The Shallowness and Incompleteness of the DISC Model

RMlogo The shallowness and incompleteness of the DISC assessment model

DISC is one out of hundreds of psychological creations that the non-Christian world has developed to understand themselves. Because everyone has to believe something, it makes sense for our unbelieving counterparts, who reject a sufficiency of Scripture worldview, to create a system of thought that would enable them to live well in God’s world.

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DISC is a behavioral assessment tool based on the “DISC theory” of psychologist William Marston, which centers on four different behavioral traits. They are dominance, influence, steadiness, and compliance. Below is an image that shows how to understand these four traits through their model, along with descriptors about each feature.

Everybody has to believe something, or there would be vacuums in our thinking that would leave us hopeless. Evolution, for example, is one such theory developed for those who reject the truth claims of the Bible, specifically God as our Creator.

They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. – Romans 1:25

Making up stuff is what unbelievers do. I was an unbeliever once upon a time, so I understand the logic, the process, and the need to create ideas so we can have “faith” in something. The sad part is when the Christian community imbibes, embraces, and propagates pagan belief systems. DISC is one such belief system that is purported to help us understand ourselves.

I said in a recent article titled, Why All Other Psychologies Bow at the Foot of the Bible, talking about Alfred Adler,

The thing that confounds me is why would a Christian study Adlerian psychology when he can find the good in Adler’s teaching in God’s Word. Since the truths Adler taught were written two thousand years before Adler was born, why not go to the source of sound teaching rather than a diluted version of the learning?

We seem hell-bent on finding sources outside the Bible to help us with life’s most perplexing problems when the Bible presents all the solutions we need for those issues (2 Peter 1:3). I’m not altogether sure why Adler would have any appeal for a Christian—unless the Christian does not know how to bring God’s Word to practical solutions for their problems.

DiSCcircleI have had more than one pastor go to the mat with me as they defended the DISC system. The irony and sadness are how they love God’s Word, though one of the common denominators is that most of them are weak when it comes to understanding sanctification (practical theology), which is typically evidenced by the dysfunction in their marriages and families.

(But let me be careful here: familial dysfunction is not always the case, but it has been a majority report with ministry leaders that I have encountered, who defend secularized psychologies.)

Many of these leaders have received excellent training in theology, for which I am grateful, but when it comes to practical theology—the application of theology—they are typically weak, for which they compensate by cherry-picking untenable and popularized psychologies in the culture. DISC is one of those psychologies.

The reason I’m writing about this now is that my children are receiving a “DISC education” at their high school, which is the school’s attempt to help them understand the human condition. And, of course, they are fascinated by it. I remember before I became a Christian how much I enjoyed Tim LaHaye’s Four Male Temperaments. I tested out as a Phleg/Mel–a mixture of a phlegmatic and melancholy.

I have always been fascinated by psychology, and LaHaye’s method appealed to me. I mean, why not? I did not understand biblical psychology (1 Corinthians 2:14), so I naturally gravitated to what was hot at the time, accepted, and easy to understand. Sanguine, choleric, melancholy, and phlegmatic made sense to me and those are super-cool names. Who wouldn’t want to be a phleg/mel or a san/mel or a chol/phleg?

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One of the main reasons these types of personality testing methods are so popular is because we are fascinated with ourselves. Read my article, Personality Tests Are Like Psychological Selfies. Let’s be honest: It’s like a psychological selfie. It reveals what we want revealed while feeding our desires for self-consumption.

We love hearing about ourselves, and when we can assess ourselves in such a way that highlights what we want others to perceive about us, it’s a “perfect” world. And, BTW, we are told the more we esteem ourselves, the more psychologically healthy we will be (Philippians 2:3-4).

The Dark Side

There are several problems with these secularized, psychologized systems. The three most challenging issues are:

  • They do not give you an understanding of the soul.
  • They do not factor the doctrine of sin.
  • They do not teach how you can change into Christlikeness.

The only thing they can do is give you new descriptors that tell you what you already know about yourself—your external self. These systems reclassify, in their unique language, your representative—that person you present to the world, hoping that it will be more acceptable than the real person inside of you, that you know yourself to be. Because of our abiding Adamic shame, we try to keep the real person, who lives inside of us, hidden behind our fig leaves (Genesis 3:7).

Some will argue that the DISC method will tell you enough of what you need to know to understand a person. This pragmatic perspective is enough to motivate them to hire and place someone in the best possible fit within a work environment. Of course, that worldview is inaccurate. It may be a quick, easy, and pragmatic way of gaining information about a person—an external person, but it is not a biblically-wise way to hire anyone.

The DISC method will only give you the external traits of a person, not an understanding of a person’s soul. And if you have not gained an understanding of the internal workings of a person’s non-organic (spiritual) self, you do not know the person the way you must know them.

All you have ascertained is a person’s primary strengths, which can detach and mask themselves from the insidious “total depravity” that is festering inside of them. This perspective is the beauty and beastliness of Lucifer, who appears as an angel of light on the outside, but is full of deadly poison on the inside (Isaiah 14:12).

Jesus taught that we ignite, mature, and direct our traits (behaviors) from our hearts (Luke 6:43-45). He also said we could mask our true selves while presenting another kind of self—a false self—to the world (Matthew 23:27-28). This problem makes the DISC method a dangerous method for understanding people.

  • DISC cannot discern the motivations of the heart.
  • DISC cannot reveal a person’s true identity.

But if all you want to understand is a person’s primary, external, personality traits while ignoring how the doctrine of sin or how complicated that person’s fallenness will rile up or compete with another person’s evil, DISC could be the system for you. Let me illustrate this concept with a fictional case study.

Dark Side Revealed

I have a friend who happens to be a teenager, who happened to score high on the dominant side of the DISC assessment. And she loved the fact that she is dominant. She already knew it, but like looking in a mirror, she felt affirmed for reminding herself of the things she loved about herself.

DISC did not accomplish anything redemptive or restorative. It’s like plugging the numbers f29c1f into an RGB color code chart to learn the color is yellow. It’s redundant and unnecessary: look at the color; it’s yellow. You don’t need a DISC assessment to learn she has dominant characteristics. Just talk to her for thirty minutes. She’s domineering. The sad part about this girl is after you learn the real story that is happening inside her heart.

She is a fearful and angry teenager, who is using her personality strengths to mask and compensate a ton of hurt that has captured her heart. Her God-given power is the ability to lead (dominate), but her Adamic weakness is that she is a shame-filled, fear-ridden, fig leaf wearing little girl, who is relationally dysfunctional.

Her most significant need is not a DISC assessment that pumps her self-esteem by telling her what is already apparent, but an older lady of the church to come alongside her to help untangle her heart (Titus 2:3-5).

If this teenager does not change as she grows into adulthood, someone could hire her based on her “external leadership skills” while missing the lack of “leadership skills in the heart.” That outcome would be unfortunate because she will take charge. Ironically, she is a straight-A student, which also works to her disadvantage. Read or listen to this case study: When Education Becomes Deadly to a Child’s Soul.

She has to make straight A’s because she has to be in control, on top, always working from a position of strength (2 Corinthians 4:7), which feeds her need to dominate others. She is a “win at all costs” kind of girl because she is running from a world of hurt that has entangled and captured her soul (Galatians 6:1).

Her “High D” personality trait and her straight A’s are two things that people like about her, but it’s those things that will make her a corporate risk and relational liability within a team environment. With more time listening to and talking with her, you begin to perceive the darker layers of her soul—the things that feed her ambition to be on top. Here is a short list of those things.

  • She gossips, which is one way she feels superior to others.
  • She is self-righteous, which comes out as she shares with you all the people she dislikes.
  • She is highly competitive, which allows her to maintain an air of superiority.
  • She primarily talks about herself, her successes and accomplishments.
  • She has little compassion for others.
  • She must be the center of attention.
  • She takes the air out of the room with her non-stop talking. (Talking keeps her in control, and being in control is one of her most entangling heart idolatries.)
  • She is angry, which comes out in her hyper-criticalness of others.
  • She is insecure, which she compensates and soothes by maintaining a high GPA.
  • She is emotionally reactive if you do not do things her way. (Disagreeing with her feels threatening to her.)

Some of her underlying heart idolatries are control, comfort, detestation of weakness, craving for strength and power, fear, guilt, shame, unbelief, anger, and self-righteousness. These are just some of the things that are working inside her soul.

There is no way DISC could bring this kind of insight about a person, which begs the question for the test givers and the test takers: Do you want to know the person? Or are you looking for a quick, easy, and pragmatic solution because you have a lot to do and you need to fill a job slot? It’s much smarter to never hire the wrong person than to hire them, only to have to figure out how to fire them later.

Only God’s Word can bring this kind of depth and insight about a person while sculpting out a plan to be transformed into something better than a dominant personality (Ephesians 4:22-24). And the remarkable thing is that it does not take a lot of time or special-intelligence to discern these things about people. The Bible indeed has given us all we need (2 Peter 1:3-4; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12-13).

If this teenager is not discipled into Christlike transformation, she will be satisfied and affirmed by DISC. She will secure an outstanding college education, with a high GPA, and those things will make her appear to be the perfect hire. Shortly after her tenure ensues, she will begin to alienate her office workers and team chemistry will vaporize.

A Better Way

This case study is one of the things I appreciate about our training program. We go deeper than DISC. We teach our students how to understand human psychology truly. They become what the word psychology means: students of the soul, as they learn how to filter people through the grid of Scriptures to understand them so they can help them toward transformation from the inside out.

It’s a dangerous thing to take the external measure of a person as the thing you are banking on, and then place them in an environment based on those external assessment methods. Christian, we have a better way.

There is nothing more insightful than a Spirit-illuminated person, who can filter themselves and others through the grid of Scriptures. The God who made us gives us that kind of insight through His Word so we can understand ourselves and others the way we need to be understood. DISC, on its best day, can only scratch the surface.

I am aware that in the corporate world and some church environments, you don’t have the time, resources, or skills to learn a person in the way that you need to for a smart hire. And in those cases, the assessments are, seemingly, all they have. I only caution you to proceed with wisdom while trying to learn more effective ways to hire and promote individuals.

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