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How to Communicate (Even More) Effectively

February 29, 2016

By Mercer Hathorn, Graduate Student in Clinical Mental Health Counseling 

Most of us have heard the ancient Greek aphorism “Know Thyself.”

While this saying could be interpreted in various ways, it is certainly an invitation for each of us to become more self-aware.  Being aware of our strengths and weaknesses can help us communicate with others more successfully, but “Knowing Thy Audience” can be as important as “Knowing Thyself” for truly effective communication. 

Many of our conversations in the University Writing Center include discussions about how to effectively communicate to a particular audience. With the start of a new semester, we wanted to pass along a tip that may help you communicate better in your personal, professional, and academic lives.

In 2010, I interviewed to work for a company that required me to take a personality assessment called the DISC Profile before they made their hiring decision. I got the job, and on my first day of work, the company administrator printed out a graph of my test results and put it on display right near my desk. I looked around and realized that every employee had their test results on display near their desks as well. At the time, I knew nothing about the DISC, and I thought the display of these test results was strange and intriguing.  Each person’s results were shown on a graph and had tips below the results that described how to best communicate with them. I’m a nerd and saved mine! See below for an example:

Mercer 1

A few weeks after starting my new job, a DISC specialist came to our office and did a four-hour workshop for the entire company on what the DISC is, why it is commonly used in workplaces around the country, and how to interpret the results to improve interpersonal communication. The DISC assessment is ideal for work and school environments because it measures how and why people communicate. For example, someone who scores high in the D category communicates very quickly and bluntly because they are motivated to achieve results; whereas someone who scores high in the C category communicates slowly and carefully because they are motivated to be accurate. The chart below illustrates a very brief overview of what each letter stands for and what kind of communication behavior is often associated with each primary style (D, I, S, or C).

Mercer 2The DISC previously cost $30, but it is currently offered for free on Tony Robbins’ website; Robbins is an internationally renowned motivational coach and conflict mediator. If you are interested in taking the DISC assessment for FREE, click here and fill out your contact information to get started. You’ll want to set aside 20 minutes of uninterrupted time to take the assessment. The test will feel repetitive because the test makers ask you similar versions of the same question multiple times to make sure they are getting the most accurate read on who you really are and how you really communicate.

Once you finish the test, you will be able to open and save two customized PDF reports about your DISC Profile and Values which are full of detailed and useful information about your individual communication style (see graph examples below). The reports will describe your personal style, make suggestions for how people can best communicate with you, help you avoid pitfalls based on your communication challenges, and even recommend potential careers that would be a good fit for your style.

This assessment changed my life. It taught me that we all communicate differently, and that by knowing my primary style and someone else’s primary style, I can be myself while communicating with another person in a way that allows him/her/them to hear and understand me. After I read my own results, I started asking friends, family members, and people at future jobs to take the test, too. Instead of feeling frustrated by people who communicate differently than me, I felt empowered to understand them and compassionate toward their communication preferences. I also saw that it takes various communication styles to effectively run a business, which made me appreciate the differences among my coworkers.

When I worked at the company I mentioned above, I was able to walk up to anyone’s desk in any department at any time and see how they communicate and why they communicate so that I could talk to them in a way that they could hear me and that felt positive for them. For example, I might walk up to one coworker’s desk and see that he scored high in the S category. Even if I did not know him, I would know (thanks to the DISC) that it would improve my communication with him if I asked about his personal life before discussing work matters because S personalities prioritize people over tasks. On the other hand, if I saw that my boss scored high in the D category, I would know to walk into her office ready to get right down to business with brief bullet points of what we needed to discuss so we didn’t waste any time because D personalities are more task oriented than socially oriented.

There is much more that could be said about the DISC, but the most valuable information will come from taking the test itself, and seeing how increased awareness of yourself (and others you may pass the test along to), changes your ability to successfully interact with those around you. We hope this helps you continue with your momentum this semester, and I hope the DISC has as positive of an impact on your lives as it has on mine. If ever you need help understanding who your audience is and how you can best communicate to them through writing, please come to the University Writing Center! We’re here to help!

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