In my previous post, ‘It’s about communication, stupid’, I have introduced the idea that the single most productive way to increase the project manager’s overall effectiveness and efficiency is by focusing on increasing the PM’s communication skills. The premise behind this assertion is that although communication is an activity carried out by the listener, the responsibility to ensure the message does get across lies with the speaker. In the context of project management, it is the responsibility of the project manager to ensure that his/her communication is correctly accepted by the intended audience of that communication.

I have also mentioned that a number of techniques, based on proven psychological models, are now available to explain communication tendencies based on personality types. Two of the main ones are the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) and the DISC Assessment model. The two models provide extensive elaboration on the effect that specific personality ‘ingredients’ have on the way people communicate. Both can be used to suggest ‘pre-emptive’ actions one can use in order to minimize conflict and drive communication to a successful conclusion.

Today’s post will continue this discussion and introduce the DISC model, a simple yet powerful method for identifying people’s personality type with a focus on the impact that their personality type is likely to have on their communication style. I have decided to focus on the DISC behavioural model as, at its core, it is (in my view) easier to understand and its basic principles can be quickly grasped and implemented without major complications.

The DISC model suggests that the observed personality of people can be measured across four different dimensions and that all people exhibit all four behavioural factors in varying degrees of intensity. According to the DISC model people vary from one another by the degree in which they approach the following:

  • Their preference in regards to problem solving issues
  • Their preference in regards to how to relate to other people
  • Their preference in regards to their surrounding and work environment
  • Their preference in regards to keeping in line with rules and regulations

In line with the above, the DISC model identifies the following four personality types:


Dominance – People with a ‘D’ behavioural tendency will demonstrate leadership qualities and quick problem solving attitude. They will strive to tackle the issue head-on and attempt to quickly understand the core issues at the heart of the problem, so they can quickly formulate an opinion and suggestions regarding their approach to have the problem resolved. As they hone down on the problem domain they will tend to ask ‘what’ questions (e.g. ‘what is the status of activity X’) as this type of questions calls for a specific and relatively binary (i.e. Yes/No) reply.

As they want to reach a resolution quickly they will, most likely, spend little or no time on small talk, they will be direct and blunt in their communication and could easily be perceived as lacking sensitivity and empathy.

If your PM is a ‘D’ here’s what you need to do/know:

  1. Don’t ‘waste’ their time with small talk (it’s not that they don’t care about you, they do, but their mind is continuously thinking about the problem at-hand and how to get it resolved).
  2. Talk to the point; communicate the relevant facts, conclusions and actions you intend to take in order to get the issues resolved.
  3. Don’t get discouraged by their blunt and direct approach, it’s not you, it’s them.

If your team member is a ‘D’ here’s what you need to do/know:

  1. As they exhibit quick problem solving attitude they might not go through the due diligence that you expect. Make sure they present you with their plan before they start on what they believe to be the correct course of action.
  2. They like to make decisions and would appreciate it if you grant them the authority to take charge. Having said that, as mentioned above, make sure you monitor their progress and insist on obtaining their plan of attack prior to the work taking place.


Influence – People with ‘I’ behavioural tendency will demonstrate an outgoing approach towards other people. They will be talkative, expressive and sociable in the way they communicate and express themselves to others. Individuals with a natural disposition for an ‘I’ oriented behaviour will most likely be people oriented, seek to be the centre of attention, and demonstrate enthusiasm and energy when communicating. As their prime concern is the people with whom they communicate, their natural question will most often be ‘who’ (e.g. ‘who else will be working with me on this assignment?’) as they will mostly be concerned with their ability to remain the centre of attention while engaging with other people.

‘I’ people will be less concerned about reaching a resolution to the problem as much as they will be concerned about talking their way to a recognized resolution. They will spend a lot of time telling other people about their experience on working in similar circumstances, looking for the attention and recognition they feel they deserve.

If your PM is an ‘I’ here’s what you need to do/know:

  1. Be prepared for long and animated discussions.
  2. Don’t confuse them with information about themselves, unless the point of your story is actually them.

If your team member is an ‘I’ here’s what you need to do/know:

  1. As they are mainly focused on themselves they might not give enough attention to the details you require. Make sure to state your requirements to them in a clear and definitive way.
  2. They like to talk, and when you ask them for an update they will, if you let them, talk about every single aspect of their work they enables them to glorify themselves. Make sure they understand your reporting requirements and reporting style and insist that they comply.


Steadiness – People with a ‘S’ behavioural tendency will demonstrate clear preference towards a controlled and stable environment. Their attitude towards change would be cautious at best and if possible they will tend to shy away from high risk, change provoking, situations. Due to their innate desire to ‘keep the peace’ they are likely to be accommodating to other people needs, and will often attempt to find a common thread and a mutually agreed solution to complicated disagreements. As they dislike change, their natural question will most often be ‘how’ (e.g. ‘how will you perform this task?’), as they will seek to confirm that no out of the ordinary, change provoking, actions will be required in order to achieve the desired objectives.

If your PM is an ‘S’ here’s what you need to do/know:

  1. Expect a friendly and supportive environment.
  2. Expect not to be bombarded with harsh demands and tight deadlines.
  3. Let them know early about any issues or risks you’ve identified as they will require time to digest the information and formulate their opinion.

If your team member is an ‘S’ here’s what you need to do/know:

  1. They like to follow standards and procedures. If you intend to break any ‘rules’ make sure you discuss them earlier on to give them time to adjust.
  2. As they are people oriented, be prepared to listen to them.
  3. Follow up as they have difficulty prioritising tasks and would therefore have some difficulty meeting your deadlines.


Conscientious – People with a ‘C’ behavioural tendency will demonstrate clear preference towards sticking to established procedures and guidelines. They will often be the ones saying “that’s how we’ve always done it” and will promote doing things “the right way”. They will be analytical in their approach and accurate and orderly in their performance. As they like to adhere to established routines, their most likely question will be ‘why’ as they will try to understand the reason for doing things in one way or another, and attempt to map that against known standards and procedures.

If your PM is a ‘C’ here’s what you need to do/know:

  1. Expect the focus to be on accuracy and adherence to standards and procedures.
  2. They will want to know why you chose one approach as opposed to another.
  3. Being reserved and task oriented they will spend some time analysing your report and then reply with a detailed set of instructions.

If your team member is a ‘C’ here’s what you need to do/know:

  1. Make sure to explain your expectations and the reasoning behind them.
  2. You won’t need to worry about them breaking away from existing standards and procedures.
  3. Be ready to receive detailed progress reports.
  4. They will be comfortable working on their own.

Identifying each of your stakeholders’ dominant personality type will assist you in tailoring your communication style in order to achieve your communication objectives and maintain or even improve your relationship with them.

Until next time.

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