A teacher is testing a child who will be attending school for the first time. As part of the test, the teacher asks the child to go and close the closet door. Following the instructions, the child goes and closes the door. Several moments pass. There is a knock on the door from within the closet….
All too often, when instructions are provided, the receiver is left to interpret the instructions. In the case of the child, they performed as asked, and then awaited further information.
Studying the scenario, the teacher assumed that the child would close the door and return to them. Yet, it is often when we make these assumptions that we also make mistakes. The same mistakes in communication happen in the workplace where instructions are often far more complex. Just because two individuals work in the same industry does not mean they speak the same technical language or have the same understanding for assignments and tasks. It is easy to think that the inability to comprehend instructions by the receiver is a result of their lack of intelligence but, in most circumstances, there are a host of causes. In the workplace, and particularly workplaces in aviation, the result of the miscommunication is generally not as easy to fix as re-opening the closet door.
When providing verbal instructions, it is important that the provider check with the receiver that the instructions have been understood and that they are complete. A simple way this can be achieved is by asking the receiver to explain the instructions back. In the above anecdote, the teacher could have asked the child to repeat the task as they understood it. The provider could also ask questions to check understanding of the receiver. This type of review by the provider can highlight miscommunication and then, at this point, amendments or clarifications can be made to ensure the success of the task. The ability to ask questions, however small, is the grain of sand that can prevent an avalanche of problems
In the workplace, the obligation of exchanging accurate information does not solely rest with the provider. The receiver should also follow-up to check their understanding and ensure that vital parts of the instructions are not missed – further emphasizing the importance of asking questions. This is very important when working in a fast-paced environment such as aviation, where verbal procedures are part of the norm.
Written communication, in particular, is an important part of the aviation professional’s toolkit since their day-to-day is filled with written instructions and checklists. All too often in emails, important parts of procedures to accomplish a task are inadvertently left out to keep the correspondence concise. Conversely, there is a danger in losing meaning and creating confusion if an email is too wordy.
Here are some simple tips to follow for good written communication:
Having the right skills to ensure that your messages are received the way you intended in this world of emails, text messages, logbooks, etc. is an absolute must. It may be very beneficial to take an Effective Writing class to improve written communication skills.
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