Know When to Say When

A big part of success is knowing when to stop talking or writing. It is about closing the deal and getting to the right decision from your point of view. Once you have convinced a board to spend money on a fire truck, proceed quickly with the purchase.


By Richard Marinucci

In many ways, what fire chiefs and chief officers do is sell. They are trying to convince others to “buy” something such as a budget, process, or service delivery method. It may be a case where elements of a budget must be approved by a policy board (city council, fire board, and so on), fire personnel must be sold on a policy change, or citizens must be influenced to vote for a funding mechanism for service. There are many more examples, but the point is that almost everything that is done administratively involves someone who must “buy” what is being “sold.”

Over the years, I have been witness to many successful presentations, some within the fire service and others from separate departments. I have also seen cases where overselling the “product” ultimately raised questions about the purchase’s validity. This caused greater work in getting the decision makers back on board, regardless of whether or not the seller was successful. In almost all of these examples, the individual had made the sale only to talk too much or provide too much information that ended up clouding the issue. The result was either an unnecessary delay or a complete reversal of a near approval.

Know When to Stop
There are some who say you cannot provide too much information. This may not always be the case. You need to establish your objective and once that is met know when to stop and accept the approval. Even if you didn’t have the opportunity to give all of the information at hand and let everyone know truly “how smart you are” on the issue, you still need to end your part once you get what you want. Don’t talk yourself out of a deal because you don’t know when you have done enough.

I have been on the receiving end of this on occasion. I have had fire personnel approach me about making a purchase or a policy change. At some point in the discussion, I agreed with the suggestion. Every so often the other person feels compelled to keep giving me more information even though he has what he wants. Sometimes the added information raises questions or issues in my mind. This could reverse my decision and cause me to either request answers to these new questions or maybe even change a yes to a no. I have even told some individuals, somewhat tongue in cheek, to stop talking or they would lose my approval.

Know Your Subject and Audience
There is an art form to this. It involves knowing not only your subject but your audience. In today’s world, people are accustomed to short presentations that touch on the highlights. If you are trusted, you receive more leeway to provide basic information. Trust that is built up over time enables you to determine the detail to provide. Initially you could be required to provide great detail orally or in a written report. As you build credibility, you are afforded more leeway. There is a confidence that you have done your research and will deliver on your promises.

As you go into any type of “sales” meeting, know what you want and how to close the deal. If your objective is to get budget approval, know your document and issues better than anyone else. Also know your “customer” and the types of information typically required. You learn this from watching how others operate and also from your own personal experience. You can learn to predict questions and understand various viewpoints. Once you sense imminent approval, wind down your presentation and respond only to your audience’s inquiries.

Some of this is related to lessons learned from lawyers. They often teach to only answer the questions that are asked and not to offer any more that could lead to more challenging follow-up questions. The more you say the more chance to find discrepancies and create doubt. This line of thinking could apply to many things. Once you have approval, move on the next issue. Don’t give the customer a chance to develop buyer’s remorse.

Know When the Deal is Dead
I must make one last point from a contrasting view—know when you have no chance to close the deal. There are times that no matter what you do you will not get approval. Don’t grovel or beg. Conserve your energy for the next time. Again, you can talk yourself into new issues by going too far, and it can affect relationships and future endeavors. Once you are sure no one is buying what you are selling, don’t press on.

A big part of success is knowing when to stop talking or writing (no comments needed from those of you who have made it this far in the article!). It is about closing the deal and getting to the right decision from your point of view. Once I have convinced a board to spend money on a fire truck, I need to proceed quickly with the purchase. If I have an agreement on a labor contract, we need signatures from the affected party. Sometimes too much time can lead to decision changes. If you have what you want, take it graciously and move on to the next issue.

RICHARD MARINUCCI is chief of the Northville Township (MI) Fire Department. He retired as chief of the Farmington Hills (MI) Fire Department in 2008, a position he had held since 1984. He is a Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board member, a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and past chairman of the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation. In 1999, he served as acting chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration for seven months. He has a master’s degree and three bachelor’s degrees in fire science and administration and has taught extensively.

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