Critical communication

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Rob Fleming
  • 509th Maintenance Squadron commander
While sitting talking to some of our future enlisted leaders at a recent Airman Leadership School event I realized that there are some real communication differences between the older generation Airman like myself and the younger generation.

As I mentally compared ALS to the old NCO Preparatory Course I took long ago (yes I'm that old) I realized how tech savvy our new Airmen are but that many of them have lost, or have the potential to lose, some basic personal communications skills due to technology.

Now don't take that the wrong way just yet; the Airmen joining the force today are better educated and much more suited to the high tech environment the Air Force has become as compared to when I enlisted in the mid-eighties.

That being said, a trend I am seeing is that some of our Airmen are losing the art of direct conversation, which can have a negative effect on how efficiently we operate as a work force. In the aircraft maintenance world I live in, miscommunication can cost people their lives.

Engaging in a face-to-face conversation with someone takes a totally different skill set than does typing a note on a phone or keyboard and the reactions are instant and sometimes unpleasant. Saying things others may not like or want to hear is infinitely harder to do when you look someone square in the eye, but easy when all you have to do is hit send.

Think of this: how many times recently have you heard of someone ending a relationship via a text or e-mail or even worse a twitter. Ask yourself why would someone do something like that? The reason is; because you can ignore the reply if you choose, but in a one-on-one conversation you cannot avoid the confrontation and have to take responsibility for the things you have said.

The point I am making is that communication is a vital key to effective leadership and followership and as efficient as new technology has made us, it can also be a detriment to our ability to communicate clearly and concisely.

As easy as sending e-mails and texts is, it is very hard to ensure that your message is interpreted the way you meant it to be. E-mails and texts do not have facial expressions or body language, nor do they have vocal inflection, all important things that help a speaker get his or her point across to his or her audience when done in person.
As leaders we need to be better at not only communicating verbally but being able to do so under less than ideal or comfortable conditions. For example: giving corrective actions, feedback sessions, directing mission critical work under heavy stress during exercises or combat operations.

Whenever possible put down the Blackberry and iPhone, get out from behind the desk and keyboard and engage your fellow Airman. Consider the walk from your desk or work center to their's as an added benefit to your fitness plan. Don't be afraid to have those candid professional conversations in person and avoid the impersonal e-mail or text.
In those potentially confrontational conversations the people may not agree with you; but they will respect you more for delivering the message in person.

Now I am not totally old school; I do believe that e-mails, texts, blogging and social networking are all great ways to communicate, but only when used in moderation and in the right venue. That being said, for the tough conversations nothing beats human interaction and a good face-to-face chat to truly get your point across whether at home or at work. Taking the time to engage directly in conversation and work on those skills I mentioned could make the difference between success and failure when you most need to have your voice be heard. In our line of work the difference can be fatal.

Are you ready for that critical moment?