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Using DiSC when giving or receiving feedback

Feedback implies a need for a personal change of focus, activity, or behaviors and this can stir up fears and insecurities. These tips may help with giving feedback that’s more easily accepted.
4 min read

We might love to offer our opinions, but providing feedback in the workplace isn’t always easy. We wonder if it’s really wanted, if it will be accepted, or if it will be acted upon. Will the recipient be thankful, accepting, cold, hostile, or punishing?

The best teams can help each other give honest feedback and even seek out productive conflict. They’ve practiced giving and receiving feedback. They’ve learned to assume positive intent behind feedback and have established a few explicit rules about how it should be delivered. Their feedback is frequent, ongoing, and normal.

A person’s own confidence and cultural background can influence how they prefer to give and receive feedback, even positive feedback. There are feedback suggestions that work for almost all of us, such as watching our body language and asking if someone wants feedback before giving it. DiSC® style also matters.

Each DiSC style has differing goals for and fears around getting feedback. Feedback implies a need for personal change of focus, activity, or behaviors and can stir up personal fears and insecurities. Most people want to do good work and are accepting of feedback. These tips may help us give better and more targeted feedback.

“Overall, our research found that people consistently underestimate others’ desire for feedback, which can have harmful results for would-be feedback recipients.”
Nicole Abi-Esber, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

How to give feedback to each DiSC style

D styles

Remember: They fear losing control, being taken advantage of

  • Be direct and brief.
  • Offer suggestions and listen to theirs.
  • Ask “what” questions. What are you trying to achieve? What are your plans?
  • Show confidence in their abilities.
  • Know that they may respond brusquely, but that doesn’t mean necessarily that they are angry or are rejecting your feedback.
  • Remember that they enjoy competition and respond well to stretch goals.
  • Compliment them directly and immediately.

i styles

Remember: They fear rejection, loss of approval

  • Provide feedback in a casual setting.
  • Highlight how your suggested changes will benefit them.
  • Allow them time to verbalize their thoughts, feelings, and ideas.
  • Ask about their motivation for taking an action or making a change.
  • Know that they may need to respond emotionally before they can really hear or take action on your feedback.
  • Remember that they have a need to express themselves.
  • Praise them publicly.

S styles

Remember: They fear losing security, sudden change

  • Be specific in your feedback and offer concrete examples.
  • Explain how changes will increase stability over the long run.
  • Offer to discuss the issue again later to give them time to think.
  • Ask if a change in structure or policy would make change easier.
  • Know that they may become emotional, so be patient as they process the feedback. They may also need to review your feedback with others before they can accept it.
  • Ask for their ideas and give them plenty of time to answer.
  • Offer sincere praise in a private setting.

C styles

Remember: They fear criticism of performance, lack of standards

  • Review expected results to be sure you’re in alignment. Be specific and factual.
  • Ask them how they plan to make changes and what support they’ll need.
  • Refer back to agreed-upon standards or best practices.
  • Provide them time to think over your feedback and commit to any changes.
  • Know that they might have an emotional response, but you probably won’t see it. If you think you might have hurt them, you need to ask.
  • Encourage them to help define quality standards.
  • Compliment them privately and be specific.

“Feedback is key to personal growth and improvement, and it can fix problems that are otherwise costly to the recipient.”
Francesca Gino in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology


How to respond to feedback from each DiSC style

Good feedback is a gift if it allows us to see through our own blind spots or better understand the consequences of our behaviors on others. We want to show that we’ve heard the feedback and appreciate it. We want to get the most out of it that we can.

Each of us will respond to feedback first from our own style preferences. However, if we can reflect back some of the speaker’s style, our shared experience of the feedback can be richer and more productive.

D styles

Focus on results.

  • Accept their bluntness. They aren’t trying to be rude.
  • Remain businesslike.
  • Ask “what” questions to get at specifics. What exact change is needed? What do you mean? Can you give an example?
  • Show your desire to achieve results.
  • Provide examples of changes made as a result of their feedback.

i styles

Focus on issues of influence and sociability.

  • Show enthusiasm for hearing their suggestions and observations.
  • Ask “who” questions. Who will this help/reach? Who will be/has been affected?
  • Be informal, casual, and ready to brainstorm ideas.
  • Show that you understand their interests and needs and express your own.
  • Thank them for sharing with you.

S styles

Focus on stability and relationships.

  • Be methodical and respectful.
  • Ask “how” questions. How could this be improved? How do you see this differently?
  • Probe for additional task-related specifics or other concerns.
  • Ask if you can follow up with them later about changes you’re making.
  • Show sincere appreciation for the feedback.

C styles

Focus on quality.

  • Be businesslike and respect their knowledge and expertise.
  • Ask “why” questions. Why do you think this is wrong? Why do you think a change is needed? Why will that help achieve our goal?
  • Offer options.
  • Be prepared to back up your choices with data.
  • Summarize verbal feedback in writing.

How to decide if you should give feedback

Be sure you’re giving feedback that is valuable. If someone is simply using a different work process—doing it differently than you would—but getting results, then you need to let it go. You might also want to avoid giving feedback in these situations:

  • You don’t have enough information or are using secondhand information or gossip.
  • The recipient has no control over what you want them to change.
  • The person is really vulnerable or emotional right now.
  • You don’t have time to engage in dialogue.
  • You only have criticism and no suggestions for a solution.

If you’re curious about how to give better feedback during conflict situations and gain more awareness of why you might not always respond well, take the Everything DiSC Productive Conflict assessment and get personalized results.

If your team is struggling with feedback, gossip, or unproductive feedback, we recommend The Five Behaviors Team Development program.


Kristeen Bullwinkle

Steeped in Everything DiSC since 2010. Strongly inclined CD style. Leadership style and EQ mindset: resolute. Believes strongly in the serial comma.

Certifications from Wiley:
Everything DiSC, The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team

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