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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:

March 1, 2011 
By Barb and Bill Johnston

Understanding how others process your e-mails and phone conversations and why you might need to change


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)

In November, we offered tips for dealing with people face to face, from fellow firefighters to the mayor and council members.


Now, we’ll look at how to (or how not to) deal with the four personality types when doing business over the phone and by e-mail, starting with the dominant  – or D – personality type.

■ Calling a D-type personality

  • When you call a D-type personality, your verbal tones should be firm and direct. These types of people are bottom-line thinkers who do not like to waste time.
  • Ask if you’re catching the person at a good time. D-type personalities do not like to be interrupted; if the person says it is a bad time, call back.
  • Give your information and get to the point quickly.
  • If a decision is necessary, always offer choices within boundaries that work for you. This is crucial when talking to someone with a D-type personality – these types of people like to feel in control of the situation.
  • Be aware that D-type personalities may challenge you from the start. This is normal, as the greatest fear of D-type personalities is to be taken advantage of. Be careful not to slip into an argumentative or defensive voice in response to this challenging tone. Do not let these types of people pull you into a tit-for-tat discussion. Remain professional and stick to delivering your message. Your goal is get your message across, not to enter into a debate.

■ If you are a D-type personality

  • Be aware of your often demanding and challenging voice tones. Work to soften and relax your approach so that you become relatable to 100 per cent of your co-workers and contacts. Most people will not do business with people they do not like.
  • Listen, listen, listen! Always hear what others are saying before you hurry ahead with your own agenda and decisions. You may be right, but if you don’t get buy-in to your ideas, what’s the point? True communication is about meeting the needs of others, not just your own.

■ E-mailing a D-type personality

  • It is not necessary to say hi or start your e-mail with a nice, introductory line. D-type people like you to get to the point – hit the bottom line as quickly as you can and expect a bottom-line response. D-type people are not being rude; they are just focused on getting the task done.
  • Do not copy D-type people on any unnecessary e-mails. If they need to know, they will ask. D-type people dislike anything that wastes their time.

■ E-mail tips for D-types

  • When you send an e-mail, do not soften your e-mail message too much.
  • Be careful not to make your message too abrupt or you risk the chance of coming across as angry. It is difficult to have good communication with people when they believe that you are upset with them. (And yes, D types, this does often happen – others just don’t tell you.)
  • Not everyone processes at the speed of light (as Ds tend to do). Reserved style personalities need time to think before sending a response.
  • Provide reasonable deadlines for a response and practise patience.

People with I-type personalities are outgoing, people oriented and like some chitchat.

■ Calling an I-type personality

  • Your voice should be friendly and upbeat. Be sure to speak fairly quickly and sound excited about why you are calling.
  • As silly as its sounds, always smile when talking on the phone with an I-style. I-type personalities are happy people and will hear your message more clearly when you sound happy too.
  • Do not be too direct or make the call seem rushed. Be sure to listen to at least a bit of this person’s latest story – there will always be a story!
  • I-type people generally prefer face-to-face or phone communication over e-mail as they are social beings and love the personal interaction.
  • Since I-type personalities tend not to hear all the details of your communication, it is a good idea to follow up with an e-mail outlining the discussed information.

■ If you are an I-type personality

  • Respect other people’s time and try to save your stories for later. If you must tell a story, keep it very short. It’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice (and considerate by listening and then speaking).
  • Although you prefer to speak off the cuff, it is a great idea to have an outline of what you want to say before you make the call. This will help you to stay focused on your reason for the call and it will be a great timesaver for both parties.

To get the most out of a phone request, determine the personality type of the person you are
calling and adjust your demeanour according to the D.I.S.C. pattern of personality types.


■ E-mailing an I-type personality
Take the time to begin your message with a warm and fuzzy comment. E-mails that come across as too direct and cold may cause I-type personalities to think that you are angry – not a good way to open communication.

I-types love to see punctuation and enthusiasm when they read e-mails. Question marks and exclamation marks can help to soften the message and the appearance of your e-mail. If this seems unnecessary or frivolous, remember that you are trying to speak the language of the I-type personality, not your language. You want your message to be received. I-types like fun, so the happier your e-mail seems, the more responsive the I-type personality will be. But don’t be surprised if I-type people pop in to see you with an answer after getting your e-mail. I-type people prefer face-to-face or phone communication over e-mail because they are social beings and love the personal interaction.

■ E-mail tips for I-types

Save the animations and fancy backgrounds for party invitations and leave them out of work e-mails (unless, of course, you are sending to another I-style personality). Most people prefer if you kept e-mails simple and straightforward. For your message to be heard, remember to speak in the personality language of others, not your own style.

E-mail is not the best method for sharing stories and jokes. People are bombarded with e-mails every day and most personality styles find it frustrating to spend hours going through e-mails that seem to have no relevance. Try practising restraint when it comes to sending out funny e-mails.

■ Calling an S-type personality
When you call a reserved and people-oriented S-type personality, it is important to keep your voice tones warm, friendly and reassuring. This can often be accomplished by lowering your volume and slowing down your speech.

  • You can depend on an S-type personality to be a good listener, but these types of people may be reluctant to share their feelings with you. Be sure to ask how they feel about what you have said and then patiently wait for an answer. If you are task-oriented, resist the temptation to ask S-type personalities what they think. S-types tend to think in feelings first, logic second. Instead, ask how the person feels about the issue/concern. S types are usually happy to give feedback when asked, unless something in your voice makes them feel pressured, at which point they may just agree with anything you have said. It is only later on, through others, that you may find out how an S-type person really feels. An S-type personality dislikes confrontation and will avoid it at all costs.
  • At the end of the conversation, be sure to let an S-type personality know how much you appreciate the time he or she has spent talking to you. Never try this with a D-type personality – they honestly don’t care if you appreciate them – they really just want you to get to that bottom line.

■ If you are an S-type personality

  • Speak a little more quickly and loudly than you normally would when on the telephone. This makes you sound confident about why you are calling. People tend to follow and listen to people who are confident.
  • Work on moving past your natural fear of having your ideas rejected. Have confidence that your ideas have value and believe that people want to hear from you because no one has better people skills or is a better listener than you.

■ E-mailing an S-type personality
Keep your e-mails warm and kind. This can be accomplished by using a friendly opening statement, such as, “Hope you are having a nice day.” S-types are supportive and will always want to do whatever you ask of them. The more they feel appreciated, the better your communication will be with them. An abrupt, demanding e-mail will shut down these types of people and will elicit little response.

Be aware that an S-type might not give you an immediate response. S types like to process and will sometimes procrastinate. If it is important to receive a reply right away, let S types know how much it would help others if they could respond immediately. Say thank you at the end of your e-mail. S-types are always polite and like you to be too.

■ Emailing tips for S-types
When you send emails to the D-type and C-type personality styles, keep them short and to the point. These task-oriented people like you to be as factual as possible. Being friendly and kind is so natural for you that sometimes you forget that the language of other styles is much more direct. If their e-mails seem brusque, it’s because those individuals are usually speaking in their own personality languages. It is not because they are unhappy with you or do not appreciate you.

■ Calling a C-type personality
C-type personalities are reserved and task-oriented. When you phone these types of people, your voice tones should be matter of fact and not overly excited.

  • Be sure to slow down and not rush the conversation. Give the C-type person time to respond without interrupting.
  • Be brief and to the point – this is definitely not the time for stories. Tell the person why you are calling right at the beginning.
  • Expect questions – C-types will always have them.
  • Resist the temptation to answer every question on the phone. If you keep answering, C types will keep asking. If there are further questions, ask that the questions be put into an e-mail and sent to you. This will be more efficient for both of you.

■ If you are a C-type personality

  • As you get focused on the task, you can sound cold over the phone. Keep a small mirror by the phone to remind yourself to smile (It may sound strange but a smile truly does come through the phone lines!). Learning to smile talk will make you a No. 1 communicator.

Try to keep the bulk of the information until you can meet face to face. If this is not possible, send the most important details through e-mail. Not everyone is as focused on details as you are. With phone communication, detailed information is often missed.

■ E-mailing a C-type personality
Keep it simple and straightforward and provide as much detail as possible. Be crystal clear in your expectations. Even when you are sure you were very specific, don’t be surprised when a C-style personality sends an e-mail back with further questions. They will always seek more information.

A C style will definitely need time to think before responding. It is a good idea to let these types of people know when you need to hear back from them; always try to give them as much time as possible to process. E-mail is instant communication but C types are not instant thinkers.

C types like things to be right. Therefore, it is wise to spell check your e-mail before sending it and to avoid using short forms (such as u r rite) – C-types will shudder at that one!

■ Tips for a C-type

  • Since it’s easy to sound cold, be sure to include a warm greeting line at the beginning of your e-mails. While information is important, true communication happens only when people feel that they matter.

Communication rules have changed and many people use short forms (LOL). While misspelled words and short forms may rub you the wrong way, they do not reduce the significance of the message. Learn to overlook the mistakes and get to the heart of the matter for communication to really work.

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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