Coaching Difficult People Using DISC: Be Prepared

Oct 19, 2016 10:50:02 AM / by Christina Bowser


Coaching difficult people is just that…it’s difficult. The challenges are unique for each of us so set yourself up for success by being prepared.


Are there things we can do to help smooth out some of the bumps in the road? Host, Christina Bowser and certified Executive Coach, Wilma Stephens  are both senior Extended DISC trainers. Listen as they discuss  approaches and offer tips to master some difficult people when you are reviewing Extended DISC assessments.

Who are difficult people?

It depends. What is difficult for one coach may not be difficult for the next. We are all unique. Describing difficult people as resistant, disinterested, aggressive may be applying our own labels. Sometimes it is a manager who is bringing you in to debrief who creates the label. Hence, we need to recognize that difficult people are labeled as such simply because they have different styles than your own. However, difficult people exist and they exists at all levels of a company.

Why it's critical to be prepared

One key to coaching difficult people is being prepared. The Extended DISC Assessment tools are often the focus of the coaching session itself. However, consider using the DISC report to your own advantage. In order to do that you must get to really know the DISC tools. Do your homework.  Find sections of the report that are most useful to your and your clients and employees and finally, be prepared.

Make sure you're not the difficult one

Sometimes the others are really not the difficult people. Check your attitude and behavior. If we have a positive attitude then we will tend to have better outcomes. Present yourself as open to ideas and views.  Also, focus on your client by being present and respectful. Positive attitude sets a constructive and optimistic mood which leads to "bigger picture" thinking.

Getting stressed, having bad days, or settling into a routine can lead to issues. When this happens we can go into a behavioral style auto-pilot mode. Remembering that people come to us with different styles and expectations requires that we be alert to the changes. Take a moment between sessions to breath. After finishing an interaction, whether it's on the phone or in person, take a few seconds to breath and reset. Then you will be able to focus on what's next and make the best adjustments possible.

Set the stage for success

Consider time and location for sessions. What works best for you and your client? Think about the set up. Will you be in a private setting? Is it best to sit across from the person? Do they have a copy of the DISC report beforehand or in the session?

Pay attention to your body language. How do you greet them? Smiling not only sets a good tone for start of session, but it also relaxes you and others. Sitting up, leaning in, and showing hands can all present a picture of being present and attentive. Make eye contact. Use the DISC profiles as insight into the preferred styles of your clients before meeting with them.

The DISC report holds no value judgments. However, we often come in with preconceived ideas and opinions. Loose your judgment and try to see things from your clients' views. Have empathy by being neutral and objective. Your job is to help difficult people and all people improve interactions through self-awareness and learning to adjust our behaviors.

DISC debriefing mindset

Remember the key points to a DISC debrief. It is not a test, but simply a self-evaluation of where the person sees his or her DISC profile. The DISC report does not measure IQ, skills, ability, or attitude. In addition, it does not limit a person's ability to develop or excel in any other direction as long as we make adjustments.

No DISC styles are better or worse, but simply different.  However, they all have similarities as well. Successful people come from all styles, including difficult people! They are more self-aware and able to adjust their style.

Key take-away

Adjust your own DISC style to the individual. Create a setting that is most comfortable. Finally, the two most important things to remember is to breath and listen like you mean it.


By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

Benjamin Franklin

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Christina Bowser

Written by Christina Bowser