Words should be scalpels not spears.

I want us–the people in this community, the readers of these articles and newsletters–to disagree. In fact, this is one of my core values, one of the things I want to spread.

Conflict can be healthy. Red Flag and wargaming are two of countless examples. Red teaming and blameless postmortem are terms from a vernacular with similar meaning outside of the military. Finally, In his excellent book Great at Work, Morten Hansen coined the phrase “fight then unite” to describe a constructive interpersonal/team dynamic he identified in high performing groups.

But I don’t think words should be spears hurled at one another, even though “spears” is part of the lexicon in military aviation. We use pugil sticks, not spears, to fight with each other in our basic training days. As professionals, I believe it’s acceptable to cut each other with our words, but only when we handle our words with precision, expertise, and care, like a surgeon with a scalpel. I think framing it this way is healthy and makes people think.

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