Organizations often use behavioral assessments, such as the DiSC model, to ease communication between individuals and teams. By making individuals aware of the patterns and biases inherent in their communication styles, such assessments can shed light on how people with different styles might interpret what you have to say.

But despite the fact that training is usually a more formal communication with a larger audience, the DiSC model can still be useful for framing and organizing content. These assessments, after all, are designed to account for all personalities that fall in a normal range, so understanding the categories, largely means understanding the value your audience is likely to place on various styles of communication.

For those unfamiliar with DiSC, the model describes four communication styles: Dominance, Influencing, Steadiness, and Compliance. Individuals communicate using a combination of the styles, but they tend to feel most comfortable with one or two of them.

Communication styles

People whose primary style is Dominance are looking for results. They want information given to them quickly, efficiently, and without distraction. If they don’t know up front what they’re supposed to get out of a training event, they may tune out from the very beginning.

People who use an Influencing communication style as their primary style want to enjoy the experience. They’re looking for a chance to interact, to be recognized, and to get excited about the experience they’re participating in. Without the opportunity to connect, they’ll lose interest.

Students with Steadiness as a primary style want to walk through new information carefully to be certain they understand it and are drawing the right conclusions. If a presentation makes too many jumps, or goes too quickly, they’ll have trouble understanding what they’re supposed to get out of it.

Students with a primary style of Compliance are looking for data. They want facts, figures, proof, and the opportunity to evaluate the evidence. If facts are not offered, are incomplete, or incorrect in a presentation, high-compliance students may get stuck in the details and be unable to return to the main point.

Steadiness and Compliance are introverted styles, and Dominance and Influencing are extroverted styles. The value that people who use these styles place on one kind of communication over another can cause conflict in real life, and a challenge for professionals charged with creating content to appeal to a broad audience.

Where to start

Knowing the biases and tendencies introduced by reliance on any of the styles can help you identify how to connect with your audience. If you were to imagine your audience in terms of who would be likely to lose interest first, it would probably fall into this order: Dominance, Compliance, Influencing, and Steadiness.

Since high-dominance students want to understand what they’re going to get out of training before they invest time in it, our natural tendency as trainers to list the objectives of the course is probably a good move. Properly written course objectives tell students exactly what they’ll be able to do when they’ve completed the training. High-dominance students value their time, so they also want to know how much of it you expect them to invest. Whenever possible, include at-a-glance guides to the information that you’re presenting.

High-compliance students are the next-most-likely candidates to tune out based on communication styles. These students are interested in the epistemology of the subject matter. That is, they’ll want to know how you know the information you’re presenting is true. Offer them additional sources of information and the ability to find out more on their own. Another tip for these students — make sure there’s a careful editing process in place for your content. Spelling and grammar errors can be very distracting for this group.

Keeping things all business is likely to lose high-influencing students, though. Synchronous training environments keep this group engaged best, especially if they include opportunities to comment, question, and occasionally joke with one another. If the course is asynchronous, try to offer methods for students to contact one another and/or the instructor. If those things aren’t possible, then make sure your instruction includes interactive elements such as embedded questions, and, if possible, some moments of fun.

High-steadiness students are most likely to see the course through to the end. To meet their needs, make sure the course follows a logical structure, and give the students enough time to reflect on the content. Self-paced courses with vignettes to reinforce concepts can be especially useful for this group.


To be sure, the purpose of DiSC is to explore interpersonal communication, rather than instructional strategy. Even so, understanding the model, or any other model that describes communication styles, can be useful to instructional designers. Thinking about the communication styles of your students is one more way to understand how the learner experiences a lesson, and how to keep people engaged so they can finish the course and use the information.