September 11, 2014

Using the DiSC model to get to the roots of conflict at work

Here on the ReQtest blog we’ve often discussed the importance of good team communication and fostering a work environment that makes people feel happy and comfortable.

Unfortunately, conflict is never very far beneath the surface and even the most seemingly trivial situation could blow the lid off a colleague or client. Where conflict management is concerned, it makes sense to follow the Boy Scouts’ motto: Be Prepared!

Professionally this makes a lot of sense. For businesses, any kind of conflict translates in wasted time, energies and ultimately lost revenue.

On the workplace there are two main types of conflict you’ll encounter:

  1. Performance-based conflict – This type of conflict is caused when somebody’s work performance does not match the expectations of the leader or team in general. It can be an issue either of quantity (e.g. not meeting deadlines) or quality (e.g. poor requirements).
  2. Relationship-based conflict – This type of conflict arises when people don’t get along together because of a clash in perspectives that often stem from underlying divergences in personality types and communication styles

Both types of conflicts lead to the same outcome: stress for the whole team and low morale which negatively impact productivity.

What is the DISC model?

The DISC model forms the theoretical basis of a family of personality assessment tools that are used by organisations worldwide to improve teamwork, interpersonal communication and smoothen over workplace conflicts.

This instrument originated from the writings of American psychologist Dr William Moulton Marston in the 1920s. His ideas were developed by followers who eventually formulated the DISC model that underpins a variety of commercial tests that are available on the market.

NOTE: In this article, I’ll simply focus on the usefulness of the model without reference to any specific test.

In comparison with other personality tests, such as the ever-popular Myer-Briggs, the DISC model is more behaviourally-oriented and hence offers more practical advice on how to deal with conflict at work.

How can DISC be used in conflict management?

The DISC model measures people’s preferred ways of behaving in a given situation by categorising them into four general behavioural styles: dominant, influential, steady and conscientious.

Just like a psychological Rock-Papers-Scissors, these four types interact in stereotypical ways to opposition, allowing you to predict your own and other peoples’ behaviour in an interaction and thus making it possible to facilitate communication between different parties.

This means that conflict management can be carried out in somewhat of a more precise (if not quite empirical) manner.

Different people, different styles

The DISC model provides you and your team with a common vocabulary of four words that concisely sum up the other person’s likely communication styles, behavioural patterns and motivating needs, including their fears.


Dominant Influential Steady Conscientious
Archetypal figure The Boss The Visionary The Ally The Critic
Focus Work-focused People-focused People-focused Work-focused
Behaviour Direct, strong-willed, to the point, sets lots of goals, makes decisions,wants results and punctuality. Can be seen aggressive. Fast-acting, fast-talking, a high-risk taker, competitive, personality plus.Exerts influence with high verbal skills. Passive and slow to change, flexible about time, cares about people.Help is his or her middle name. Gets the work done.


Analytic by nature, number cruncher, well-organized, inquisitive, slowacting, low risk taker, follows the rules, cooperative, creative.
Like Power and authority Freedom and recognition Stability and time to adapt Accuracy and detail
Dislike Criticism Rejection Rigidity Imperfection
Response in conflict Go directly to theproblem, be specific about actions and results. Don’t waste their time. Talk about ideas, use energy and listento them. Talk with them to themabout them. Pace their concerns, take away their fears of being challenged.  Be accurate,collect information, show logic and link steps.


Understanding conflict at work

Understanding what causes conflict is just as important as knowing how to defuse high-tension situations at work. After all, it is the hallmark of a good leader to be able to iron out differences, while ensuring that as little damage as possible is wreaked to the egos of those involved.

To help you succeed in this endeavour, here are some strategies which together with the DISC model can bring conflicts at work to a swift and painless conclusion:

  • Focus on what’s wrong, not WHO’s wrong. Avoid that old finger-pointing, blame shifting rabbit hole.
  • Assume a positive end to the situation is possible and let everybody know that you believe so.
  • Set a timeframe by which you expect the situation to be resolved. Emotions respond to Parkinson’s Law as well!
  • Resolve to draw up learning points from any conflict situation and share your conclusions with the team.


Always keep in mind what the DISC model and countless other psychological theories teach us. People behave differently in conflict situations; instead of going head-to-head against them and prolonging the struggle, learn to ‘read’ their style and adapt your response intelligently in order to defuse the situation as quickly and smoothly as possible.

Finally, remember that the main sources of conflict are either: i) yourself and ii) the other person. Take care that you’re not the one stirring up needless trouble at work!

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