Fire Fighting in Canada

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Know your audience

In the September issue of Fire Fighting in Canada we outlined the four instinctive human behaviours that make up the D.I.S.C. pattern. Now, we’re going to help you use your newfound understanding of how those behaviour types deal with people – from fellow firefighters and council members to the mayor and CFO.

November 1, 2010 
By Barb and Bill Johnston


In the September issue of Fire Fighting in Canada we outlined the four instinctive human behaviours that make up the D.I.S.C. pattern:
D – Dominant (outgoing and task oriented)
I – Instinctive (outgoing and people oriented)
S – Steady (reserved and people oriented)
C – Cautious (reserved and task oriented)

Now, we’re going to help you use your newfound understanding of how those behaviour types deal with people – from fellow firefighters and council members to the mayor and CFO. Let’s use fire-service icon, deputy chief and renowned speaker Billy Goldfeder as an example of someone who has plenty of natural people skills. Although as fire chiefs your jobs require you to have impeccable people skills, some of you may find this a challenge because your style is different than Goldfeder’s. Indeed, many people think personality types like Goldfeder are simply salesmen who use their personality strengths to sell their messages. The truth is that you too are selling; you are selling the importance of your team, the need for newer, better equipment, the safety of the community, the opportunity for politicians to align themselves with the positive public perception of the fire department. The good news is that anyone can learn the skills necessary to work with the people who influence the fire department.

Good public speakers say they have to know their audience to be effective. It’s the same for fire chiefs. Chiefs have to know and understand their municipal politicians. Who are they? What are their interests? What are their hot buttons? These questions are paramount to effective communication. If you try only to push your own agenda then you will meet resistance. Respecting your audience by doing your homework will open their ears to your message.

How do you start on this path of improved communication and how does the D.I.S.C. system of behaviour patterns help?


First, review each council member and prepare a folder for each. Which members are outgoing and which are reserved? Who is task or people oriented? Asking and answering those two questions will reveal the councillors’ basic personality styles.

Now that you have identified the basic personality style for each council member, you can start adding additional information: What did the councillors campaign on? What promises did they make? Did any of the promises or issues have a direct or potential effect on your department?

An easy way to find out more about these individuals is to invite them to the station for a tour. If you are lobbying for newer or additional equipment it might be wise to have councillors feel and touch the current equipment and meet the men and women who risk their lives with it on every call. Do this individually, with each councillor, to ensure one-on-one conversations. If you show respect for their offices, chances are the councillors will gain respect for you and your office. The best-case scenario is to have councillors ride along on a call, even a false alarm – let them feel the frustration and the adrenalin rush of being ready to answer a call only to have it be a false alarm. Councillors will then better relate to your team. They will also see firsthand the shape of your ageing equipment. Some of you may have already done this kind of ride-along as part of a new council member’s orientation but how long ago was it? Perhaps it is time for a refresher course.

Now that you’ve done your homework and you know the players, how do you effectively guide them to your side of the table? People work in patterns; if you relate to their individual patterns you will increase your chance of winning their support. Let’s say you’re trying to convince council to replace your department’s 10-year-old bunker gear.

Ideally, your presentation to council would include elements that appeal to the four different personality types as follows.

  • People who exhibit D-style personalities (outgoing and task oriented) look for action and results. The bottom line for this personality style: no fluff – they will not relate to it. They want to know the facts and how the facts affect the bottom line. When requesting buy in, ask them what they think, not how they feel. Be direct: Ideally, provide them with choices within acceptable boundaries. For example, replace all of the bunker gear this year or 50 per cent this year and 50 per cent over the next two years. These types of people want control; give it to them within acceptable parameters to meet your goals. Depending on the circumstances, one strategy is to provide two separate documents or presentations to D-style personalities, each one slightly different, and allow D-style councillors to choose the one they like. This tends to prevent a lot of conflict and discussion.
  • People whose personalities are I style (outgoing and people oriented) look more for the people side of things: How will this issue affect people? Is there a fun side to this issue? This personality type appreciates lots of visuals; for example, pictures of your firefighters in their worn bunker gear. These folks are generally visual learners so show them the emotional side of the issue. Take them along for a product inspection at the manufacturer if possible. They will love the road trip and you get an opportunity to build a rapport. Rather than asking these types of people what they think, ask them how they feel about the fact that firefighters in their community are using old, worn-out bunker gear that doesn’t meet NFPA standards.
  • S-style personalities (reserved and people oriented) look at how the team will be affected by the issue. Again, emotion is a key element to this personality style. Most people have S-style personality characteristics, so it’s likely that S-style personalities make up a considerable part of any audience. Also remember that this personality style is reserved and forms part of the silent majority; if you have these people in your camp their numbers can be effective – just remember that they may not be vocally supportive in a council meeting. When asking for input from this group be sure to ask how they feel – not what they think – about the issue. That is why it is important to get their buy in before the presentation.
  • The other half of that silent majority is the C style (reserved and task oriented). These are the fact finders of the group. It is critical to give this personality type the data before you meet with them or make a presentation to them because they need a lot of time to process information. In short, C-style personalities like to think about things before making a comment. Usually they prefer to speak quietly to you in private rather than in an open meeting, so giving them information in advance gives them time to process the details and an opportunity to ask questions in private. People who exhibit this personality type do not want the spotlight; they want to quietly work in the background, looking at the facts and analyzing your numbers and details. This group needs to be asked what they think – not how they feel – about an issue.

To help you gauge your effectiveness in dealing with council members, ask for feedback on your presentation. Councillors will be surprised and they will see this as a positive step.
Whatever your council members’ personality style, remember that like most of us, they operate in their own little worlds. Also consider that most people do not have the knowledge about personality styles that you now possess. Recognizing the differences in personality styles and understanding how to communicate with those different personalities can help you resolve many of the people challenges in your community meetings.

Next time, we will delve further into written and personal communications.

Bill and Barb Johnston own and manage The Centre For Applied Human Dynamics ( ). They have written two books, Vacation Without Frustration and DISCover Your Communication Style. E-mail them at

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