Supervisory Influence and the DISC Model of Human Behavior

by Jennifer Miller on February 16, 2011

in Book Review, Leadership

Early in my career as a corporate trainer, my work team leader introduced me to a self-assessment tool called the Personal Profile System (now in a revised version called the DiSC® Classic Profile). We used the DiSC profile as part of our company’s curriculum for newly hired supervisors. The DiSC section of the coursework always proved enlightening to the new supervisors.

So it was with great interest that I read several passages from the new book From Bud to Boss: Secrets to a Successful Transition to Remarkable Leadership. In the book’s extensive section on Communication, the DISC Model of Human Behavior figures prominently.

I was fortunate enough to snag an interview with From Bud to Boss co-author Guy Harris right before the book launched.  So I took the opportunity to learn more about his view of this well-known conceptual model and why he and co-author Kevin Eikenberry decided to feature it in the book. Guy was masterful at explaining how he uses the DISC conceptual model to help supervisors understand how to use influence in a positive manner. Even if you think you know “DISC”, I’d encourage you to read on.

Here’s an excerpt from our interview. . .

JVM: One thing that caught my eye when reading the book is your section on Communication. There are eight chapters devoted to this topic. I noticed that a significant portion of the chapters reference a conceptual model that you call the “DISC Model of Human Behavior”.

In a nutshell, what is the “DISC Model of Human Behavior”?

GH: It’s a way of looking at human behavior that gives us a language to describe behaviors, motivations and drives in objective and descriptive ways rather than subjective and judgmental ways. One way to look at it would be, “The DISC model provides me with a vocabulary to describe the way that other people see the world when they see it differently than me.” It’s a four-quadrant model that helps provide a frame of reference and insights into looking at differing behaviors. We believe that supervisors can use this information to adjust their communication style to best communicate with people.

JVM: Why devote the number of pages you and Kevin did to the DISC model?

GH: We noticed that when we did our Bud to Boss workshops [the precursor to the book], there was a high interest when we shared the information on the DISC model. It seemed to us that people were hungry for these insights, especially in how to apply this information. So, we built in a lot of “how to’s” into the book around this conceptual model.

JVM: I found this quote in the Communications section of your book as an introduction to the DiSC model:  


When you create an environment that challenges people’s needs, they struggle against you. When you create an environment that meets people’s needs, you develop greater influence and they will generally cooperate with you.

I believe this is related to the concept of “Circle of Influence” you cover in the book’s Chapter 9, correct?

Guy: Yes.

JVM: In the book, what’s the connection you make between supervisory influence and the DISC model of behavior?

Guy: We use the DISC model as frame to understand the emotional needs people might bring to the workplace. Let’s use an example of physical needs to illustrate: if you and I are in a swimming pool and all of a sudden, I push your head under water, I’ve just put you in a situation where you cannot get something you need— air. And because you can’t get what you need, you are likely to struggle against me because I am the object of the struggle [because I’m holding your head under water.] However the reason for the struggle is lack of air, not me. So, when you’re in an environment where you have plenty of air you don’t think about it too much; it’s just there. But when you are in an environment where you don’t have air, you will struggle against the “obstacle” that’s preventing you from getting what you need.

It’s the same with emotional needs. So, looking at influence, if I as a supervisor can create the best possible environment where the people that I interact with can get their emotional needs met, they are less likely to struggle against me and are in a position to want to cooperate. The flip side is that if I as a supervisor create an environment where people can’t get their needs met, they will in subtle (and not so subtle) ways act out against me and therefore I won’t have influence. Here’s how influence and the DISC concept are connected: if I communicate with people in a way that meets their needs, that influences them to cooperate and work with joint effort rather than struggling with the conflict and stress that you often see in organizations.

JVM: But Guy, isn’t that manipulation?

Guy: I get asked that question a lot. Here’s my perspective: the techniques and strategies for manipulation and influence are identical. The difference is in the intention of the person applying them. Let me give you an example: a hammer. A hammer is a tool; it’s amoral—neither “good” nor “bad”. A hammer can be used to build a house for someone to live in; it’s a good tool. If I use it to bash their head, it’s a bad tool. The hammer didn’t change, I did.

So, looking at the concept of manipulation, if my outlook is “I’m going to get somebody to do something that serves only my will, for my purposes only”, that’s probably manipulation and it’s negative because I’m using that person as an object, not treating them as a human being. If I’m working with them to influence them for mutual benefit, well, now we both win and that’s ok. So the difference is in the intention and the application, not the tool itself.

Good stuff, Guy! Thanks so much for your time and for sharing valuable insight into this conceptual model of human behavior.

If you’re interested in learning more about making the transition to being a new supervisor, you can check out my interview with Guy in the post  Supervisory Transition: Roles, Relationships and Remarkable Principles  and you can purchase the book at

Disclosures: My consulting and training company SkillSource offers assessments based on the DISC conceptual model, and has a business relationship with Inscape Publishing Inc., the company that researches and publishes material under the DiSC® trademark. Yes, there is some self-promotion within this post, and yes, I’d love it if you’d contact me to learn more about this fantastic self-development tool.

Guy and Kevin gave me an e-copy of the book to read in preparation for my interview. Also, it would be a real drag for the Feds to show up and haul me away, so I’m following the  rules set forth by the FTC. Some of the links in the above post are affiliate links, meaning if you click on the link and purchase the item (looking is free), I will receive a commission. Hey, a girl’s gotta find a way to cover her blogging habit, right?

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jay Kuhns February 16, 2011 at 8:04 am

Great post. Using tools, like DISC, have long been an interest of mine but I’ve not been in a situation to take on that project. I appreciate the way you’ve introduced it here. Thank you!

Jennifer February 16, 2011 at 12:04 pm


Thanks for stopping by. Glad you found this introduction to the DiSC model helpful!

Guy Harris February 17, 2011 at 11:57 pm

Jennifer – Thanks for both the interview and for posting this excerpt. I really enjoyed the chance to speak with you. I’m also enjoying what I’m reading on your blog (not just this one 🙂 ).

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