Understand behaviors to overcome conflict with the DiSC framework.
Board conflict is a familiar challenge for many association executives. Sharon Kneebone, IOM, CAE, executive director at the National Society for Histotechnology, says conflict on the NSH board often stems less from the subject at hand than from differences in board members’ underlying attitudes and viewpoints.
To make discussion of potentially contentious issues easier, Kneebone likes to use the well-known DiSC framework developed by psychologist William Moulton Marston. It identifies four behavioral styles: dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness.
Everyone has elements of all four traits, but a person’s more dominant attributes play out especially in group and leadership settings, like board meetings, Kneebone says.
It’s a framework to highlight your board’s strengths and potential blind spots.
“If you’ve got that one person who’s always playing the devil’s advocate, they’re probably someone who’s a stronger conscientious personality. They want things to be correct and well thought out,” she says. “By understanding individual preferences, it helps present information in a way that people can actually hear you.”
Kneebone has found DiSC especially helpful in navigating board conflicts. “No one trait is good or bad,” she says. “It’s a framework to highlight your board’s strengths and potential blind spots.”
Here are three common types of board member personalities that Kneebone has encountered and strategies she has used to overcome traits that might lead to conflict:
Resister. A resister’s dominant personality trait is often conscientiousness, and this person is less likely to embrace bold or new thinking. “It’s important to get to the root of what that person fears,” Kneebone says. “This person might overanalyze or seek security in a decision, and he or she will need time to process.” She suggests giving these board members plenty of time to ask questions and find common ground between opposing views.
Quiet compromiser. This board member puts great emphasis on relationship strength and might not speak up when debate gets heated. “This person could be a strong ‘S’ and can’t get two words in edgewise,” Kneebone says. To make sure everyone has a chance to be heard, devise a system where each board member knows in advance that they’ll be called on, and provide opportunities to engage between meetings as well—via online board portals, for example.
Oversharer. Dominance and influencer types tend to want to talk a lot and control conversations from the start. “Their greatest fears are being taken advantage of or feeling rejected and not heard,” Kneebone says. “In this case, I like to use the power of the pause, because it allows that person to stop, think, then respond before saying something they might regret.”