DiSC® - Responding to the D (Dominant) Style

Posted by Bill Harshman on

In today’s DiSC® lesson, we will discuss responding to the D (or Dominant) style.  We are shifting from understanding the D style to more of interacting and responding.  I’ll address today’s topic from multiple perspectives: 1) those who are not familiar with the DiSC® technology or jargon, 2) those who ARE familiar with DiSC® and some understanding of each of the 4 styles, and 3) those who not only know of DiSC® but have taken the assessment and know their own style and other styles quite well.

I’ll review D-specific information, then provide examples of responses to daily situations.

Before we dive deeper, I have always encouraged learners to maintain a couple important pieces of baseline knowledge. These two pieces are critical to understanding DiSC®.  (This is especially for first-time readers of my blogs)


First are the Cornerstone Principles that we’ve discussed before:

  • All DiSC®styles are equally valuable
  • Everyone is a unique blend of all DiSC®styles, and people tend toward one or two styles
  • Your unique style is also influenced by other factors such as life experiences, education, and maturity


Second is the Basic DiSC® Styles Model:



A person’s DiSC® style is decided by the intersection of two dimensions of observable behaviors (including body language, tone of voice, expression, and word choice):

The vertical dimension is known as PACE (or outward activity level) described as either Fast-paced & Outspoken OR Cautious & Reflective.  The horizontal dimension is known as your AGREEABLENESS quotient.  This means those who are “less agreeable” place a lower PRIORITY (concern) for cooperation and social harmony, and we refer to them as “Questioning & Skeptical” on the left end of this dimension.  A general term for them might be result-focused.  Those who are “more agreeable” place a higher PRIORITY on cooperation and social harmony and we refer to them as “Accepting & Warm” on the right end of this dimension.  A general term for them might be people-focused.

*It is the interaction between these TWO continua which forms the 4 quadrants (or basic styles) of the DiSC® model, AND by which you identify a person’s DiSC® style.

BUT, what if you don’t know about DiSC® let alone the style of the person you’re responding to?  This is the power of the DiSC®.  It begins with observable behavior.  I said this lesson would be helpful to the non- DiSC® types. 

Here’s a scenario.  Someone comes up to you boldly and requests you help them with some data the company needs for a final report within the hour.

If your only observations about that person are that they seem:  fast-paced, result-focused, self-confident, and direct, you already have a lot of information – not even mentioning DiSC® – about this individual.  Let me ask here, intuitively are you going to respond to them in a long-winded, exploratory, moderate-paced manner while the other person is sneaking regular peaks at their phone to check the time?  I don’t think so.  Even in this interaction, one can wisely assume the other person is not looking to have drawn out conversation.  DiSC® helps clarify, focus, and validate that.

As we continue to look at Responding to a D, I want to start with a definition of Dominant with which we are likely familiar to help calibrate the reader and provide a common baseline of understanding as we proceed. 

  • Oxford defines Dominant as follows: (of a person) the power to have an effect on people or things, or a person or thing that is able to do this.

DiSC® will provide much more interpretation and meaning to this style label we call Dominant.  Understanding more about the relationship with the other styles will help with our “response” lesson.

With our focus on the D style, let’s break down this PACE and AGREEABLENESS interaction a bit more. 

We’ll start with PACE.  We see that D & I share a faster & outspoken PACE.  Using the D as our example Style today, we see that D & I share some of the same aspects by nature of their similar PACE.  In other words, if they have a similar PACE, they are more likely to be able to understand one another sooner and easier . . . than if they had a dissimilar PACE.  Putting that another way, they each know a little bit about the other with whom they are interacting. 

Now, still focusing on the D style, let’s take a look at AGREEABLENESS.  We see that D & C share Questioning & Skeptical AGREEABLENESS.  In other words, they each know a little bit about the language of the other and their “result-focused” approach. 

You might wonder “What about the diagonal pairings (for example the D / S relationship)?”  That’s a good question.  This is where we begin to see interaction between dissimilar styles that share NEITHER PACE nor AGREEABLENESS.  Let’s take a look.

Again, with our focus on the D style, we know that a D comes from a faster & outspoken PACE combined with a Questioning & Skeptical AGREEABLENESS.  When the D needs to interact with an “S”, the first thing the D considers is that the “S” has a cautious & reflective PACE combined with an Accepting & Warm AGREEABLENESS (aka, people-focused).  This knowledge is all the D needs to prepare for successful interaction.  Granted, it will take a little more planning and effort entering the conversation with the others’ “S” style in mind.

I call this extra “effort” the STRETCH.  One style may have to STRETCH (or FLEX) a little to “speak the language” of another style, always considering the others’ needs, preferences, and priorities.

Let’s now look at a very brief list of other descriptors to help you more easily and more accurately respond to the D (Dominant) style.

Here is a reminder from an actual DiSC® Profile report for a D Style.  D’s:

  • Place a high priority on Results, and focus on “making their mark.”
  • Prioritize Action, and tend to value follow-through and restraint. 
  • Prioritize Challenge, and tend to want to control outcomes through questioning and independent-mindedness.

I don’t want to leave you with the thought that it’s only about how WE respond to a D.  The Dominant style has perceptions, beliefs, and knowledge with which they approach the world too.  If our subject D observes YOUR behavior and begins to understand more about you, this can help tremendously with your interactions. 


For example, if our D observes someone as Cautious & Reflective, combined with Accepting & Warm, they may deduce that person is likely an “S” style.  However, if the S knows that about themselves, and also knows how a D likes to be approached and responded to, the likelihood that – with a little stretch – the S will be able to respond to the D more effectively.

Now, in all fairness, the best interaction occurs when each style reaches in toward the other style with acceptance, understanding, and a desire for mutual communication success.

Let me take you through a simple, everyday exchange with a D style.

Mr. “D” walks up to a co-worker and asks what time it is.  The co-worker, being unfamiliar with the DiSC® (let alone this individual’s “D” style), shares, “Well, lunch was about 2 hours ago, followed by a nice walk on my break, and . . . Ya know, I’m not quite sure”. 

By now, the D is long past waiting for the answer and displays their frustration.  They were hoping for an immediate, brief response.  Not rude mind you - - nor an excuse - -it’s just the “D” style. 

Same scenario, Ms. “D” asks another co-worker who IS familiar with DiSC® and happens to know our “D” friend from having been through DiSC® training together.  The interaction results in the co-worker quickly checking their watch and answering, “3:00”, and Ms. “D” says “Thanks” (giving a thumbs up) and walks off quickly, completely satisfied with the exchange and the result.

Don’t let the simplicity of this scenario fool you.  The same awareness applies to other types of communication (such as phone, face-to-face, text, or email).  Let’s take a look.

D:  Handshake might be firm and brief (not held long). 

Response to the D handshake?  Mirror the handshake proportionally.  It’s different than you might return a C handshake, or an S handshake.  (Note:  Embracing a “D”’s handshake with two hands and looking deeply into their eyes is probably going to create awkwardness for both parties).

Please review this short email:

When you see an email written in extremely brief tone/language, right to the point, and not overly detailed, we see a style that is purposeful, abbreviated, and more notifying/informative than friendly.  Also, notice the bulleted format and the lack of signature at bottom.  Based on your knowledge of the DiSC® model, you might begin to surmise you are dealing with a D.

Response:  Your task is to get to the point ASAP and might look like a “Thanks” or “Got it”

Let me volunteer one more thing.  Yes, you might be a D writing this email, however always consider the audience.  If you are looking to appeal to an audience of all types, you may well want to have a more inclusive writing style including all 4 DiSC® types.  This is especially helpful if you are coaching another manager or one of your direct reports who is great at writing emails from a D perspective, yet you receive feedback that your employees’ emails are somewhat “blunt, direct, insensitive, etc.”  For example, what if this email were addressing the Christmas holiday instead of Labor Day? 

I hope this overview increased your awareness, knowledge, and familiarity of DiSC®, and specifically with the Dominant style.   Whether your needs include Onboarding, Employee Engagement, Culture Change, Conflict Management, Team Building, or simply Communication, DiSC® is the research-based, proven, leading training solution.

As ALWAYS, the key to effectiveness through DiSC® is understanding your and others’ styles and then using that knowledge for improved interactions.

If you would like a live, complimentary webinar (online) for your team or organization, please send an email to info@traininglocation.com.  If you’d like to purchase the DiSC®, visit  DiSC® Classic or Everything DiSC® at our website.  And, check out our products from The Ken Blanchard Companies as well.

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