DISC and Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

Adam Stamm

Can DISC help teach emotional intelligence?

Behavior and emotions are often discussed in separate conversations and trainings.  However, the relationship between these two aspects of who we are is actually much closer than we give credit.

The DISC Basic profile and training doesn’t specifically set out with the goal of teaching emotional intelligence. However, there are emotional intelligence insights available if they are called out. DISC Trainers who want to encourage emotional intelligence training for their employees or clients can use the idea of “Stretching your DISC style” to discuss aspects of emotional intelligence.

Before we dig deeper into this topic, let’s cover the differences between DISC and Emotional Intelligence assessments and how they both approach helping individuals improve their emotional intelligence.

What is DISC?

DISC is a theory that identifies a person based on their behavioral style. DISC was developed in the 1920’s by William Moulton Marston. It measures an individual on two dimensions of our behavior:

  • Fast paced vs moderate paced
    • Are you assertive or are you more cautious and steady?
  • Skeptical vs accepting
    • Do you question what you are told, or are you receptive to what you are told?

Fast Pace vs Moderate

Skeptical vs Accepting

Marston believed that you can classify a person based on four distinct “emotional responses” to these two dimensions. 

However, it’s important to note that Marston never created his own assessment. A researcher from the University of Minnesota named John Geirer used Marston’s theory as a way for a person to identify their personal behavioral style.

This new model separated an individual’s emotions from their behavior to allow for a more open dialogue about our individual differences. This allowed DISC to be easily brought into corporate training settings.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to recognize emotions (either your personal emotions or another person’s emotions), and to choose how to respond. Emotional intelligence is written as either EI, EQ, or EIQ (we will refer to it as EIQ moving forward).

Daniel Goleman’s bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence, brought EIQ into the national conversation. He wrote about the leading behavioral and neuroscience research of the 1980’s and 1990’s and showed that there is a reason why certain people are able to overcome adversity easier than others.

The reason is EIQ.

Goleman found that individuals with a substantially high IQ are frequently less successful than those who have lower IQs.

Goleman cites research that found that those who have a high IQ struggled less in primary schools. They had the ability to show up to class and quickly learn the material.

Consequently, those with higher IQ didn’t have to spend as much studying or learning how to master a particular lesson to get a high grade. They could pick up the teachings with little effort. For this reason, they didn’t learn how to overcome setbacks, and they didn’t learn how to control their emotions and push forward.

What Goleman found was that success wasn’t dependent on a person’s natural gifts. In fact, a person who is able to overcome setbacks must learn how to do this. Their EIQ is learned. This insight prompted Goleman to push for EIQ to be tough in schools, and rapidly it is now being taught in corporate and organizational training.

DISC, EIQ, and the idea of "Stretch"

DISC is incredibly popular because it gives individuals a way to communicate about themselves without feeling judged. Often, emotions are entirely left out of the conversation when discussing a person’s DISC style because DISC focuses on our behaviors.

What does that mean?

As an example, if a person who responds on a DISC Basic assessment indicates that they are both Fast Paced and Very Skeptical, they would fall in the D quadrant. They are:

  • Direct
  • Quick to take Action
  • Face Challenges head-on

This is how they normally describe their behavior. With this in mind, it’s very easy to have a conversation about our interactions when we only focus on our “normal behaviors.”

Example: A Person with a D-Style

Now, how would this person behave if they found out that a close friend or relative lost their job. 

Potentially, they might continue to exhibit their D-style behaviors. They could view the situation as another challenge that they plan to face.

Perhaps they take action and determine what steps their friend should take to get back to work. Or they start a search to find them potential jobs, or they simply take their friend’s resume and see if there are open positions at their own place of work.

On the other hand, they might stretch from their normal action-oriented behaviors and provide supportive behaviors. This idea of “stretch” is unique to the DISC model, but it leans heavily on Emotional Intelligence training.

When the individual in our example stretches to choose a behavior on the other side of the DISC map, they might take time to really listen to their friend or relative. They might be more accommodating or comfort the person by taking them out to eat, sending them a card, or any small gesture to let the person know that they are there for them.

The idea of stretch (in regards to behavior) aligns well with EIQ training.

EIQ assessments measure how well we manage our emotions in four areas:

  1. Self-Awareness 
  2. Self-Management
  3. Social-Awareness
  4. Social-Management

With Emotional Intelligence assessments like the EIQ-2 assessment, a person is able to see how they score against these specific areas.

Pairing EQ assessments with DISC enhances this idea of stretch we just discussed.

As an example, a person with the sample EIQ-2  scores (see sample EIQ-2 Scores) would understand that they have fairly high emotional awareness when it comes to recognizing what they are feeling personally, and how they make others feel.

EIQ-2 Sample Scores

However, they only have a moderate amount of self-control. If this was the same person from our previous DISC example, they could use this information to recognize that they might go right into their normal “D-style” behaviors. When they interact with their friend that lost their job, they would need to pay extra attention to how they are responding.

To recap these differences, DISC measures how and EIQ-2 measures the why we interact the way we do. Combining the insights from both of these assessments will give an individual a deeper understanding of themselves.

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