How Poor Communication Crashes Airplanes
When I teach workshops related to communication and teams, I often hear people say, I don’t care what the other person thinks. We become angry or annoyed with the other person and we give up. It takes more energy than most of us give it. Those of us, who lead others, must take communication seriously. Good, effective communication takes practice and a lot of it.
I recently read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. In his book, Gladwell tells us how poor communication crashes airplanes. In other words, it’s neither the weather nor mechanical difficulties that cause crashes, but poor communication and misguided teamwork. When the pilot and the first officer do not communicate clearly, when they do not act like a team, airplanes go down. Imagine that!
This led me to think about all the mishaps we have that result from communication errors. Think about the number of times we’ve hurt someone’s feelings by not listening or by sending the wrong message. Think about the number of times projects in the workplace get botched because teams do not communicate well. Think about the number of sports events where stellar teams lose because they can’t act like a team or because their coaches forgot the basics of communication.
As human beings, we relate to one another through our communication—both verbal and nonverbal. In the cockpit, those messages - when misinterpreted - result in disaster. Sometimes, outside the cockpit miscommunication can kill as well. For example, imagine a doctor in the operating room. When the surgeon asks for an instrument, he must do so in just the right way and that message must be interpreted correctly. The physician monitoring a heart patient must communicate in clear and unequivocal terms.
When I teach workshops related to communication and teams, I often hear people say, I don’t care what the other person thinks. We become angry or annoyed with the other person and we give up. Communication takes practice and patience. It takes more energy than most of us give it.
Gladwell gives several examples when the first officer knew the pilot was making a deadly mistake, but he did not communicate that message. Instead of saying, “This is an emergency. We must abort.” The first officer said, “I think we might need to change course.” Notice the difference. Often, a slight change in the way we communicate both verbally and nonverbally will drastically change the meaning.
Here are a few tips to help you communicate your message with confidence:
• When you recognize that the other person is not listening to your words, select words that will resonate with that person. Change the way you are communicating to grab the other person’s attention.
• Pay attention to the other person’s nonverbal messages. Filler words, “I think, maybe, I believe, probably,” suggest a lack of confidence. When you hear that lack of confidence, share your message.
• Don’t doubt yourself. If you have something to say, say it. You may be wrong, but it’s better to get it out and to allow someone to consider the option, than to never say it.
• Say what you need to say with confidence but without aggression. When others reject your ideas, do not take it personally. If you shared your suggestion or idea and it was dealt with openly, you’ve done your part.
• If someone counters your idea with their own knowledge, listen. Don’t rebel because the idea was someone else’s, even if that person is not your superior. Do not let “rank” cloud your listening.
• Use good listening skills to force yourself to hear what the other person is saying. Paraphrase what they said or probe with good open questions. Don’t simply process the information in your head.
Communication is interrelated. To achieve success with communication, we must recognize that we need each other, i.e., I need you and you need me. We cannot communicate alone.
Gladwell points out in his book that successful people must practice ten thousand hours to become successful in whatever it is they do. He also notes that it’s not practice alone that makes a person successful. It’s the right kind of practice. I would venture to guess that most of us have communicated much more than ten thousand hours. I would also note that most of us have not practiced ten thousand hours of good communication. That’s the challenge we face. Those of us, who lead others, must take communication seriously. We may not be flying a plane or performing surgery, but we are trying to get through our days successfully. Good, effective communication takes practice and a lot of it.
I pray that my pilot and first officer on my next flight will have logged in many more than ten thousand hours of good communication!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joan Curtis, EdD is CEO of Total Communications Coaching where she specializes in helping smart, capable professionals move ahead in their careers by becoming skilled communicators and savvy leaders.
Her new book, Managing Sticky Situations at Work: Communication Secrets for Success in the Workplacegives you everything you need to know to Say It Just Right!
How Well Do You Communicate? Take this free assessment and find out. http://www.totalcommunicationscoach.com/how_well_do_you_communicate.htm