Mentoring with DISC Style By: Kathy Wentworth Drahosz and Nicole Bridge
Leading a successful team can be like directing a musical performance. In the same way that orchestra conductors pull diverse musical instruments into one cohesive sound, a manager needs to create harmony between individuals who often bear little resemblance to one another. The most successful managers are able to recognize the differences between their group’s members and, in turn, respect what each can offer to the group. Diversity in style and substance, when properly organized, makes beautiful music.
Just as a conductor can identify who plays what instrument, managers need to know the behavioral (work) styles of the individuals they manage in order to understand how they can best contribute to the organization.
Behavioral styles, such as those outlined in the DISC, tell a lot about how a person tends to behave a majority of the time. The DISC indicators can be considered predictors of how a peer or colleague might approach a challenge and influence others to their way of thinking.
The ability to adapt to different behavioral styles is the key to success in both professional and personal relationships. Since behavioral styles are observable, we will show you how to determine someone’s style and react accordingly.
While the examples below illustrate the mentor/mentoree relationship, these skills can be applied between any two people communicating no matter the setting.
DISC is an acronym that stands for Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Compliance. The science of DISC explains the "how” a person does what they do and can be a strong predictor of future behavior.
When someone scores high in one particular area of DISC compared to the others, they are considered "high” in that particular factor. A basic understanding of these "high” styles helps to illustrate how to identify various behavior styles when entering a room with other people. High-D’s are all about results. High-I’s are about interaction. High-S’s seek stability while the high-C is all about following rules.
Working with an Opposing Behavioral Style in a Mentoring Partnership
Sometimes, you might be paired with someone because of their career trajectory or technical expertise but find that you share little else in common. Here are some ideas for working with a partner whose DISC style seems in opposition to your own:
A high-D and a low-D - For the high-D adapting to the low D: Slow down. Drop the intensity. Create a safe learning environment. If the low D feels calm and comfortable, they are more likely to admit "I don’t know” or "This is where I need help.” Low Ds like lessons to follow and a forum to discuss problem-solving options.
A high-I and low-I - These two styles are polar opposites - one is people-oriented and the other is task-oriented. One tends to trust indiscriminately while the other often remains guarded and slow to trust. The high-I will need to respect the low-I’s reserve at the start of the relationship and work to build trust gradually. Ask the low-I for their input while planning development activities and for their impressions on how comfortable they are with stretch assignments.
A high-S and a low-S - In this relationship, the calculated decision maker must adjust to a high-risk taker. In other words, someone who prefers a slower pace (high-S) needs to learn to work with someone who moves quickly. The high-S will need to pick up the pace when communicating with the low-S by covering only the high points and striving for directness.
A high-C and a low-C - Because the high-C and the low-C are both task-oriented, the area of potential conflict lies within the scope of compliance and risk taking. The risk-averse high-C competes with the low-C’s need for independence, many times causing a considerable amount of tension. The high-C will need to give feedback if the low-C is, in the interest of making a quick decision, tackling problems with little regard for the possible ramifications.
Using DISC to Design Developmental Activities
No matter which style each partner brings to the relationship, savvy mentors will look for opportunities to move the mentoring meetings beyond philosophical chats and/or venting sessions. In other words, to maximize learning, mentors should engage the mentoree in a variety of situations and developmental experiences.
To keep your mentoree engaged, consider their DISC style (both highs and lows) when designing development activities. For example:
High-D’s, high-C’s or low-I’s - Tend to put tasks before people, so they struggle with interpersonal skills. If the goal is to enhance people skills - ask your mentoree to consider investing one day each month listening to the concerns and needs of his/her employees or peers. Encourage them to look for opportunities to help someone talk through a project with which they are struggling.
High-I’s or high-S’s - These two behavioral styles have trouble setting clear standards and holding others accountable - particularly people over whom they have no authority. In this case, perhaps the goal would be to work with your mentoree to create a project management system for following up on outstanding tasks and action items.
Low-S’s or high-D’s - These two styles tend to struggle with maintaining emotional intelligence during difficult times/situations. The ideal developmental activity would be to identify someone for the mentoree to shadow who is going to lead a team through a difficult conversation about a failed project.
Low-D’s, high-S’s or high-C’s - These styles need time to think things through before making a decision or taking a risk. To help build confidence in decision-making and risk-taking, encourage your mentoree to journal about what holds them back from making a decision. At your next mentoring meeting, discuss the pros and cons of the decision and an action plan for moving forward.
DISC as a Guide for Mentoring Meetings
When meeting with a high-D or high-C: Expect these meetings to be brief and to the point. Be sure to show up on time and prepared to dive into business.
When meeting with a high-I: Provide a friendly and fun environment. Give them plenty of time to talk. Remember they get pretty excited about things – lots of things – so you might need to ground them a little.
When meeting with a high-S: Just like the high-I’s, they need a friendly environment. Don’t rush headlong into business, give them a chance to break the ice and warm up to you. Always give them time to think things through. Be sure to send an agenda ahead of the meeting so they know what topics you would like to discuss.
When meeting with a high-C: Show up on time and stick to business. Don’t expect the meeting to run a full hour if there’s nothing left to discuss. Be careful of appearing too lighthearted, casual or showy and follow through on your promises. Just like the high-S’s, they will appreciate an agenda sent ahead of time.
Whether you are in a mentor/mentoree relationship or simply communicating with a friend or co-worker, understanding and being able to adapt to differing behavioral styles is the key to great communication success in work and in life.
ASK A MENTOR
Who do you relate to the best (someone with a similar DISC style or different)?
What techniques do you use to put people at ease when someone is a different DISC style?
Have you ever gotten into trouble behaviorally with your manager?
If yes, how did you recover?
What adjustments can you make to improve your communication skills with your peers, colleagues and key stakeholders?
What resources do you most appreciate in advance of a partner meeting?
What types of developmental experiences would give you a chance to communicate or learn from someone who has a different communication style?
Based on "our” collective behavioral styles, how would you prefer to run our mentoring meetings (structured, spontaneous or somewhere in between)?