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How Do CliftonStrengths and the DiSC Assessment Compare?

How Do CliftonStrengths and the DiSC Assessment Compare?

by Adam Hickman and Mary Claire Evans

Workplaces and individuals face a variety of options when choosing the best development tools to improve performance. From personality tests to leadership assessments, there is no shortage of tools to evaluate us. We will dive into a comparison of two well-known tools -- DiSC profiles assessment and the CliftonStrengths assessment -- weighing out the differences and providing a little history, too.

DiSC Profile Assessment Overview

The DiSC theory originated with American psychologist William Moulton Marston, who published the Emotions of Normal People in 1928. It established the Marston Model of the Four Dimensions of Behavior, which is based on directly discernable and quantifiable phenomena. The theory derives its name from Marston's four original dimensions -- Dominance, Inducement, Submission and Compliance. These were later changed to:

  • Dominance
  • Influence
  • Steadiness
  • Conscientious

The primary objective of DiSC assessment results is to be a tool for measuring an individual's behavior. A person with a Dominance behavior style, for example, is "direct, forceful and outspoken with their opinions"; an Influence style is "outgoing, enthusiastic, and lively"; Steadiness describes someone who is "gentle, accommodating and patient with others" and the Conscientious style is "logical, reserved and precise." The dimensions themselves are presented in a quadrant system that creates the DiSC Circle.

DiSC Assessment Design

In the 1940s, industrial psychologist Walter Vernon Clarke took Marston's theory and turned it into a behavioral assessment tool. In its original form, individuals would fill out a checklist of adjectives they believed accurately described themselves. By the 1970s, the assessment had evolved into a self-description tool that featured a series of questions designed to force users to choose between two different descriptions to most accurately characterize themselves -- the format still used today.

An individual's assessment results fall somewhere on the continuum of the DiSC Circle. They receive the letter of their behavioral style -- D, I, S or C -- and then are shown their distance from the edges of the circle to see where they stand within their style's quadrant (i.e., how firmly they connect with the characteristics of that style).

Since 1972, more than 50 million people have taken a DiSC assessment test.

CliftonStrengths Assessment Overview

Developed after over 25 years of research, psychologist and Father of Strengths Psychology Don Clifton introduced CliftonStrengths in 2001 with the best-selling book Now, Discover Your Strengths. CliftonStrengths analyzes people's skills, knowledge, abilities, attitudes and personality traits and categorizes them into 34 signature talent themes. In 2007, StrengthsFinder 2.0 was released and became the upgraded version of the assessment used today.

Rather than measure a person's behavior as DiSC assessments are designed to do, CliftonStrengths gives teams and individuals an opportunity to discover their natural patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. The tool itself is meant for development and coaching. Each result moves beyond simple insight descriptors such as "people person" or "pays attention to details" to creating a language through which individuals can express who they are, what they need, what they give and what they value.

CliftonStrengths Assessment Design

The CliftonStrengths assessment is a timed, online measurement tool consisting of 177 paired statements. For each pairing, respondents choose which statement best describes themselves. Upon completion, they receive their Signature Themes report which presents their Top 5, or five most dominant themes, out of the 34 possible options. There are 278,256 possible combinations of Top 5 themes and more than 33 million different sets of Signature Themes -- so each result is unique to that individual.

Clifton Strengths defines 34 talent themes sorted into four domains:

To date, the CliftonStrengths assessment has more than 25 million individuals who understand their innate talents.

Haven't discovered your CliftonStrengths yet? Take the assessment and get your personalized CliftonStrengths 34 report today.

Both Assessments Are Accurate; CliftonStrengths Is More Eloquent

As outlined above, DiSC assessment types are based on Marston's Four Dimensions of Behavior, while CliftonStrengths is based on 34 personality themes. Behavior defines how someone acts, which can be more situational. For example, if someone is taking a DiSC assessment for their work, they may not be thinking about how they act in a different setting. Therefore, there are actually seven different DiSC assessment and report offerings: Everything DiSC; the Everything DiSC Sales Profile; the Everything DiSC Management Profile; the Everything DiSC Workplace Profile; Everything DiSC Productive Conflict; Everything DiSC Work of Leaders; Everything DiSC 363 for Leaders; and DiSC Classic 2.0.

CliftonStrengths does not measure a state; rather, it measures a person's traits. CliftonStrengths is a development tool that applies to all facets of life. While with DiSC it may be easier to remember your one letter for your behavioral style, knowing your Top 5 CliftonStrengths themes gives you real insight into your talents. For example, knowing someone has Arranger in their Top 5 indicates to a peer, coach or friend that they can "organize, but also have a flexibility that complements this ability. Arrangers like to figure out how all the pieces and resources can be arranged for maximum productivity." But this theme is different from someone with Responsibility. An Arranger is like a juggler who momentarily touches all the balls; Responsibility is like a football player who tenaciously holds onto the ball. These subtle distinctions demonstrate the value of knowing your CliftonStrengths Signature Themes versus your DiSC behavioral style.

Bottom Line

CliftonStrengths provides actionable insights and advice from the moment you receive your results. The personalized report gives you action items and insights on how to turn a talent into a strength. DiSC's results provide a broad awareness of your behavior style -- for example, are you forceful or logical? But after acquiring this knowledge, coaching would be needed to understand the subtleties between two people who work with the same general style.

Many organizations use both instruments. Even with the applicability of CliftonStrengths, coaching is still a necessary step toward improving performance. However, the CliftonStrengths assessment not only provides context for performance development, it builds a common language within an organization to shed light on the essence of positive psychology -- studying what's right with people.

Learn more about using CliftonStrengths to help yourself and others succeed:


Adam Hickman's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Ideation, Command, Analytical, Competition and Individualization.

Mary Claire Evans' Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Individualization, Achiever, Learner, Responsibility and Connectedness.

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