy and consistency, they don’t like changes or surprises. They are deliberate and can appear slow to make decisions. Steady Relators are loyal, with long- term commitments. They don’t often reveal their true feelings.
How to support behavioral diversity if this is you: If you’re a Steady Relator, the areas to watch out for here include: making sure you request clear agendas up-front prior to meetings and problem-solving sessions, so you and others can be fully prepared; brainstorming with a clear path forward; and making sure you share what you’re thinking with your most important allies. That last one may be difficult because it’s not your nature, but you do need to find a way to let team members know where you stand.
Compliants: Compliants are cautious thinkers. Detail-oriented perfectionists, their high standards follow the book. Since they are busy getting one more fact in search of the perfect answer, they may be slow, or even unwilling, to commit to a course of action. Compliants are analytical and orderly in their thinking and acting, relying totally on facts and figures.
How to support behavioral diversity if this is you: If you’re a Compliant, you will want to make a conscious effort to socialize and get to know your team on a personal level. You will also want to systemizing what you do so you can capture best practices and important processes for others who don’t have your eye for detail.
By taking the time to better understand your own DISC style and those of your team members, you can support an under-examined aspect of workplace diversity. In so doing, you will also improve job satisfaction, enhance team and individual performance, and improve your retention of key contributors.