When working in a Time Critical Decision-Making environment, the importance of clear and concise communication cannot be overstressed. “Communication clarification” is critical if you are unsure of what is happening around you or your situational awareness is low.
Let’s break this down in simple terms. Right now I am sharing information with you via a nonverbal manner, and you are using a visual means to read and interpret the message I am sending you.
It takes both parties for communication to take place.
I can send an endless stream of words that are an expression of my thoughts, but you will not know about my message until you become the reader in the system and close the cycle of communication.
Working in a high tempo environment as a Marine Corps pilot, I knew mistakes could lead to a tragic ending or injury. I was lucky enough to work with highly professional individuals who were at the top of their game during combat operations in Afghanistan in 2001. While transporting ground forces in and out of combat, we would discuss the importance of communication within the aircraft in critical phases of flight.
While in Afghanistan I flew the CH-46E. This is a troop transport helicopter with the mission of carrying into the battle space the most lethal killing machine – the United States Infantryman. One of the most critical phases of flight in a mission is the objective area. During this phase, communication on multiple levels is taking place inside and outside of the helicopter.
There is no time for decision errors due to miscommunication.
Not only are you responsible for the internal aircraft safety, but you are also responsible for the safety of other aircraft on the mission as well as the Marines that you are dropping off or picking up. Prior to leaving for a mission there can be no questions. Once in the objective area the execution of the plan is similar to the operations of a well-oiled machine.
What happens when things do not look right or smell right??
Everyone on the mission is responsible for the safe completion of the mission. One of my former commanding officers would stress to us that if it ‘does not look right or smell right, then it is not right.’ I take the words of the late Colonel Dan Cushing to heart in every brief and flight that I complete as a Helicopter Air Ambulance pilot.
Don’t be afraid to communicate your concerns
I stress to my med crew that the last thing they want to do is to trust me to fly them straight into the ground while they are looking into the cockpit and thinking to themselves ‘what is he doing?’ It is the simplest form of communication with the simplest question, ‘Hey Matt, what are you doing?’
Don’t just assume I am the PILOT IN COMMAND and this is my aircraft, so do not ask me what I am doing! The reality is I might be distracted, might not see the obstacle that you assume that I see, or I might have spatial disorientation and I AM ABOUT TO FLY YOU STRAIGHT INTO THE GROUND AND KILL YOU!
This may seem like an extreme scenario but research data supports this notion. An analysis of almost 30 years worth of accidents shows that 82% of fatal crashes were caused by human error – and almost all by pilots. It is my job as a pilot to facilitate an environment that promotes positive communication.
If you look back at the mishap that changed my life, you will see there was a ’12 second’ lack of communication amongst the crew that led to the loss of three Marines’ lives. If just one person of the crew of five would have recognized the situation and communicated the simple words ‘wave off’, we might not be discussing this now.
Are you in a position of authority or part of a crew that must practice clear concise communication?
Crew Resource Management (CRM) is the key to optimal success.
Allowing your crew to play an active part in the decision-making process will encourage everyone within your operation to maintain high situational awareness and avoid human error.