Blood, Bile, and Phlegm?: Understanding Our Personalities

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Some History…

If you were a talkative person with a sunny disposition living in Greece around the year 300 BC, your friends would have described you as “sanguine,” meaning that you have “extra blood.” Blood was one of four different bodily fluids—or, humors as they called them—that the ancients believed influenced an individual’s personality. The other three were yellow bile (choleric), phlegm (phlegmatic), and black bile (melancholic). An excess of black bile would make you melancholy. A deficiency of yellow bile explained why you were shy. Although this system sounds strange today, these ancient Greeks were on to something: people do indeed tend to fall into a number of distinct personality categories.


Carl Jung, the highly influential Swiss psychologist, recognized this as well. But instead of attributing personality and behaviors to the four humors he attributed them to the subconscious. Jung developed a typology by first categorizing everyone by what influenced them. Those who are influenced by their environment he called “extroverts,” and those who are influenced by their own thoughts and feelings he called “introverts.” Then, he went further by suggesting four main categories of behavior. Jung believed that when it came to perceiving the world and taking in information, individuals either prefer the use of senses (utilizing tangible or concrete evidence) or intuition (utilizing abstractions, memories, and patterns). After this, decisions are then primarily made by thinking (using logic) or feeling (using emotions).


Jung’s theory provided the foundation on which modern psychologists and researchers built an array of personality assessments. Their goal was to help individuals determine objectively and systematically their own predisposed way of being in the world. The most popular of these assessments are the Meyer’s-Briggs Test Indicator (MBTI) and the DISC Assessment Profile (DISC).


DISC Assessment Profile vs. Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator


Sterling Integrators’ Leadership Development Program employs the use of DISC rather than MBTI for a number of reasons.


Firstly, while the MBTI helps to illuminate how individuals process information internally, the DISC does a better job of describing someone’s behavioral tendencies. In a professional work environment, we don’t want clients getting caught up in psychologizing and analyzing each other. This can be a speculative and unhelpful activity, more suitable for a therapist than a CEO. Our focus, and the focus of our clients should be observable behaviors, not the inner workings of the unconscious.


Secondly, the MBTI only describes what your personality will be like in an optimal and stable environment. The DISC Assessment goes beyond that and can predict how your behavior is likely to change in stressful situations, of which there are plenty in most organizations.


Thirdly, DISC is more granular and nuanced than MBTI. An individual who takes the DISC can fall into one of hundreds of categories, while the MBTI boils everyone down into just one of 16 personality types.



DISC Assessment in Nutshell


The four categories that DISC uses to describe human behavior and personality are as follows:


Dominance – Person places emphasis on accomplishing results, the bottom line, and confidence.


Influence – Person places emphasis on influencing or persuading others, openess, and relationships.


Steadiness – Person places emphasis on cooperation, sincerity, and dependability.


Conscientiousness – Person places emphasis on quality and accuracy, expertise, and competency.


After taking the assessment, it is helpful to have a leadership coach to go over the report with you and help you to understand the different behaviors, values, priorities, motivators, and preferred means of communication associated with your personality type. How your personality is likely to change under stress is another concept that should be explored.



Why Is DISC Important for Leadership Development?


DISC is an excellent tool for growing in self-awareness. It can point out how you can best contribute to your team. It can also show you what kind of activities will enable you to be most in resonance and where your blind spots are. This powerful, perspective-giving tool will also help you to empathize with those who are very different from you, which is absolutely necessary in order to minimize conflict and determine the most effective means to persuade and communicate with the diverse group of people you lead.

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