Dirty Dozen: Let Your Voice Be Heard

Asserting yourself in the maintenance hangar

It seems that in every group of people you work with, there are at least three kinds of people: an overbearing know-it-all who suffocates everyone around him, a timid pushover who never makes his voice heard, and a mediator who makes sure everyone is heard, that no one’s ideas are ignored, and that the team can move forward peaceably.

In other terms, these three personality and leadership styles can be referred to as aggressive (overbearing), passive (timid), and assertive (team builder). Surely you’ve picked out people in your hangar who embody these traits – but which one are you?

What is assertiveness?
Assertiveness means communicating your needs, wants, feelings, beliefs, and opinions to others respectfully. Aggressive people attack or ignore the opinions of others. Passive people never make their opinions known.

The Aircraft Maintenance Improvement Project (AMIP) says that research has shown that aircraft technicians are not generally very good at speaking up or being assertive. “Stating your position in the face of an adverse opinion, or communicating an idea that goes against what a group believes, is not something that comes easily to many people – it requires a level of assertiveness that for some people is uncomfortable,” it says.

Assertive behaviors
Rich Komarniski, president of Grey Owl Aviation Consultants, says the technician's role is to state his or her point of view clearly and make his or her frustrations and dissatisfactions known. This refusal to compromise standards include the technician giving management the kind of feedback required to ensure that management will be able to assist the technician to do their job. “If we develop the skills of being assertive, then we can do our jobs with pride and vigor and be rewarded accordingly,” he says.

Applied Human Factors in Aviation Maintenance, a book by Manoj S. Patankar and James Chapman Taylor, says that there are three levels of practicing assertiveness in the aircraft maintenance shop. The first level refers to speaking up when one notices a problem or discrepancy. The second level refers to reporting (typically through reports or self-disclosure to the company). The third level refers to following up on the root causes associated with factors leading up to the discrepancies. Each of these levels of assertiveness comes with its own set of obstacles. For example, the books says, people may not speak up because they did not realize there was a problem – some mechanics continue to assume that the already installed part was the correct part or a similar repair on another aircraft was performed correctly.

The importance of listening
Learning how to be effectively assertive can be tricky, especially in the workplace. Striking that delicate balance between “overbearing” and “timid” is often done through trial and error.

Operating in an assertive mode at work can strengthen relationships with your team. When a problem arises, listen to everyone’s ideas and try to find a solution that appeases everyone’s concerns. Let everyone voice their opinion and make sure the forum for discussion is a positive one. There is no room for cutting each other or each other’s ideas down in an effective team. When the team sees you acting in a way that is respectful of everyone, they will in turn see you with more respect. This will build your confidence and help you continue to be assertive.

J.H. Gittell, a contributor to the International Journal of Human Resource Management, says that frequent and timely problem solving communication, helping, sharing goals and knowledge, and showing mutual respect among workers improves on-time departure and shorter turnaround times in flight operations. Only through assertiveness are goals shared and good communication realized – this in turn leads to respect among peers.

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