Does DISC Measure How You Listen?

Adam Stamm

DISC and Listening Styles

The DISC Model is unique because it provides a lot of information about someone’s personality without being overly complex. Unlike other personality assessments, DISC measures two dimensions that help explain our communication preferences, motivations, and stressors.

For this reason, it can sometimes seem like DISC can offer insights into certain communication aspects that it doesn’t actually measure. 

How we listen is one of those areas. 

Our listening style accounts for a large portion of successful communication, but it’s often woefully under-practiced and often misunderstood. 

In this blog article, I will review:

  1. Common misconceptions about DISC and listening and the differences between our DISC Styles and Listening Styles
  2. The research that maps the correlation and relationship strengths between measurable listening styles and DISC Personality Types

If you are pressed for time and want to quickly get an answer on whether DISC measures how we listen, the TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) is that the DISC and Listening Styles Research shows there is only a weak correlation between our listening styles and our DISC styles. 

DISC and Listening: Common Misconceptions

A recently published blog article offered listening tips based on each DISC Style. While well-intentioned, the article promoted the “listening strengths” of the four DISC Profiles.

After reading the article, it became apparent that what it described weren’t the ‘listening strengths’ of each style (except for one style—more on that later). Rather, the article detailed the behavioral strengths of each style while in conversation.

Below are the strengths that they offered – see if you can spot the differences:

D-Style and Listening - Misconceptions

Listening Strengths of D-Style?

Action-oriented - These individuals are quick to identify solutions and swift problem solvers.
Assertive - The D-Style isn't afraid to ask clarifying questions.
Resilience to critique - The D-Style is open to constructive feedback. They can listen to criticism.

I-Style and Listening Tips - Common Misconceptions

Listening Strengths of I-Style?

Relationship Focus - The I-Style prioritizes building relationships and connections.
Encouragement - These individuals encourage and use positive language when listening.
Openness to Ideas - The I-Style is typically open to new ideas and concepts.

Listening Strengths of S-Style?

Patience- S-Style people are patient and avoid interrupting the speaker.
Non-judgement - The S-style is non-judgemental and less likely to form hasty judgments during the conversation.
Calm Support - S-Style listeners offer a steadying presence.

C-Style Listening Tips and Common Misconceptions

Listening Strengths of C-Style?

Critical Thinking - C-style listeners evaluate information objectively. They listen to discern.
Patience - Someone with a C-Style is patience and willing to spend the time to gather information and process it.
Clarification - This style is comfortable asking clarifying questions to ensure they understand the speaker's message.

Before clarifying why these strengths are misleading, it’s important to clarify why we listen.

Listening is an active process that helps us gather, comprehend, and learn new information. When we listen, we often engage in some form of response—even if the response is non-verbal (i.e., nodding, smiling, laughing, crying, etc.)—to continue the dialogue or to show our understanding or misunderstanding.

Most of the DISC “Listening Strengths” aren’t focused on how we process information when we listen. Rather, the writers focus on each style’s behaviors naturally exhibited while conversing.

To further explain why this matters, think about the ‘Listening Strengths’ above and imagine you are invited to an All Hands meeting at your organization. Imagine hundreds of employees attending the meeting both in person and virtually. The CEO will present information affecting most of the company’s employees.

With this scenario in mind, do the DISC “Listening Strengths” make sense or showcase how they help each style process what they hear in this instance? 

Some do, but many don’t. 

For this reason, it’s important to understand that how we process information is better measured through our listening style rather than DISC.

Listening Style Overview

We all have a preferred way to process information.

Don’t believe me? Find a group of people, perhaps your family, and listen to a radio program or podcast. After a few minutes of listening, ask everyone what they heard.

There is research done by ECHO (Effective Communication for Healthy Organizations) that shows within any group of people, there will be four types of listening styles:

  • Connective Listening: listening for the effect of the information on others.
  • Reflective Listening: Focus on how the information affects the listener.
  • Analytical listening: This listener focuses on facts and quantifiable data.
  • Conceptual listening: This listener focuses on possibilities and what could be.

Our listening style filters all the information we hear (unless prompted to listen for other information). Depending on how aligned we are with our listening style, we may miss information entirely because our filter is so strong.

Our listening style explains why two people can hear the same information and walk away with entirely different perspectives on what they just heard.

Now, it’s easy to conclude that the styles must correlate because there are four listening styles and four primary DISC personality types.

Next, I’ll share research examining the relationship between our Listening Styles and DISC Styles.

DISC and Listening Styles Research

DISC and Listening Research

Close to two decades ago, John Wiley & Sons, the publisher of Everything DiSC, conducted research comparing DISC and a listening assessment called the Personal Listening Profile

Their research measured the correlations between each of the DISC Styles and the Listening Styles (their listening assessment, which at the time included five listening styles, was discontinued. A new listening assessment called ECHO, not published by Wiley, is available).

Their chart shows that most DISC Styles don’t strongly correlate with a listening style except for one: the C Personality Type. A strong correlation exists between those who receive the Discerning Listening Style and those with the C Personality Type.

However, the correlations become much weaker as you examine the other styles.

What does this all mean?

If your team or organization is focused on improving communication, DISC is a great place to start. However, it’s important to remember the other half of communication: listening.

Researchers in Israel have found that how well someone listens to you affects your mental clarity and self-awareness.

Stop and consider that for a moment. A poor listener can affect how well you understand yourself and your thinking! This has huge implications for managers leading a team where the focus of the work changes over time (Government, Aerospace, and Healthcare). A manager who listens poorly can affect how a person can appropriately identify the true problem and appropriate solution.

Like all new skills, developing an understanding of your communication and listening preferences will take time. Tools and resources are available to help with both areas.

We can help you navigate what type of program might be useful for your team or organization.

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