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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

There Are 4 Types of Communicators—and Knowing Which One You Are Will Only Help You

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Have you ever taken a DISC communication assessment? More than two million people have taken a DISC assessment to better understand their communication style. In fact, organizations that I work with often request DISC profiles for high-potential employees and high-performance teams to help them identify and maximize their strengths.

Research shows that successful people share a common trait—self-awareness or mindfulness. In fact, the word “mindfulness” shows up everywhere these days. So what does mindfulness mean and how do we get there? In general, having mindfulness means that you’re aware of yourself and others. For me, as a communication expert, mindfulness starts with an awareness of your communication and it’s impact on people around you.

Related: Can You Save Your Job? What to Do If You’re About to Be Fired

Discover What Drives You

Did you know that although we are all unique, there are only four primary styles of communication?

Back in 1928, a psychologist named William Marston wrote a book called Emotions of Normal People that described dimensions that most influenced people’s emotional behavior—Dominance (D), Inducement (I), Submission (S), and Compliance (C)—a.k.a., DISC.

Interestingly, Marston was also a lawyer who not only produced the first functional lie detector polygraph, but also created the Wonder Woman comic!

Anyway, over the years, Marston’s original work has been used to create a variety of DISC-style assessments to help people learn and identify these four primary styles or communication behaviors.

The idea is that by understanding your own communication style, and the style of those around you, you are then are able to engage in what I call smart talk. And for me, smart talk is not just saying things right—smart talk is saying just the right things! (Hence the name of my book, Smart Talk.)

Related: 4 Common Communication Mistakes to Avoid

Four DISC Communication Styles

So what exactly are the four DISC styles? Although they’ve been labeled a bunch a different things over time, the meaning has remained the same. Here’s a quick summary of the four primary styles identified in a DISC profile:


People that score high in the “D” behaviors speak fast, move fast, and want results yesterday. People who are of this style will do everything they can to figure out how to go around obstacles. And if they can’t go around—they may just go right through the obstacle! Although that may rub others the wrong way sometimes, this type of person can be relied on to get things done. If I were to choose a single word to describe this type of person, it’s “Now!”


What should you look for to identify a high “I” (influencer or interactive) style? Like a high “D,” people who score high in the “I” behaviors also speak fast and move fast, but the language is far more personal than the high “D” dominant driver. Influencers like to tell stories, are very interactive, positive, and talkative. Although it can be difficult for this style to keep track of details and stay organized, if you need someone to promote an idea or event, you can rely on this type of person. If I were to choose a single word to describe “I” people, I would choose “Expressive.”


People who score highly in the “S” behaviors are sensitive and steady. They are slower in movement and are more emotionally connected to the listener. This person will ask about you and your other teammates and is often the glue that keeps teams together. What is difficult for this person is conflict—they don’t like rock the boat. But, you can always rely on this person to help coordinate or connect you with someone in his or her network. If I were to choose one word to describe this type, I would choose, “Feelings.”


Finally, how to know you’re talking with a “C” (compliant or cautious) style person? People who score high in the “C” behaviors are interested in order, precision, and accuracy. They are slower moving and slow to speak, but when they do speak they may be somewhat direct. You can count on this type of person to solve problems, plan effectively, and invent processes. If you want something done right, you can rely on this type of person. If I were to choose one word to describe this type, I would choose, “Details.”

Usually when people hear about these styles for the first time, their response is, “I’m not sure what my style is, I think I’m a little bit of each.” And that’s true, We do have attributes of each style in our communication arsenal.

In fact, your communication style changes depending on the context of the situation. However, although every person uses a blend of styles, what the research tells us is that we tend to rely on one or two primary styles in most of our communication. We tend to rely on one style when we are under stress, and on the other when we are actively managing our communication style.

Related: Which Phrase Is More Persuasive in a Job Interview?

But, understanding your own style is only the first step. The best use of this model is to help you quickly size up those around you so that you can flex your communication in a way that is more comfortable for them. That’s why I like this very simple model of communication. It’s a quick and dirty way to evaluate the communication patterns of others. It gives you a great starting point to help you communicate better. And even if you’ve known someone your entire life, it still can help you to develop better communication with him or her.

This article was originally published on Quick and Dirty Tips. It has been republished here with permission.