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Trevor E. S. Smith | DISCernment for success with people

Published:Sunday | August 18, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Sandy (name changed) was identified as lacking in initiative and lazy during the data-collection process that preceded our team-building intervention.

As it turned out, this was a classic case of getting behavioural style wires crossed, leading to the disruption of team dynamics and a loss of productivity.


The team was taken over by a new manager whose leadership and communication style was different.

Sandy took the initiative to make a decision, as she would have done under the previous regime.

New manager (‘Donna’) thought that she should have been consulted and told Sandy to check with her in the future.

Sandy processed the feedback as “wait until you are told” or, at least, “do what you are assigned to do”.

Consequently, Sandy stayed in her lane. She did her job and no more. Being proficient at her job, she would often be idle.

That is how the lazy label came about. She was observed during her downtime being inactive and deemed to be lazy and lacking in initiative.


As usual, we conducted behavioural assessments and team maps for the entire team, using the advanced Extended DISC system as a platform for our diagnostics and as a way forward guide.

Sandy had steadiness (S-style – reserved, submissive, conflict-avoiding, respectful, obedient) as her dominant behavioural trait.

Donna, on the other hand, had a strong preference for dominance as her preferred style.

Donna and Sandy spoke two totally different languages behaviourally – the equivalent of using Chinese dialect to give instructions to someone who only speaks Swahili.

Whatever Donna might have said or meant to say, Sandy heard, “I am in charge now. You better not take it upon yourself to make decisions that are not yours to make.”

Given Sandy’s behavioural style, her instinct is to withdraw into a safe mode. She would not want to risk conflict with Donna.


Equipped with a behavioural map and profile of the team, an understanding of behavioural styles and how to deal with them appropriately, Donna would have been more sensitive to the risk of miscommunication across behavioural styles.

She would have been especially careful when approaching Sandy. Dominance/steadiness conflict is almost a routine occurrence.

A better-equipped, behaviourally smart, discerning Donna would have been mentally alert to the strong possibility that her communication and her actions might not be received by Sandy as she intended.

She would check to ensure that things have not gone off track. She would also hesitate before forming negative opinions about Sandy.

On the other hand, had Sandy been exposed to a foundational appreciation of the critical issue of behavioural styles, she might have come to a better understanding of Donna’s dominance and how to work effectively under that style of leadership.

Sandy would also know that withdrawing and shutting down her initiative was the opposite of what she should do in order to succeed.

Frankly, outside of our intervention, she would have lost her job. Alternatively, she might have walked away from a perfectly good job. People leave their supervisors, not their jobs.


This issue of behavioural differences being a source of negative disruption is widely overlooked.

The solution goes beyond accessing cheap or free assessments online and starting to label others with them. It also goes beyond using behavioural assessments for recruitment only and filing away the results of new recruits.

This issue directly impacts performance, talent retention, job satisfaction and employee engagement.

Frankly, the matter goes beyond the workplace. Even divorces and family feuds can often be traced to a lack of awareness of behavioural preferences and how to relate across styles. Make your relationship last with a customised assessment and guide!

- Trevor E. S. Smith Success with People Academy DISCernment for Success interventions address interpersonal relations, team dynamics and performance enhancement. They incorporate a battery of technology solutions that support governance & compliance management, learning & development, onboarding, competency frameworks & performance appraisals as well as behavioural assessments from Extended DISC on the revolutionary FinxS Platform. Email: