At a Glance: A People Reading Shortcut

Brenda Bradberry taught me never to judge someone before knowing them. People reading is not judging. It is a genuine, generous attempt to meet people where they are. We should not judge a new book by its cover, but we can start reading it right away.

We are all different. And complicated. Few people understand their own personality styles, much less others. If only we had a personal operator’s guide, maybe an A.I. powered app that records and broadcasts our styles and preferences. Then, we could know a person deeply from across the room, after a quick digital handshake. Wait. Maybe that’s how dating apps work already. And it’s a little scary.

Before we can form a relationship, we must know each other. But getting to know someone can take time. More time for some than others. People Reading can speed the process.

We call Everything DiSC® our “Operator’s Guide for People.” It provides a judgment-free language around our diverse personalities and behaviors. Everything DiSC is as powerful as it is simple. You can learn it quickly, use it immediately, and it tends to become a lasting part of an organization’s culture.

During DiSC learning events, we practice a short-cut for guessing a person’s personality style. In that exercise, we use two dimensions of human behavior to estimate a person’s placement in one of the four DiSC quadrants.

Here is an even shorter cut to this People Reading method, using only one of the two human dimensions – pace.

When you first meet someone, evaluate only one attribute. Observe and assess (don’t obsess or judge) their natural pace. Notice how fast or slow they walk, talk, type, move, drive, write…any observable behavior. Pace is our primary criterion because (1) it is often easily observed and, (2) pace correlates with decision making style. Knowing how a person tends to make decisions helps us in the business arena of sales, negotiations, hiring, management, and other areas. If she talks rapidly, chances are she makes big decisions that way, too. If he moves and speaks slowly and deliberately, he prefers taking time to consider decisions. Good to know.

EverythingDiSC- 2 dimension horizontal

Let’s stage a business scenario that demonstrates people reading and its value. At a new car dealership on Broad Street, Saturday afternoon, John is the salesperson on duty. He sees two prospects on the lot, Diane and Scarlet. Diane moves quickly through the vehicles, spending little time with each. By the time John reaches her, she has chosen a model and says, “I have ten minutes. What is your best price on this SUV?”

Scarlet is more methodical, almost cautious in her pace. She studies each window sticker like she expects a test afterward. When John says, “Hello,” he gets a quiet, friendly “hello” in return, and not much else.

John reads these behaviors, and matches his own pace to each prospect’s, possibly stretching from where he is naturally most comfortable. As a good DiSC student, he is aware of his preferences, but preferences do not necessarily dictate behavior. We stretch outside our comfort zones to varying degrees every day. A normally cautious parent will instantly become a sprinter when their child makes a beeline for the busy street. Talking to a sales prospect is not that scary, right?

For Diane, John picks up his normal pace – just a little. He gets to the point. He moves quickly toward bottom-line decision factors and is prepared to conclude the deal quickly one way or another, a “yes” or a “no.” Diane generally avoids “maybe.” If Diane seems challenging and direct, maybe even blunt, John will not take it personally. To her, that is just efficient communication toward rapid results – nothing personal. Diane would likely appreciate the same direct, to-the­ point communication from John.

With Scarlet, John backs off and slows down – just a little. He lets her know he’s there to help but gives her space and time to evaluate the options. He is patient, expecting that Scarlet will probably not decide on the spot. She will go home to discuss it with her family, read vehicle and dealership reviews, and create a spreadsheet to analyze financial scenarios. She might even research our salesperson John – at least a quick look on social media. If John tries to rush or pressure Scarlet to buy before a trusting relationship is formed, she might smile politely, say her version of “maybe,” and avoid seeing John again.

Car sales makes for an interesting example, because the selling style that will turn off both Scarlet and Diane is the stereotypical, puffed up, loud jacket, loud talking “car salesman.” If that style ever really worked, it was a long time ago.

People reading and matching behavior, even out of self-interest, is good for relationship building. It is not judgmental or fake. There is no “good” or “bad” personality styles or pace. John is not pretending or acting by adapting his pace to his prospects’. People reading and matching are very human. They help us connect with each other quicker, and on a deeper level.

Practice. Your initial read will not always be accurate, but just keep adjusting your pace until you sense congruence. Once people reading is a habit (if not a hobby), repetition strengthens skill. Start reading baristas and Uber drivers.

Watch TV shows and movies (that’s my first time giving that advice!) Evaluate a character’s pace. Captain Kirk tends to be fast-paced. Mr. Spock is logical and cautious. Sherlock Homes is methodical and reflective. Elaine Bennis (and Selina Myer) are not. Imagine how you would sell a car to those characters, stretching, just a little, to their behavior and communication styles.

Everything DiSC Management Map Pastel


  • People reading is not judging. It is an intelligent first step in a relationship.
  • There is no “good” or “bad” personality style.
  • Don’t over-analyze when you are People Reading.
  • Practice, practice and yes, PRACTICE

In my next article, “People Reading 2.0,” we will add the second dimension and complete the model. That will lead into future articles on DiSC theory and practice.

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