Can you remember back to your early childhood? You didn’t know enough to warn your dad about the car in his blind spot when he started to drift into the other lane.  When you learned to drive, though, you gained a perspective that allowed you to contribute meaningfully to the same situation.  If you yelled, “Watch out!” your words mattered.  Fast forward several years—perhaps you, like me, are teaching your daughter to drive.  My children started at a new school this year, and the first morning I drove them, my daughter complained loudly. With the wisdom that only the teenage years can bring, she declared that I went the wrong way.  Later, we were having a discussion about “drifting into the other lane.” She insisted that yelling at me, “Dad, you are going the wrong way!” was the same kind of communication.  I tried to explain the difference, that opinions about what route of travel to take weren’t critical, so I told her, “When lives are at stake don’t remain silent. I need to hear you.”

In the familiar setting of the cockpit or control room, we have certain protocols for communication.  In those situations, there are specific words spoken at specific times.  You already know what word to say and when to say it, but that wasn’t always true. 

When we start to talk or write about “safety culture,” we are in unfamiliar territory.  The careful procedures for CRM that apply to cockpit and control room communication don’t exist here.  When we discuss where safety officers fit on the org chart or what the safety review process should look like, we don’t have clear lines to prevent us from drifting out of our lane.    Discussions about organizational drift, complacency, and feedback can create tension and discomfort.  These conversations are not quite the same as the debrief either, and the norms we use in the briefing room may not apply.  As it turns out, it’s hard to decide if “lives are at stake” and whether or not to blurt something out right there or wait until a more appropriate forum.  All of this applies even more at a macroscopic level. How does the FAA ask the DoD hard questions, and how do civilians talk to the military? This community of flight test professionals needs to start that conversation anew as we explore ways to communicate better. 

This is your formal invitation to join the conversation, so do something: Read. Write. Respond.

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