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Dirty Dozen: Failure to Communicate

According to Circular 253 from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), safety standards would be difficult to maintain without communication among maintenance managers, manufacturers, dispatchers, pilots, the public, the government, and others.

Communication with the aircraft manufacturer and between airlines is critical. If an operator discovers a problem during maintenance, then it is the operator’s responsibility to inform the manufacturer and other operators of the same aircraft type.

The ICAO gives the example of the American Airlines DC-10 accident at Chicago in 1979. This occurrence “revealed that another airline had been using the same unapproved engine change procedures, in which the pylon and engine were removed and installed as a unit rather than separately. Unlike American, however, the other airline had discovered that the procedure caused cracks in the pylon attachment area. It is believed that if this experience had been shared with other operators of similar aircraft, the accident at Chicago might not have happened.”

The skills needed
George Bernard Shaw says that the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place

Good communication can help clear up any misinterpretations of new manuals, service bulletins, job cards, and other information provided to operators. When discussing these matters to resolve any issues, it is vital that maintenance workers use good communication skills.

ICAO encourages everyone – in any situation – to listen, think, and speak. Those are the three major parts of verbal communication and all are essential for you to get your message across. You have to think about what to say and speak your piece clearly in order for the listener to understand the message.

It’s not just what you say …
Another major facet of communication is the nonverbal component. According to J.D. McHenry of Global Jet Services Inc., nonverbal communication accounts for 93 percent of a message. This leaves the actual words to account for only 7 percent of a message.

McHenry says that when people are spoken to, they make their decisions about the message mostly on body language. Body language makes up 55 percent of what affects someone’s interpretation of a message. Tone of voice makes up 38 percent.

When you speak to a co-worker, make sure to think about your posture, gestures, eye contact, and inflection. All of these can overshadow your message. Picture this: someone tells you that they love your idea. Now picture the person saying this to you while they are slumped over with their arms folded – then they roll their eyes and throw up their hands. All of these nonverbal cues will lead you to believe that they don’t appreciate your idea or the work and time you put into coming up with it, even though their spoken message was positive.

It goes both ways
True communication is a two-way street. Make sure you listen to the response you get after you speak. Instead of using the time the other person speaks to come up with what you will say in return, tune in to their message. Make sure you understand what is being said to you so that you and the other person can continue to move forward in the conversation and learn from each other’s statements.

USAIG advises you not to be a fast talker or to try to monopolize the conversation. Make sure that your communication is truly a give-and-take situation. Be correct and concise in your wording to make your message clearer.

Go forth and communicate
Greek philosopher Epictetus said that “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

Listen to your co-workers and management, pay attention to the manuals and documentation that helps you do your job, and ask clear questions when you don’t understand.

When you have a failure to communicate, it represents a lack of effort to work together, and it could lead to an unsafe situation that puts lives at risk. Are you willing to bet your certificate on that?

This is the third in a series of articles on the Dirty Dozen. The Dirty Dozen was developed by Gordon Dupont at Transport Canada. They are critical factors in the area of human factors and safety; they are complacency, lack of knowledge, lack of teamwork, distraction, fatigue, lack of resources, pressure, lack of assertiveness, lack of communication, norms, stress, and lack of awareness.