When I first started translating the Crew Resource Management skills that flight crews use into other business teams, I thought I was sharing strictly communication skills. I very quickly realised that you can’t address human communication without coming smack bang up against culture, and that together, communication and culture are the grease that allow the cogs of our relationships, structures, team and businesses to turn smoothly. Without them, the going is tough, energy sapping and underproductive.
The reason I’ve been able to adapt Aviation’s CRM skills so successfully outside of the cockpit is that they are not aviation specific skills. They are human specific skills. Whilst our humanness may seem somewhat chaotic, it’s fairly predictable when you choose to study it and focus on elevating it. Whilst the systems and equipment present in any given operation may be predictable, they will always require the human element of operation. Not only that, but the reason that any of us do any of the things we call work is because they somehow serve somebody else somewhere along the line. The human aspect cannot be underestimated, and if we don’t focus on working with it, it will work against us.
All human beings have similar wants and needs. We want honesty, respect, integrity, and trust. These four are intimately linked together. We want to belong to something bigger than ourselves and to matter.
The current state of global affairs and the effect on every level of our normal lives has exacerbated these needs, highlighting where they are at deficit in our personal and professional lives. When human beings lack control over their lives in one or more areas, they will seek to take back control in other ways. It was therefore predictable that people’s need for ease, for joy and for freedom would increase in a world where those were severely lacking. We’ve already witnessed how, while other businesses crumbled, those able to provide ease of business, who met the joy of giving and receiving value, of genuine communication and authentic delivery, and who allowed people freedom of choice have excelled in that same space.
Whilst our world may have changed and be changing still, our humanness hasn’t. It may cycle. It may feel chaotic on one day and apathetic on the next, but our need for honesty, respect, integrity and trust have not changed – and those willing to focus on providing them are those who will always win through.
Focusing on the human element of what we do has, until recently, been described as a “soft” skill, somehow suggesting that it is secondary or less important to the “hard” skills needed to keep our lives and businesses running. To the degree that we’ve ignored the human element of what we do (be it personal or professional), it has undermined our success at every turn. It truly is faster and stronger to go together, and focus is starting to turn towards just how instrumental understanding the people we work with and for is.
Aviation has understood the criticality of the human factor for decades. Business is starting to realise that “hard lines” like key performance indicators are largely connected somewhere along the line to the satisfaction of those doing the operating or those receiving the product – whatever that might be. Measuring the outcomes of our efforts (again, be they personal or professional) tells us how effectively those efforts are resulting in satisfaction at the other end. The receiving end. The human end. The human element must be lured to satisfaction, not coerced.
Never has it been more important to ask people what they need and want. The people we work with. The people we serve. The people who receive what it is we deliver.
Unfortunately, in a world where we all feel a little out of control on some level, our humanness demands that we rebalance that feeling by gaining control back in any area that we can. Our humanness demands that we balance. Seeking balance isn’t so much a choice as it is something we subconsciously move to do – and if we can’t find healthy ways to balance our need to feel in control of our lives, we’ll settle for less healthy ways. This may mean we raise our voice. It may mean we spend more time telling rather than asking or discussing.
Understanding how instrumental to successfully moving forward our human skills are (what have been described as “soft” skills are now starting to be described as “real” skills) we can investigate healthier ways to regain our balance. When we can figure out how to help not only ourselves, but those around us to balance our need for control in healthy ways that promote honesty, respect, authenticity and trust – now we’re looking at a winning formula.
So how do we do this?
The same way we’ve always needed to do it. In discussion, conversation, and collaboration with those people. Not only the people we work with and for, but with those we serve. We act with courage to have conversations distinctly aimed at honesty and respect. We seek to meet people’s needs for ease, joy and freedom of choice with integrity, and to build trust.
We have these conversations using healthy human skills such as clarity on the boundaries, and honest sharing of our own needs too. The idea is not to encourage or allow a free-for-all where no decisions are made because everyone wants something different. Our misconceptions that this will be the case if we give people respect and choice are what keep us dictating our control rather than having conversations that build relationship.
If you want to work in chaos, apathy, and unhealthy control seeking, then you’re free to ignore the human element of our current chapter. If you wish to work cohesively with people who not only want to pull with you in the same direction, but who do so by personally investing themselves in a common outcome, then seek understanding through honest conversation about what you’re working towards and how you’ll get there together. Ask the people you serve what they want rather than assuming that what you deliver is enough or right.
To ask and converse is to be respectful. To explain the boundaries you must work within is honest. To move forward in common understanding (even if you don’t agree with each other entirely) is to move with integrity, and integrity and constancy create trust.
In a recent YouTube video on current workplace considerations, Gerhard Papenfus, CEO of the National Employers Association of South Africa asks “where will your culture be a year from now?” and suggests that employers make decisions now with that in mind, rather than quick-fix or knee jerk implementations. I think we could all benefit from asking ourselves “where will our culture be in a year from now” with regards to any and all our human relationships that we wish to survive and thrive, and apply honesty, respect, integrity and trust.
by Christen Killick
September 13th, 2021