Jul 102009

It’s 1970. You’re the first officer on board an aeroplane and your captain has just made a lousy decision. What’ll you do? Follow your orders or speak up?

It wasn’t an easy choice back then. Captains were expected to be decisive, take charge and command. Here’s an extract from an airline’s procedure book from that era:

‘All crewmembers must realize that the captain is in complete command of the airplane and his orders are to be obeyed, even though they may be at variance with written instruction…’

I guess the merit of the system was everyone knew who was boss. But what if the captain’s decisions were wrong? John Wayne had had a different approach, but it had never caught on:

But there’s a very serious side to this. A 1979 NASA safety workshop reviewed a series of crashes and concluded that many resulted from failures in interpersonal communication, leadership and decision making in the cockpit. Had captains used all the resources available to them and sought and listened to input from their crew, more than 70% of the crashes could have been avoided. Airlines began to acknowledge that:

 …although pilots were technically competent, their people skills were deficient.

It took a while for it to become mandatory, but training in cockpit resource management – the human factor in aviation – was born. It has since been expanded to include everyone in the crew, and more.

There’s information about the communication aspects of the training on several sites, like this one. Some of the issues it covers are –  wow – powerful. I’m struck by the importance it lays on relationships – so encouraging others to talk and listening to them, and not ignoring their feelings or ideas. Politeness issues matter.

And as for John Wayne – well, he was ahead of his time in challenging his captain, but his people skills would be questionable today. A respectful communication style is vital.

 Posted by at 3:35 am

  7 Responses to “Crew resource management”

  1. It seems astonishing – from the communication site you linked to – that they state that VERBAL communication only accounts for 7 per cent!

    No wonder people don’t communicate very well.

    What does this mean for a teacher, should we be putting less effort into verbal communication and working more on the other 93 per cent?

  2. What an interesting question! I’ve seen statistics like this before and I always feel very doubtful about them. I can see they’d be a powerful way to warn crews that what’s said isn’t the whole picture, which was what was going on there I think. But what are those statistics based on? And how could communication be measured in terms of a % figure like that?
    But that said, I think the things they’re addressing in the CRM training are things we should be putting lots of effort into in our classes too. Do you think so too?

  3. Well, i know that i haven’t been – so there is certainly room for me to improve!

  4. […] lead us here. But my hunch is it’s towards a deeper understanding of the nature of decision making and people skills  and I find that very […]

  5. I just want to add that Chris later came across the source of these stats and a link to a video about them which I’ve posted here:
    Thank Chris!

  6. […] And something else I forgot to mention in the original posting:  there’s often so much lexis to work on in technical English classes that I think it’s easy to skip over pragmatics. But relationships matter and for some techies, failure to pay attention to the feelings of others when communicating can even become critical in life and death situations. […]

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.