A few years ago I took a senior executive team through a five-day leadership program I had developed called, “Leadership at the Summit.”The program included a number of outdoor adventure experiences, one of which was a cross-country navigation exercise where participants had to find their way across difficult terrain, build a rope bridge across a creek, and solve some interesting challenges along the way. To spice up the challenge, I gave each team a bucket of water to carry with them with the instructions that the liquid was their company’s secret formula. To spill it would be to fail the mission.

At one of the checkpoints along the way, participants were handed personalised envelopes marked “private and confidential.” Inside were cards that read: “There is a traitor in your group who is going to spill the formula”. All the cards said the same thing. It was a test to see how the team handled a challenge to the trust level in the team. One group of five executives had two members whose DiSC style was strongly inclined towards Dominance, and three others whose respective styles were Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness. The person who was primarily an “i” style immediately upon opening his envelope blurted out, “Mine says there’s a traitor in the group. What does yours say?” The two primary “D’s” and the primary “S” style quickly confirmed that their cards said the same thing, and everyone turned toward Simon, the person strongly inclined as a “C” (who happened to be carrying the bucket of water at the time). When asked what his card said his response, as he put his envelope and card away in his inside jacket pocket was: “I can’t tell you!”

One of the managers who was strong in the “D” style immediately yelled, “You’re the traitor!” and tried to wrestle the bucket of water away from him. Simon did not let go and, after a short but fruitless struggle, the group reluctantly allowed Simon to continue to carry the bucket. But the rest of the team watched Simon like a hawk for the remainder of the exercise. Though no “formula” was spilled and the team successfully completed the mission, the trust level continued to be low as Simon stubbornly refused to let anyone else have the bucket or reveal what was on his card.
To understand what happened in this group, let’s look at the strengths and challenges of each of the four DiSC dimensions in the context of the Behaviors that Build Trust™.


Strength: Straightforwardness

People who are strongly inclined towards the Dominance style typically do not hesitate to let you know what they think. They say what they mean and mean what they say. In fact, sometimes you wish they weren’t so eager to tell you, or at least do it with more empathy! They are straight-shooters and pride themselves on their ability to call a spade a spade.

Challenge: Acceptance

You’ve heard the expression: They don’t suffer fools gladly. This often epitomises the feeling people with the “D” style have towards others, particularly those who do not communicate directly or appear to them, to be indecisive or slow. They can be impatient and intolerant of people because of their strong sense of urgency and need to achieve results. More than anyone, this style needs to work on valuing differences in others, and to recognise and appreciate the strengths that other styles bring to the situation.
The two “D” inclined team members in the example above did not hesitate to be straightforward about what was on their cards, and one was very quick to judge Simon as untrustworthy and attempt to take the bucket away from him.


Strength: Openness

People strong in the Influence style love to talk and are the most emotionally open people in the DiSC model. They will tell you how they feel, and they want to know what’s on your mind. They have a tendency to wear their hearts on their sleeves, and therefore, are more self-revealing; sometimes too self-revealing—they may tell you some very personal things about themselves that you didn’t really want to know!

Challenge: Reliability

People strong in the Influence style are the ones most likely to have a reputation for being late. They’re just so busy! Because of their strengths of enthusiasm, optimism, and energy, people with this style frequently over-commit themselves and then have trouble following through on all of their commitments. As mentioned above, self-discipline is the key for the Influence style. It does not come naturally, so it must become conscious. Stop and think. Pause. Count to ten (well, maybe five) before committing yourself.

Notice in the example of the executive team above, that it was the team member who was the Influencing style who blurted out what was on his card as soon as he opened it. He did not stop and think about the fact that the envelope had said “private and confidential.” He was operating instinctively, which for this style means: Let’s get it out in the open and talk about it! In this situation, it was an appropriate response. However, there are times when his tendency to blurt things out without thinking would be inappropriate and diminish the trust others have for him.


Strength: Acceptance

Accepting others is very important to people who are strong in the “S” style because of their own need to be accepted by others. Their focus is on giving support to others. They get personal satisfaction out of doing things for others and do not expect anything in return. They take others’ needs into account when they are making decisions because the last thing they want to do is offend anyone or hurt their feelings.

Challenge: Straightforwardness

Because of their fear of hurting others’ feelings, people with an “S” Style feel uncomfortable being direct with people, especially with bad news. Their natural tendency is to be hesitant in communication, preferring to think things through before saying anything to make sure they won’t get a negative reaction. Others may perceive this thoughtful silence as an indication that they are not listening, or worse, being evasive. Just because there is no immediate response from someone with an “S” style, does not mean they are not listening—give them time to think it over and respond. If you are strong in the “S” style, you need to learn to communicate more directly, give straight answers, and be willing to risk offending people with the truth. To do this, you need to believe in yourself and recognise that you contribute as much as anyone else. Only then will you be able to be straightforward with people about how you really think and feel.

The executive team member who was a primary “S” style in the example above did not play a very big role in the story. He did not have any trouble being straightforward with other team members about what was on his card, because the others had already spoken up.


Strength: Reliability

People who are strong in the Conscientiousness style are typically very self-disciplined. If they say they’ll do it, it’s as good as done. Before making a commitment, they think through all the implications to make sure they can follow through. When they agree to do something, you can be sure it will be done accurately, and to a high standard of quality. If information is confidential, you can rely on this style to keep it confidential.

Challenge: Openness

There are two primary reasons people with a primary “C” Style may lack openness. First, they do not want to divulge information until they are certain it is correct. Second, they have a strong need for privacy. They are cautious about trusting people, so they tend not to volunteer much information about themselves until they get to know you. If you are strong in “C” style, you need to understand that others have a need for more information. Think about what others might like to know, and volunteer it rather than waiting to be asked.

The team member strongly inclined in the “C” style in the example above, Simon, refused to divulge to the rest of the team what was on his card, because it had said “private and confidential” on the envelope. As far as he was concerned, anything that is private and confidential, you keep to yourself. He did not stop to think about the impact his decision would have on the trust level in the team, because his focus was on sticking to the rules. Simon was primarily responsible for the breakdown of trust in his team in that situation. Had he stopped to think about his options—to reveal or not to reveal what was on his card—and what the consequences of each would be on the ability of the team to work together effectively, the answer would have been more obvious.

Building Trust with People Who Are Different

This is one of the most important ideas in this blog: each behavioral style judges others’ trustworthiness by their own strength in building trust.

  • People who are primarily “D” Style trust people who are straightforward
  • People who are primarily “i” Style trust people who are open
  • People who are primarily “S” Style trust people who are accepting
  • People who are primarily “C” Style trust people who are reliable, according to their standards

While it is important to be conscious of using all four Behaviors that Build Trust™, special emphasis must be placed on meeting the expectations of the person whose trust you want to gain. The biggest challenge for all of us is when we need to build trust with someone whose style is the opposite of our own. The implications of this are enormous.

If you are a primary “D” Style and you have someone who is a primary “S” Style in your team, it would be easy for trust to break down between you, even though you are both trustworthy, simply because of your differences in behavioral style. The same thing can easily happen between a primary “i” Style and a primary “C” Style person. Building trust requires conscious and persistent effort. If you are not working at building trust with your fellow team members all the time—thinking about the impact of your behaviour and decisions on the trust level—you may well be diminishing trust without realising it.

It takes conscious effort for:

  • A person strong in Dominance to be accepting and attentive to others.
  • A person strong in Steadiness to be direct and brief with others when the situation warrants it.
  • A person strong in Conscientiousness to be more open with information and share their feelings when appropriate.
  • A person strong in Influence to discipline themselves to stay with the job till it’s done, and not overcommit themselves.

The reward for putting in the effort and focusing on using these behaviors to build stronger trust relationships is the opportunity to help build a high-performance team. How successful you are will be determined by your willingness and ability to adapt your behavior.


No matter what kind of organization you work for, you are in the people business. People are essential to your success. Customers are people, employees are people and suppliers are people. Nothing gets done without the creativity, support and effort that people contribute.

It makes sense therefore to be people literate—to understand what makes people tick. We know people are complex and that we don’t come with a user’s guide to help others understand us and learn how to relate to us.
That is why practical tools like the Whole Person Concept and the DiSC® Behavioral Model are so valuable for understanding and managing the people side of business. Organisations that fail to capitalise on the people side of business cannot achieve their full potential.

And the key ingredient is TRUST. Customers do business with organisations they trust, and that trust is developed through every interaction they have with your organisation. To deliver the level of quality in products and service that earns that trust and creates customer loyalty requires a high level of trust inside the organisation. The organisation must be able to trust all employees to deliver the value customers expect.

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