DISC profile under pressure and stress

We’ve all seen it before and recognize that different people respond to pressure in different ways.

Knowing how a person will react under pressure can be extremely useful in guiding management decisions. Understanding when a person’s behaviour betrays feelings of pressure can also be extremely advantageous in a number of ways.

‘Pressure’ in this sense is defined as a short-term effect. The source of pressure will depend on the particular style in question. A Driver, for example, will feel pressured if they do not have direct control over a course of events, but this situation would cause little concern to, say, a Planner. For a discussion of the needs of different styles.

There is a distinction in DISC between ‘pressure’ (a short-term effect rarely lasting more than a few days, resulting usually from outside factors) and ‘stress’ (a more long-term effect lasting months or even years, usually due to a combination of factors). To assess the more complex phenomenon of stress, it is necessary to examine a full DISC profile series.

The reactions of the four main types to conditions of pressure are:

Driver: Because Drivers like to operate from a position of control, they use this as a basis for their pressure reaction. They will adopt a highly assertive, even aggressive, stance in the face of difficulties, dictating solutions and expecting immediate responses to their instructions. They can display pressure and stress by

  • Overstepping boundaries
  • Creating anxiety in others
  • Communicating with bluntness or sarcasm
  • Acting restlessly
  • Overruling and steamrolling others
  • Making mistakes and are inattentive to details, logic
  • Becoming easily dissatisfied with routine work
  • Withdrawing from the team

Influencer: An influencer’s natural response to almost any problem is to try to talk themselves out of it, and this approach underlies their pressure reaction. Placed under pressure, the Communicator will adopt a verbal attacking style, accusing others of causing problems, highlighting shortcomings in systems and other people, and generally laying blame.

  • Acting impulsively – heart over mind
  • Reaching inconsistent conclusions
  • Making decisions solely on gut feelings
  • Overselling
  • Inattentive to detail
  • Trusting people indiscriminately
  • Applying superficial analysis
  • Having difficulty estimating time needed
  • Stimulating anxiety in others

Steady: Being a stable style, the Steady will try to avoid conflict and preserve relationships in a pressure situation. For this reason, their normal reaction will be to attempt to reach an equitable compromise solution. Because they are naturally sympathetic individuals, the Planner will usually try to see both sides of an argument or problem.

  • Insisting on maintaining status quo
  • Doing things the way they were always done
  • Taking a long time to adjust
  • Having trouble juggling multiple tasks
  • Needing full information to feel comfortable
  • Difficulty with innovation
  • Waiting for orders before beginning
  • Needing help starting unstructured tasks
  • Appearing calm while they internalize stress

Conscientious: Like the Steady, the Conscientious will also wish to avoid coming into conflict with others. Their method of dealing with pressure, however, is more evasive in style. Analysts faced with a difficult situation will try to extract themselves from it by changing the subject, or making vague promises of action. In extreme cases, they can even go so far as to ignore the problem altogether, in the hope that somebody else will solve it.

  • Seeking excessive feedback and direction
  • Hesitant to react without precedent
  • Bound by key procedures and methods
  • Getting bogged down in decision-making
  • Resisting delegated tasks
  • Needing full explanation before acting
  • Avoiding involvement when threatened
  • Yielding position to avoid controversy
  • Focusing exclusively on their tasks
  • Appearing calm while they internalize stress


Stress is a very broad and complex issue, and a detailed examination of all its aspects lies beyond the means of the DISC system.

Before continuing, we should define what is meant by ‘stress’. In terms of the DISC system, this term has a meaning different from, but related to, ‘pressure’. Where pressure results from a short-term problem, stress is considered to be related to the longer term, persisting over weeks, months or even years. Examples of sources of stress might be a conflict in the workplace, difficulties with home life, or ongoing financial concerns.

Where an individual is experiencing great stress, it is not unusual for one or more of their DISC graphs to become ‘Compressed‘. If this is the case, the techniques described in this section are not applicable – the stress is simply too great to be measured by these means.


All DISC types will find the kind of tension associated with the forced and prolonged adapting their preferred behaviour style debilitating if it reaches sufficient proportions, but some types are able to deal better with it, and actually find small amounts of stress relatively invigorating. Specifically, the lower the Steadiness score in a candidate’s profile, the more adaptable that candidate will be and the better able they can deal with stress.

Each candidate has an Adaptability threshold: Dominant types typically have a high Threshold, for example.

Action Summary

1. DISC stress reactions are predictable
Because people’s response to stress is fairly consistent, you can predict your team’s reactions when things aren’t going well. Dominant types become more intense and demanding, Influence types get highly emotional and explosive, Steadiness types acquiesce and feel hurt, while Conscientiousness types avoid and withdraw. These behaviors are not necessarily helpful or appropriate, but they are likely to occur.

2. Anticipate and address potential stress early
By looking ahead, you can often mitigate issues by addressing them early. Hold team discussions that allow everyone to share their needs and feelings. Identify methods to support each other. Hold everyone accountable for keeping their own stress within respectful boundaries. Relieve mounting stress early and monitor frequently.

3. It’s not so much about you as them
Attempt to de-personalize your reaction to others’ stress. Keep in mind that most people have a similar stress reaction regardless of the other individuals involved. For example, C’s want to go off alone and ponder their next step whether they are upset with you or Mary or Joe. If you respond to others’ stress behavior as not directed at you, it is easier to focus on how to solve concerns in a more detached way.

4. Pay attention to everyone’s needs
Return to the basics of the DISC model to focus on core needs. These needs are likely to have a high priority when people feel stressed. D’s need results and action; I’s need attention and involvement, S’s need acceptance and relationships, C’s need to be right and not wrong. Work as a team to fulfill others’ needs to the extent possible. Remember that one individual’s needs may be very different, even opposite of other team members.

5. Clarify your message – it may not be as obvious as you think
Don’t assume others can read through your stress reaction to comprehend your core message. The quieter styles (S and C) can use too few words, rely too much on non-verbals, or hope their demeanor sends a clear signal. These behaviors may be too obtuse for D’s and I’s to ready correctly. D’s may be so blunt that others feel they can’t speak up. I’s may seem on the verge of a melt down causing others to back off rather than be attacked.

6. Realize opposite pace tendencies
Speedy resolution of problems is great for D’s and I’s because of their natural fast pace. S’s and C’s need more time to explore feelings and logic before addressing conflict. Teams can benefit from remembering the difference in pace and how it affects a team’s ability to discuss and resolve stress.

Good teams know there will always be problems. How a team works together under pressure distinguishes a great team from a mediocre one.