Communicating with another firefighter while both wearing masks can sometimes be very difficult. With sounds from engine companies, ventilation fans and radio traffic it’s a challenge to get your point across. To speak clearer firefighters use a battery operated amplification attachment to help with louder communications. Even with advanced equipment communicating is still difficult.
Pictured above: Lt Tom Broyles and FF Chris Morris Richmond Fire Dept
Let’s skip past the emergency scenes and go right to contract negotiations, union meetings and city events. How’s your communication skills? Unlike a mask or amplifier we have little assistance unless we allow ourselves to learn better ways to connect.
How’s your tone? How’s your facial expressions? How’s your speed and volume?
I strongly believe that building relationships by communicating effectively enough to connect with others is vital to the future of our police and fire service. Building long term relationships with decision makers depends on our ability to connect. Here are six ways you can learn to build better communication with others.
How many times have you said something you shouldn’t have. Maybe you felt bad after you said it or you may not have thought much about it at all. I’ve said things to others through the years that I wish I could take back and some I didn’t even realize how if actually effected them. It all starts with self-awareness. When you’re communicating with other people, you need to be aware your mood. If you’re feeling upset, angry and disturbed you may, unintentionally take it out on someone else.
We have a bad habit of throwing cynical and sarcastic zingers at others without thinking how it effects them. If you’re catching yourself doing this outside the fire department please remember they may not be use to this type of communication. Know yourself.
The best communicators understanding whomever they’re speaking with. Knowing what motivates them, different learning styles and what common ground you can find, allows you to adapt your message and increase the odds of effective communication. Empathy builds personal connections. It puts people at ease and builds trust. Understanding the other perspective will help you connect.
Making your point clear will allow you to connect quicker. If you have a vision but can’t seem to get anyone to buy in then ask yourself why. Do they have an investment in the idea. Are you allowing them to help with it? Are you allowing input, ideas or suggestions? People will take action on what it is your asking from them if they feel they are part of it. If your audience is more confused after a meeting than before you know you’ve got some work to do. It’s better to be open, clear and ready for questions than to leave room misunderstood.
Research suggests nonverbal communication is more important than verbal communications. Facial expressions, hand gestures, posture and eye contact all play a major role in undermining your message.
If you’re an instructor you understand. Looking out into a shift during a training evolution can be challenging. Glazed eyes and yawns are their way of telling you something nonverbally. If they look like this then how are you looking? The next time you’re speaking with someone, look at your own body language. Then look at the body language of whomever you’re speaking to. Does your body language match your words and tone?
One of the best ways to encourage open and honest communication is learning to listen. When someone is speaking to you, listen intentionally to what they’re saying. Ask questions. This will let the other person know that you are listening. Keep an open mind and focus on thoughtfully responding to what they say. Listening will build better long term relationships than speaking.
Don’t hold your rank over others or use coercion or fear as motivators. Instead, focus on bringing an honest, positive and ego-less attitude to every situation that arises. Serving as a cheerleader helps maintain morale and can even facilitate creativity and effective problem solving.
These communication skills take practice. You’re not going to master them in a day. In fact even though I write about communications and connecting its an ongoing challenge. Trying to learn from communication errors is important. Try to practice these strategies in your day to day life. Learn by reading books, attending seminars and becoming a student of connecting with others. The more you implement these skills, the more they’ll start to feel normal. Ultimately the more your leadership abilities will benefit.