People-Reading the DiSC® Styles

Posted by Bill Harshman on

An important step toward becoming effective with others is developing the ability to recognize different DiSC® styles using the people-reading technique.  People-reading isn’t meant to “label” or box people in.  It’s a way to help us understand the needs and priorities of others.  We can observe behaviors including body language, tone of voice, expression, and word choice. 

In today’s lesson, we’ll discuss how to initially read people’s DiSC® style by observing behavior around the two continua of PACE & AGREEABLENESS. 

Before we dive deeper, I have always encouraged learners to maintain a couple important pieces of baseline knowledge. Both these pieces are critical to people-reading.  (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.

Let’s break down this PACE and AGREEABLENESS interaction which helps identify the DiSC® styles to improve your people-reading skills.  This includes 3 simple steps:

Step 1:  We’ll start with PACE.  We see that D and i share a faster & outspoken PACE.  We also see that C & S share a cautious & reflective PACE.  Using the S as the example style here, we see that S & C share some of the same “language” 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 language of the other with whom they are interacting.  Same would be true between the D & i.

Step 2:  Now, let’s take a look at AGREEABLENESS.  We see that D & C share questioning & skeptical AGREEABLENESS.  They are considered result-oriented.  We also see that i & S share Accepting & warm AGREEABLENESS.  We consider them people-oriented.  In other words, they each know a little bit about the language of the other.  You can see how I can make the same inference about “language” that I made at the PACE grid by looking at similarity in AGREEABLENESS.

Step 3 is to combine the two answers above to identify a person’s DiSC® style, D, I, S, or C.

This information will help when we begin to discuss people-reading.  Actually, it’s the first level of people-reading.

Let’s see what this might look like in an everyday situation.  Introducing Bob and Mel.

It’s always about PACE & AGREEABLENESS.  I like to circle back to this key, central concept as the starting point to understanding one’s DiSC® style.  Let’s visit Bob and Mel, having coffee at work on a project.

Bob thinks, “Is Mel’s PACE faster & outspoken or more cautious & reflective?”

Mel thinks, “Is Bob’s AGREEABLENESS questioning & skeptical (result-focused) OR Accepting & warm (people-focused)?”

I’m going to stop here and add in one more learning point based upon this specific scenario.  Perhaps – as with our individuals shown (Bob & Mel) – you are able to determine EITHER PACE OR  AGREEABLENESS.  You will at least know something about the others’ style. 

So, let’s go back to our breakdown of PACE & AGREEABLENESS.  Remember we discussed that each style shares PACE OR AGREEABLENESS with two other styles.  Specifically, if Bob discovers that Mel has a faster, outspoken PACE, he can at least begin to determine that Mel is probably either a “D” or an “i”, because PACE is shared between the “D” and the “i”.  Similarly, if Mel discovers that Bob demonstrates a questioning & skeptical AGREEABLENESS, she can at least begin to determine that Bob is probably either a “D” or a “C”.  From there, each will want to observe more behaviors to help determine the other missing aspect of the PACE & AGREEABLENESS model to help more accurately identify a specific DiSC® style(s). 

Let’s look at an overview of the DiSC® types as a high-level reminder.  We already know the two continua which tell us the basic DiSC® styles.  Now, let’s see more descriptors which will help us as we continue our people-reading lesson:

Overview - Dominant

 Overview - Influence

 Overview - Steady

 Overview - Conscientious


Suppose we are not able to identify one’s PACE & AGREEABLENESS. 

Do people display OTHER behaviors (including body language, tone of voice, expression, and word choice) that can still help us?  YES!  Let’s review this short email. 

Email - Dominant 

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 than friendly (but NOT unfriendly).  Based on your knowledge of the DiSC® model, you might begin to surmise you are dealing with a Dominant style.

Or, how about this one composed by another style?

Email - Influence

As we review the above email, we see that it is filled with a happy tone, very social, font changes, emoticons, exclamation marks, and is filled with how much fun a particular meeting will be.  Knowing nothing else, you are likely dealing with more of an Influence style.

In a previous video lesson, I’ve mentioned the way types use an elevator.  Instead of me telling which type is approaching and then describing them, let’s reverse engineer and see if we can get a pretty good guess at what type is being described by their observable behaviors.  Review the scenario below:

 Elevator - Influence

 A couple things point me in a certain direction with this elevator scenario.  The “late arriver” has a faster pace which might help us.  Their comment of “Alllll aboard” is also an indication of an outspoken / outgoing behavior.  Their enthusiasm and impulsiveness and people-concern really help narrow this to the “i” quadrant.  I would say my best guess to start with would be an Influence.  Like any people-reading, more validation is always recommended.


Here is a favorite activity of mine when discussing DiSC® style around the topic of “Let’s Grab Lunch.”

Lunch - 4 types

Hopefully, these somewhat real, yet humorous examples will demonstrate different approaches which can help you begin to people-read and identify the individual styles.

I hope this overview increased your awareness, knowledge, and familiarity of DiSC®.  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  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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