Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Would you hire Dolly Parton? First Impressions Can Be Misleading

By: Sue Bowlby

I had Anderson Cooper's show on last week while I was getting ready for work. (Okay, so I was running late as usual.) His guest was Dolly Parton, a very talented writer, singer and businesswoman. Dolly talked about her life and mentioned that she and her husband often like to go to Wal-Mart very early in the morning to look for deals, especially around Christmas. Anderson asked her if people go crazy when they realize she's in the store but she said there are very few people there early in the morning and, besides, she does live in Nashville where people are used to seeing her.

That comment got me thinking because, in case you don't know, Dolly Parton has a very distinctive look. A look which, as Anderson pointed out, has changed very little in the last 20+ years.  If you didn't know Dolly Parton and you saw her in the store, what assumptions would you make about her? If you were interviewing her for a job would her blond wig, long fingernails and "oh my gawd" jewelry freak you out before you had a chance to find out how smart and talented she is?

So what's the point? The point is that her interview reminded me how very easy it is to make assumptions about people because of their looks. And then it occurred to me that it also easy to make assumptions about people based on their behavioral, or DiSC, style.

For those of us who have applied DiSC over the years, it's not uncommon to refer to someone as a "high i" or a "high D," automatically classifying them as either "enthusiastic and sociable" or "results-focused and direct".  Those observations aren't wrong, they just don't tell the entire story.

We have valid reliable DiSC models, including the latest circular model used in the Everything DiSC Workplace profile. However, surprising enough, there's always more to learn.  That's why I was so excited when Inscape Publishing came out with a new Everything DiSC Supplement for Facilitators report.  It is a one-page report designed to provide additional insight into an individual's DiSC assessment.  The report has two sections: "Breakdown by DiSC Scale" and "Unexpected Items for the Participant's Style".

Yes, you read that right, unexpected items, that means areas of their behavior that may  be inconsistent with their style. And since the DiSC profile is based on the person's self-assessment, this means characteristics  that they have reported as significant in describing their behavior.  For example, you may be working with someone who is clearly a "high i" who has unexpectedly reported that they are logical, strict and conforming.  If you're basing your conversations with this person  on the typical "friendly, not-so-organized, somewhat freewheeling" stereotype of a "high i", you may not be connecting.

Just like assumptions about looks can be misleading, so can assumptions about people's behavior style. When you're using this information to make critical business or personal decisions, make sure your decisions are based on the best possible information available. If you're not sure about the behavioral tools you're using, ask whether or not they can account for unexpected items.