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Office life & DiSC®

Once a DiSC® program has been introduced to an organization, people start noticing DiSC styles playing out in different ways. Here are some of our favorites.

What your desk reveals

It’s easy to make assumptions about what might appear on someone’s desk based on their DiSC style: D styles have their awards, i styles have amusing tchotchkes, S styles have photos of their family, and the C style’s desk is uncluttered and organized. Is this correct?

Our staff member Kristeen writes: “As a CD style, I must confess to a completely messy desk with notes and reference works all over. I also have a photo of two nieces on my wall. So is my desk the exception that proves the rule? Probably not. All the reference works reflect my priority for accuracy and respect for expertise. I could claim that the lack of organization simply shows that I want everything I might need near me so I don’t have to get up for anything—a reflection of my priority for action. Or it could just mean that I have a high tolerance for messes.”

A clean desk might speak to generosity and conventionality; a messy one, creativity and breaking free of tradition. Psychologist and behavioral economist Kathleen Vohs conducted research that proposes this is true. Environmental psychologist Lily Bernheimer suggests that an extrovert’s desk will be cluttered, chaotic, and colorful; an introvert’s will be a fortress protecting their personal space. You know best what your desk might reveal.

People are more complicated than any personality assessment can reveal. Kristeen’s desk is proof that making quick assumptions can be dangerous, yet informative if they are investigated and evaluated. A manager shouldn’t be quick to assume that a messy desk is the mark of a poor worker, or a clean desk the mark of someone who lacks creativity. A better response might be to inquire into what assistance they could provide to make their employees’ environments more conducive to work.

“All environments, whether they are offices, supermarkets, play parks and beaches will have some form of stressor. They could be noise related, they could be smell-related, they could be sensitivity to over-crowding or to light conditions. What’s more, different people have different tolerances to these stressors, depending on the environment in which they occur, the combination of stressors present, the activity you need to do in the environment and individual personality type!” Sarah Hewitt

Taking time off

Encouraging employees to take time off can improve their performance and increase retention, yet some employees are reluctant to do so. Does personality offer any insight into why?

You could consider the DiSC model and hypothesize a few possible causes. The D style doesn’t want to be seen as replaceable. The i style finds it difficult to disconnect even when away. The S style wants to show their dedication, and the C style fears returning to a mountain of work.

You could also look at managers who pressure their workers to avoid time off. Perhaps the D-style manager does it because they want to see more progress, and the i style because they like seeing everyone busy around them. The S style chooses this behavior because that’s what they see their bosses doing, and the C style because no one has complained.

Of course, company culture can be the primary reason workers don’t take their PTO or vacation time. Or it could be that there is something unpleasant at home that a worker avoids by being in the office. Or a worker could be hiding something more easily discovered if they were away. Again, direct communication will give you more answers than assumptions will.

Work-life balance

It’s important to reflect on what balance means for you and not expect this to necessarily hold true for others. Where we are in our careers and our changing responsibilities for others in our lives makes the metaphor less about walking a balance beam and more like standing near the center of a see-saw. Sometimes one side is up and sometimes the other. We just ensure the side that needs us most doesn’t drop us below the balance point.

What work-life balance means to someone and how they find it could be related to their personality.

The D style is likely to take work home or work long hours just to get tasks completed and to get recognition. If they see something that needs to get done, they are likely to take it upon themselves to do it. They may need reminders that time away from work can contribute to renewed energy and creativity at work.

An i-style worker might get more of their social needs met while at work or they might overcommit to activities outside of work. Either way, they might have a hard time prioritizing time for rest and reflection. They may benefit from recognizing that routines reduce the need for repeated decision-making.

Keeping everyone happy at home and at work might be an S style’s priority, but that can be very draining on them. They could sometimes use a reminder to take care of themselves and to speak up for their own needs. They’re the most likely ones to notice that someone else on a team is experiencing work-life balance tensions.

The C-style person can get bogged down in (or swept away by) details or challenges at work or at home and not use their time efficiently. If their work-life imbalance is pointed out, they can be great at listing solutions—just not necessarily in enacting them.

Managers and work-life balance

Managers can help or hinder work-life balance. They need to be clear about their expectations and reward the behaviors they say they want to see.

A D-style manager might not state their expectations of work hours and commitments, but send the message indirectly through late-night emails or repeating the urgency of a task. Balancing their forceful and competitive nature is their directness, which can be used to increase their clarity around end goals, and their respect for personal autonomy.

An i-style manager might arrange an event others see as “forced fun,” rather than a way of boosting energy on the team. They might also be very creative in finding ways to encourage those on their team to take their vacation or PTO and to reward them when they do.

Worried that they are being too assertive, the S-style manager might refrain from making explicit the expectations they have for their team. This can lead to a few people going above and beyond while others are allowed to slack. On the other hand, they can be very supportive of their teams finding work-life balance.

C-style managers can neglect to spend the time necessary to know and understand the pressures their direct reports might be experiencing at and outside of work. On a positive note, they can be very good at designing and implementing policies that support a balanced life for their employees.

It’s important to look beyond our immediate reactions to someone’s behavior. We tend to show bias toward others who are similar to us, and that similarity includes personality. We’re better at reining in knee-jerk reactions when we know more about people.

For example, a manager might assume that someone who turns off their camera while working from home is slacking in some way. The manager equates seeing someone’s face with them being present. But if the manager knows that the employee is currently caring for a sick baby or is working from the bedside of a hospitalized family member, they will adjust their perception. Now they might see attending the meeting in any way as proof of commitment and the camera being off as a sign of respect for others in the call.

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Humor in the office

We laugh more around people we care about and who we feel safe with. So laughter during meetings can be a sign of team cohesion. What might laughter show us about personality?

We can intuit that introverts (S, SC/CS, and C types in DiSC) aren’t likely to erupt into peals of laughter. And the Di/iD, i, and iS/Si types probably laugh with less self-consciousness than the CS, C, or CD types. The i-style leader is more likely to include humor when trying to motivate or uplift people.

The research suggests people who score high in agreeableness and are open to new experiences (similar to the DiSC iS/Si style measurement) probably enjoy making people laugh and easily find the humor in most situations. And they are less likely to use aggressive or offensive humor.

People who score higher in neuroticism are more likely to use self-defeating humor or self-mocking humor. DiSC doesn’t measure neuroticism, and its measurement of conscientiousness differs from that of the Big Five referenced by the research, so we can’t draw correlations here.

Beyond personality, there are other factors that affect how we create and respond to humor. Researcher Tonglin Jiang and others have found that humor is universal but also culturally specific. For example, “Easterners are less likely to use humor as a coping strategy in comparison with Westerners.” If your team includes someone from London and someone from Beijing, their attitudes toward your favorite joke are likely to be very different.

“Health-promoting humor styles were positively correlated with extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness, and negatively correlated with neuroticism. Health-endangering humor styles were positively associated with neuroticism and negatively associated with agreeableness and conscientiousness.” Humor styles and personality: A systematic review and meta-analysis on the relations between humor styles and the Big Five personality traits,” Personality and Individual Differences journal

We can see how our work and home lives are influenced by our personalities and those of the people around us. Personality is just one factor in our relationships. Recognizing, valuing, and responding to our personality differences can certainly make our lives richer and our relationships more rewarding.

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