By Master Sgt. Demetrius Best, 366th Aerospace Medicine Squadron
/ Published July 01, 2015
MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Nobel Prize winning playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." Throughout my years in the Air Force I've learned many great lessons about effective communication.
By my own admission, I never considered myself to be a great communicator. Everyone who knows me knows that I love talking and sharing stories, but there is a difference between speaking and effective communication. It encompasses a set of skills including: nonverbal communication, the ability to communicate assertively, the ability to understand your emotions and the emotions of the person you are communicating with. In the military, communication requires an exchange of ideas that go through the chain of command and ensures the intended message is delivered accurately, and on-time to the intended audience.
Effective communication is a two-way street and includes active listening, which means listening with all senses. Active listening gives your full undivided attention to the speaker and lets the speaker know you are engaged and in tune with the message.
My mentor is very direct in her communication with me in that often times after a conversation, she will ask me if I understood what we just spoke about. She does not ask the question to belittle me or question my competence, she asks to ensure I understand. Most importantly, she asks to ensure her intentions and directions are clear to me. In my opinion this is the essence of clear and effective communication.
The human element of effective communication cannot be overstated. As a flight chief, I spend a lot of my days doing administrative tasks, fielding and disseminating information from my leaders down to my flight. One thing that I've noticed is that face-to-face conversation has a significant impact. For example, about 95 percent of the questions my Airmen have get answered on the spot. This shows my Airmen that I'm accessible and not connected to my desk and workstation. I've also learned that although it takes me about five-to-ten minutes to type up an email for mass distribution, the message often times gets lost. Simply put, there is no replacement for a good old fashioned eyeball-to-eyeball conversation. Effective communication cannot, and should not, be replaced by hitting send on an email! It is needed more today than ever before.
As Airmen, it is our responsibility to give our leaders feedback along with ideas for improving our day-to-day tasks. As leaders, it is our responsibility and duty to effectively give our Airmen direct, clear and actionable feedback. Airmen at all levels must strive to become better active listeners and communicators. From airman basic to general, no one in our Air Force is exempt from communication.
When in doubt, talk it out!