Why? Because I’m talking about my own reinterpretation of DISC based on the underlying mammalian and reptilian empathy strategies people deploy when making choices. I worked these out when I was writing Nine empathies and Shyly’s delight, but I’ve only glossed those ideas here. That changes today, not alone because I want this post to link back to from future DISCussions.
So: Start here: DISC is a quick ’n’ dirty personality profiling system for understanding how an individual person will tend to make choices. It is distinguished from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which can help you understand how individuals think.
My opinion is that you should be DISC profiling the people in your life all the time. They are different from you, and if you are not constantly reminding yourself of those differences, you will become progressively more disappointed with their persistent failure to be you. The reason for that is an idea I call dyspossibility – and we’ll get to that.
These are the DISC personality types, denoted with three different sets of appellations:
I’ve used a lot of different words for the DISC types over the years, but the terms I like best are the ones I came up with for Shyly’s delight: Driven, Incandescent, Sociable, Cautious. Those terms offer us a way of understanding a person’s personality from his own point of view – from the perspective of his over-arching value-pursuing motivation, which we can see here:
Driven people yearn to get things done, and this makes them socially dominant. The guy who claps his hands together hard and says, “C’mon! Let’s do this!” is the Driven member of your social group. Driven people are natural leaders, the only kind of bosses people will tolerate without resentment.
The Incandescent craves attention. They are typically very well turned out, every hair in place, and they are often found in highly visible places – such as convertibles. They shine – they glow! – in situations where drawing attention and generating enthusiasm are rewarded, hence they do very well in sales and marketing jobs.
A Sociable person lives and dies for one thing only: Sociability. They express affection in pursuit of affection, and they tend not to do anything that might interrupt the flow of mutual affection. Good friends, hard workers – literally the salt of the earth – but Sociables are the people most likely to be trod upon and taken for granted by everyone else.
Cautious people idealize perfect order as a way of managing risk. They believe there is a perfect procedure for every task, and they are painstaking about assuring their own and everyone else’s perfect compliance with that perfect procedure. At work, they excel in accounting, finance and research and development.Am I stuffing people into putatively-inescapable boxes, like the ancient “science” of astrology. No. We are talking about the habits of mind resulting from primordial empathy strategies that people deploy unthinkingly in their everyday decision making.
We are referencing the theory of the triune brain, the idea that sitting beneath your thinking brain are two much older brains, in evolutionary terms, a mammal brain and a reptile brain. But we don’t have to quibble about cranial hardware to note that mammalian and reptilian motivations are ubiquitous in human behavior, with human motivations being separable into two broad categories: Pursuing opportunities and avoiding losses. We can understand these categories as strategic empathetic pre-dispositions: Mammalian empathy pursues opportunities, while reptilian empathy avoids losses.
Display behaviors – initial greetings and iterative responses to others – are divisible in much the same way: Mammalian displays are affectionate, where reptilian displays are aggressive. We can easily see this in real mammals and reptiles: A kitten will be wary of you at first, because he wants to be sure you’re his friend. A lizard will be wary forever, because he is all but certain you represent a threat.
Using those two axes, opportunity pursuit versus loss avoidance and affectionate versus aggressive display behaviors, we can identify the underlying empathy strategies that will drive the habits of mind of our four DISC types:
Sociables display affection in pursuit of affection, and, accordingly, they are as close as human beings can come to being normal mammals.
Every other DISC type is imbued with reptilian empathy, and the three less-Sociable types are distinguished by how the inner-reptile expresses its fears.
Driven people crave achievement, accomplishment, abundance, all in fear of want, so they deploy affection – often in the form of money or gifts but also, as above, by sharing their mental frame – in pursuit of ever-greater productivity.
Incandescent people crave attention, appreciation, acclaim, so they will greet and respond aggressively – with snubs, sneers or sarcasm – as a way of inciting affection from people who fear rejection – meaning Sociables and other Incandescents.
Cautious people crave safety from the chaos of the real, so they try to instantiate the abstract, to contrive a world as neat and tidy as a spreadsheet. They greet and respond aggressively as a means of keeping people in line.
Sociables are rarely found in leadership roles, since being the boss is inherently alienating to other people. The Driven lead by poetry, by making their people yearn to make the boss’s dreams come true. The Incandescent lead by fascination – by the rewards of being on the inside and the horror of being on the outs. The Cautious lead by the fear of being called out or even excommunicated for non-compliance.
If you are in a leadership role, it is vital to understand the DISC profiles of the people working under you – and beside and over you, for that matter. These are the behavioral polarities of each of the DISC types:
Driven people want things finished and they hate to wait, and with that description I will bet that the Driven are now the easiest of the DISC types for you to identify. If you want for your Driven people to be happy, give them plenty of challenging work to do, then get out of the way. If you don’t, the Driven will be disruptive or even destructive – until they abruptly quit.
Incandescents love the totems of appreciation, so be free with your praise – and your plaques and trophies – and they will soar. Conversely, undertake any criticism in private, or you will lose the enthusiasm that gives them that incandescent glow.
Sociables love loving, and they cannot get enough of it. You can work them hard, because coming through for you is a way they have of displaying their affection for you. But keep them clear of any internecine conflicts, since this will tend to alienate them from everyone.
The Cautious idealize idealization, and while that might sound funny to you, it is that intense, obsessive dissatisfaction with the real that results in every innovation ever known to man. To get the best work out of the Cautious, maximize the order in their working environment and minimize the chaos.
Have you noticed that there is no accounting for pecuniary greed in this understanding of DISC. That’s because it’s not there. The values being pursued by your people are Accomplishment, Appreciation, Affection or Accountability, and money is, at best, a score-keeping cypher for measuring a person’s success in pursuing those values.
Accordingly, understanding these DISC polarities affords you an alternative compensation strategy. Give your people more money if you want to, if you can, but you will make them happier by rewarding their DISC pre-dispositions. So you can give the Driven more responsibility, the Incandescent more acclaim, the Sociable more love (as with gifts and office parties), and the Cautious more to idealize and plan for. You cannot buy people’s happiness, but if you give them the things that make them happy, you’ll get more and better work out of them anyway.
But what if you screw everything up? Here’s how conflicts play out, DISC-wise:
Quoting from Shyly’s delight:
Most authentic, guile-free conflicts originate in dyspossibility, I think. That’s a word I made up. It refers to the socially-unattainable value, the thing that I want most from other people that I can never get from them in sufficient quantity – the thing that makes me dissatisfied with another person not for any valid cause, but simply because he can never live up to my ideal for him – not even if he is my own DISC type, not even if my standards for myself are not nearly so exacting. My dyspossible need could only be met if it were met in unlimited quantity, and that objective is impossible in every way you might try to think about it.
But what the idea of dyspossibility means is that I will be low-grade unhappy with all of my relationships unless I remind myself constantly that the people I love are doing their best for me, just as I am for them – and we’re all of us too often counting what’s missing from the goody bag of love stuff, rather than rejoicing in what’s there.
Just that much is a mistake that Shyly would never make, so don’t say a dumb dog has nothing to teach you.
But watch every social engine you know of go off the rails: The annoyance over the dyspossible is expressed by the repulsive act – the way I have of expressing my displeasure over the dyspossible. This will typically be followed by a short or long round of mutually-repulsive ping-pong – often expressed in the way the other party will find most abhorrent. And after a while, the quarrels are not quite as authentic, either – coming up as grudge-encrusted continuations of past skirmishes – nor as free of guile.
Kiss and make up? That’s the impulsion strategy: How do I impel you back into my arms? Sociables do it with love, Drivens with gifts as cyphers for love. If the Incandescent and Cautious strategies of withholding affection to win loyalty seem incoherent here, consider the suckers – the Sociables – who yield to this punishment.
Enough’s enough already? The break-up strategy is there.
But so is the prison camp. A Cautious tyranny emerges when the social machine – family, job, school, church, club – is under Cautious control. A Cautious tyranny sustains itself by blocking escape – to flee a perfectly-planned paradise is not simply apostasy but insanity, for one thing, plus it calls the whole ‘perfectly-planned paradise’ idea into question – and Sociables break-up by reconciliation.
How do Sociables, considered as a type, so often end up being metaphorically imprisoned by the monster? Human beings have free will because, unlike dogs, they are capable of recognizing that a collar denotes captivity and a leash slavery – and capable of responding accordingly, by flight if possible, by rebellion if not. Sociables are poor at recognizing the collars and leashes the Incandescents and Cautious like to adorn them in. Moreover, their goal in their relationships is to keep them together at all costs. Accordingly, they don’t think to run away until the cost of doing so is too high to bear.
There is much more to my reinterpretation of DISC, ultimately a complete game theory of human motivation. For example, even before their reigns descend into Cautious tyrannies, the Incandescent and the Cautious will tend to be sub-optimal managers. Why? Because both fascination and fear inhibit productivity. Only the Driven can lead, and the world you live in is plummeting through a chaos cascade because the Driven have been driven out of their natural leadership roles by the Cautious tyranny that is Marxism – the temporary and catastrophic mutiny of the Cautious over the Driven.
In real life, people are not all one thing, of course. Most of us will be very strong in one corner of the DISC quadrant, less so in another and fairly weak in the other two. So, for example, I am off-the-charts Driven and very strongly Incandescent – which is what makes me hammer away writing thousands and millions of words. My quick ’n’ dirty notation for me would be: Di. Ayn Rand and her mincing minions profile as Ci. The ideal husband is Ds and his ideal wife is Sd. In general, your life will be more pleasing to you overall if you work to gain strength on the D/S axis – if you work to become more Driven in your Sociability and more Sociable in your Driven pursuits. Caution has its place, and everyone likes a pat on the back, but the best things in life are accomplished with your loved ones, so human flourishing is a Driven/Sociable pursuit.
I haven’t yet written a DISC test, but Tony Robbins has an excellent DISC assessment. You should take it, and you should have everyone you love or work with take it, and then you all should talk about your results and what they mean. I think it’s a good idea to take this test once a year, perhaps on your birthday, so you can see how your pre-dispositions are changing over time.
And for visual and auditory learners, here’s a quick video gloss on DISC with the added bonus of a thoroughgoing discussion of the DISC of dating and salesmanship:
This is the magic bullet, Bunkie, a complete score card for navigating human social transactions. Need more proof? In the video I mention a DISC strategy for playing poker. If you ever see me in the card room at the Aria, take a seat and I’ll teach it to you – slowly.
Further notice: My most-comprehensive thoughts on DISC are found in Nine empathies and Shylys delight, but the DISC short-hand I use to elucidate empathy strategies is present in everything I write – especially here. Accordingly, here are some posts that I think offer important insights into the analysis of everyday strategic motivations:
- Do you want to engineer a happy marriage? He drives, she rides shotgun.
- Empathy for the machine that is your body: If you can tell someone how you surf – you can’t surf.
- The high-D diet: How to lose weight without even trying.
- My 7 magic laws of done: How to finish the things you start – quickly, completely and with style.
- Empathy tells all: Why are libertarians so hostile to marriage and family?
- Empathy for the Incandescent: Using the DISC system to understand the cast of Entourage.