Tag Archives: communication

Knock It Off

In my time as an aircrew member in the Air Force, the most valuable training I received is a course called Crew Resource Management, or CRM. The short version is “this is how you talk to people so that you probably don’t die.”

Put multiple humans together on an airplane (or a flight of single-seat aircraft working in conjunction) and communication becomes essential, vital to both mission success and safety.

Even though we’re all in the same metal tube hurtling through the sky, getting this many people to communicate in a critical situation is more difficult than it seems. (This crew was awesome at it.)

In CRM, we learn the common causes of human error, the contributing factors in safety accidents and incidents, the price of breakdowns in communication, and the expensive cost in equipment and human lives when someone doesn’t take the time to listen to and recognize the importance of information that could avert disaster.

All too often, a jet slams into a mountain or wanders into an unsafe situation even despite the fact that people on board were aware of the problem and vocalized the impending danger. That’s the other side of this training—learning that you might be the one standing in the way of safety, ignoring the information that could keep your mission from failing or save your life.

We must be able to talk and get each other’s attention. We have to be able to focus everyone’s minds on the key bits of information that might mean life or death.

To that end, we learn key words and phrases that every aircrew member knows. “I am concerned about what we are doing right now. I feel unsafe because of this situation. I don’t have a clear picture of what is going on and where we are headed as a crew.”

The phrase to trump all others? “Knock it off.

In a training environment, that means “Stop playing whatever game or exercise we’re doing, everybody shut up a minute, and let’s make sure we’re doing the right thing.”

When a crisis develops, it means “everybody, cease all the distractions and focus on the critical situation taking place right now.”

One might think that the training solves all our problems, but that’s not the case. Despite every aircrew member receiving the same recurring briefings and classes, some people still don’t get it and drop the ball when a moment of miscommunication arises.

I’ve said all these terms to an aircraft commander on behalf of a dozen peers in the back end of the jet, in conjunction with support and agreement from other officers onboard, only to watch the guy in charge ignore what’s an ingrained response. Sometimes we get stubbornly convinced of how right we are and nothing can dissuade us, no matter how many people say it, no matter how they put it into words.

CRM and Knock-It-Off are designed to help us see those weaknesses, but they can’t fix everything.

This morning I read headlines about George H. W. Bush and some of his negative thoughts on President Trump’s performance. Apparently, George W. Bush has also expressed some disapproval about this administration’s performance.

Judging by the comments section, both the Bushes are traitors, or political hacks, or so arrogant as to presume that the Oval Office was owed to one of their family members. It’s an all-too-familiar turning upon and tearing apart a member of the pack when they go against the grain.

I used to be amazed watching conservatives eat their own—shifting from “they’re awesome” to vilifying and condemning as traitors anyone that didn’t support the party’s pet issue or candidate.
No one is safe from this shifting allegiance. Go against the accepted view, and you’re a RINO, you’re the swamp, you’re bleeding from your whatever, you’re a hack, you’re a liberal in disguise, you’re finally revealing your true colors and you should have been hated all along.

Whatever you are, you’re never a person expressing your convictions or concerns out of faithful devotion to what you understand as conservative ideals. You’re never a person asking serious questions because you want your political party to succeed and do well.

I guess let’s add both George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush to the ever-growing list of people not Right enough for the Right.

Reagan himself could rise from the grave today, declare his disappointment with what the Right has become, and yet people would say, “I always knew he was just another big-mouthed Hollywood blowhard actor who thinks their movie career means people should listen to them.”

(President Reagan speaking in Minneapolis 1982, by Michael Evans. Public Domain.)
Well, Hollywood, there you go again… 

This is why I can’t identify with anything coming from the Right Wing anymore… because for so many of them, it’s a one-strike, you’re-out system demanding mindless devotion to whatever the core of the party does or says. Agree or get out of here, you faker.

We have to be able to talk in order to succeed. We have to be able to raise concerns and those need to be addressed in a serious manner if there’s going to be a foundation of mutual trust within the party’s ranks.

We make fun of the Left for expecting everyone to fall in line on certain issues (try surviving as a pro-life Democrat, for example). We’re just as guilty if not worse.

Conservatives, I am concerned about what we are doing right now. I feel that our party is moving into unsafe territory, putting ourselves at risk. Many of us in the base don’t have a clear picture of where we are headed as a party.

Conservatives, knock it off.

Eye to Eye

I’m sure if you’ve seen Disney’s Frozen, you’ll remember this exchange:

Anna: We complete each others’–
Hans: Sandwiches!
Anna: I was just gonna say that!

What? Really?

Being away from home on business can be stressful, especially leaving behind Wifey with our four always-wonderful, never-exasperating, easily-managed children. (Two of whom are teenagers. God help us.)

When we were dating, Wifey and I would go for long walks and talk about everything and anything. (Aww!) Sometimes when we’d struggle for a way to express a thought, the other would spout out the word or phrase.

And Wifey would joke that we were “eye to eye.”

Wifey plays the violin, and I play piano. We’ve learned over the years of playing together to sense where the other is going. Ok, I’ll be honest, I think I just play whatever I want. But she knows how to complement it perfectly, how to tell when I’m about to shift to something different.

In our frequent practice, we stay in tune to each other. In frequent communication, we keep that “eye to eye” connection.

I’m happy to say this experience has popped up time and again over the years, even while apart. Wifey has supported me all along, and we keep having these “eye to eye” moments. And 16 years as a military spouse is no joke!

Early on, it might have been “ear to ear” as we took advantage of the once-a-week 15 minute morale call.

With reliable email, exchanges sped up exponentially, and sometimes our emails back and forth would contain the same words or ideas.

Instant Messaging and chat rooms used to be a thing ten years ago–remember that? I don’t think we ever said “Chat to chat” but the connection remained.

And now Facebook Messenger and cellphone texts still afford us those opportunities to stay in tune with one another.

But I know there have been those times where we haven’t played in a while. I go one way musically, and she goes another. Or we can’t find our parts and end up doing our own thing.

Same with communication. When we get caught up in routines, stresses, or personal interests, there are those moments of disconnect. Usually this leads to confusion and lengthy discussions where we try to figure out “What the heck is going on in your head?!”

Sometimes it leads to arguments.

There’s a spiritual parallel: how “eye to eye” am I with Christ? Am I connected frequently enough that I can follow His lead and stay in tune with Him? Is His Word fresh in my mind, answering my questions and finishing my sentences?

Or has it been a bit since we last chatted?

When it comes to time and relationships, quality is born out of quantity. I can’t come in and declare “I have two minutes for intimate conversation, starting timer NOW. Go!”

But frequent connection makes for a closer connection.

And there’s never been a better instant messenger service than prayer.

Horse on the Cart

A friend was teaching our writers’ group about building an online platform, and she gave us a demonstration to make a point. Everyone in the room was given secret instructions with a message to speak out. Some were told to speak normally, some to shout, some to add in arm motion or other ways of gaining attention. One person was given a bullhorn. Some were given the same message, but most were told to say whatever came to mind to fulfill their instructions.

The point of the demo was that the more people you have saying the same thing, the more that message will get out. The online world is a constant clamor of voices shouting, “Look at me!” And ten people together are louder than one person yelling at the noise.

On the spirituality blog I recently shut down, I wrote some blogs about the concept of our platform as writers, and the parallels I see to spirituality.

Platform is about shared vision and combined effort. So is spirituality.

I was thinking about this while watching our worship team on Sunday. I’ve been the lead worshiper (in smaller settings than our current church) trying to cooperate with a team to make sure we’re communicating the same message, and then trying to get the attention of a congregation asking them to get on board with where we’re going in the music portion of worship. It’s a challenge, getting everyone on the same sheet of music. (Couldn’t resist!)

With a big church like our current place of worship, we have enough musicians to rotate and give everyone time in the congregation, time to worship on my own, time to worship with the body of Christ. It’s beneficial to see both sides of that equation often.

Horses are tied together to pull a cart, and each lends its strength to bear the load. Similarly, as Christians, we all can play a part in carrying and communicating the message, each of us contributing our small efforts to add up to something greater. So long as we have shared vision.

Sometimes, I fear that I show up to church functions or look at my spiritual life not as a horse adding my strength or as a voice communicating the message, but as a passenger jumping aboard the cart the horses are pulling, saying “Ok, where are you taking me?”

I picture the carriages designed to transport horses, and some Sundays I might as well be the horse inside the carriage, added weight that everyone else has to drag along for the ride. “Take me somewhere, and it better be good.”

What’s the solution?

What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (1 Corinthians 14:26 NASB)

In other words, I need to hitch up and pull weight when I show up for a church function or volunteer activity. I need to grab the vision and communicate it. It’s not my job to sit and be taken somewhere like the audience in a movie theater.

Just like the goal of having a platform is to get many people talking about the same message, one of the goals of our spirituality is to work together to communicate God’s heart to the world. The story of God’s grace impacting humanity is ongoing, and it’s on each of us to speak up and share that same message, so that our noisy world will hear.

What ways can we find to make sure we’re pulling the cart instead of sitting on it?

Second Tirade

I was planning on only writing a positive “Here’s what I love about the military” Thursday Tirade this week. Then I was chatting with a friend and former co-worker, and I was (unfortunately) inspired.

So you get another Thursday Tirade, since the first one really wasn’t a tirade at all. Think of it like a Hobbit… you get Second Breakfast, or Rage Elevensies.

Today’s Tirade-word is “hypocrisy.” Here’s a hint: in a leadership position, you don’t want this word associated with you.

Seems obvious, but not everyone knows or understands this.

Servant leadership means – among other things – taking care of your people. One of the ways we do this is through open and honest communication. There’s nothing worse than playing “I’ve got a secret” with the members of an office or organization.

And some are smart as bricks too...
The old phrase is true of some leaders: “You make a better wall than a window.”

Open communication engenders trust. It aids with expectation management. The news may not be good for the person(s) affected, but at least they know what is going on. They can plan accordingly, and they know they can trust their leadership in the future.

Unfortunately, it seems like we often trade that long-term trust relationship and positive reputation in order to solve a short-term crisis. Someone gets deployed with little notice, and we tell them “You’ll be back in six months.”

Then, a month out, they get told they’re staying longer. Not only that, they and their spouse get told, “This was always the plan. You were going for nine months all along. You probably misunderstood.”

Congrats. You filled a short-term need and solved the huge “Who’s going out next month” problem. You did it at the cost of years of trust. Your people are not blind or stupid; they’ve seen what you’ve done, and they know not to believe you when it’s there turn to deploy or to fill a need. Not only that, but people talk. Your action seems to affect only one or two individuals, but those individuals are going to spread the story to others. Years from now, people are going to hear about you and immediately distrust your leadership.

What’s worse is when these “leaders” preach transparency and openness with their subordinates. “Don’t have a hidden agenda,” we are told, by an individual who is known for always having a hidden agenda. Did you think we weren’t watching what you do the rest of the year? Were we only supposed to listen to what you say today?

Open communication and a healthy relationship would mean that the person in charge gives the junior member all the information they need while both sides accept the fact that we’re in the military and plans can sometimes change.

I’ve had to call home from training TDYs to tell my wife, “Hey, this might be six weeks long or six months long depending on how they decide to do the flight portion of the training.” On day one, the person in charge came in to pound his chest and remind all the students that the training squadron alone would make all those decisions, so “don’t make any plans. We’ll let you know.”

So my wife is across the world with three kids, wondering whether I’ll be gone weeks or months. And on the last day of academics, the authority comes into the classroom and says, “Get tickets home. My plan all along was for you to do flight training back home.”

Really? Was that not valuable information? I’m a big boy. I understand if I get told, “The original plan was for you to go home but we can’t make that work, sorry.” Maybe keeping a secret helps you feel better about how “in charge” you are, but I never doubted whether you were in charge. I just wanted to be able to tell my wife what to expect. But for you to act like there is no decision, or keep all your plans to yourself when you can alleviate confusion and tension… and then to talk about transparency and clear communication… that’s hypocrisy.

We do this whenever we pay lipservice to a value or rule only so long as it suits us.

If you refer to regulations and guiding documents in one argument to win the discussion and justify your opinion, then you can’t turn around the next week and ignore those regs and guiding documents when they don’t say what you wish they did. That’s hypocrisy, and it’s blatant and obvious.

We can’t in one breath talk about the value of quality and for the rest of the discussion push for ways to get more production faster.

We shouldn’t be in the business of redefining words to wiggle out of what the regulations dictate, or reinterpreting clear direction in order to push (or ignore) the boundaries set upon us by leadership. If we do this for short-term expedience, in the long run, we lose the trust of those following us.

If nothing else, the hypocrisy at least is pretty transparent.