Positive communication, why does it matter? Whether oral or written, we’ve all seen examples of effective and ineffective communication. Each example usually speaks for itself. Much of this article will focus on written communication and how to leave your audience with a positive impression, but also speaks to effective verbal communication.
Many of us have seen examples of work related documents and emails that have contained numerous spelling and/or grammatical errors, or a single paragraph across a full page of text. Or, when someone thinks they are being funny in a workplace email, adding silly or inappropriate content that does not reflect well on them and perhaps on their organization. How about the officer that is not as effective in transmitting radio reports? When you see and hear communications done right, it’s noticed. When it’s done poorly, people really take notice.
Much of what we say and write is open to being judged by others whether we like it or not. Effective communication is essential to positive interactions with others and toward positive results. Each time we send a message, whether written or spoken, we make a choice to create a positive result/interaction or a negative result/interaction.
Representing your fire department and jurisdiction, as well as yourself, requires you make a conscious effort to perform and conduct yourself as a professional. Take for example the fire that overwhelms the first in company officer. This individual, no matter how big the fire, how complicated the situation or how fast their heart is beating, must do everything they can to remain calm, cool, collected, and concise when transmitting on the radio. They must be effective and efficient in communicating their conditions, actions, instructions and needs to other responders and to the public. Their effectiveness will be positively recognized as setting the tone for a smooth operation, while their ineffectiveness will be negatively recognized for the opposite. Don’t be the screamer or the person that says too much, while not saying anything at all. In other words, make your communications count the first time. Don’t waste valuable radio air time.
The following points will provoke positive communication:
We all make mistakes when we write, and each of us has probably asked for assistance in removing our foot from our mouth when our written communication was received the wrong way, but there is always room for improvement. Do not overlook opportunities to build your communication skills through classes or other resources. Practice leads to proficiency.
I once had an officer compliment the content quality of my incident reports, but he also criticized (constructively) my spelling because, in the beginning, my reports frequently had spelling errors. This was back in the day when incident reports were hard copy and spell check technology was not available. Simply put, I had become too lazy to search for a dictionary. This showed in my work, reflected poorly on me and those I represented, and clearly indicated there was room for improvement.
The positive feedback was great, but it quickly became overshadowed by the negative feedback he provided me, but I needed to hear it. I began to realize that people judged me based on my work, and my work was a direct reflection of myself and of those I represented. Do I still make mistakes? Sure. However, I recognize I control my exposure and it is a direct reflection of my performance. I now pay close attention to detail, have others proof my work, and consistently give 100% of myself, even if it takes a little more time and effort. The latter is important at 2 a.m., after a long shift, when you still have a responsibility to ensure the quality of your incident reports.
Positive communication matters because it offers you an opportunity to be noticed as an effective professional and helps you build a good reputation for yourself. It is also an asset in getting things done, whether through a document, through verbal instructions on the fire ground, or simply painting the picture of your incident scene on the radio. If you are going to take the time to do something, do it with conscious effort and do it well to achieve positive results. Your written and verbal communication is not only a reflection of you, but in most cases, also reflects the fire department and jurisdiction you represent. Do not let yourself or your customers down. Communicating for positive results is a goal to continually strive for, as effective and efficient communications is essential to your success, in the office and on the fire ground.
NICK J. SALAMEH is a retired Fire/Emergency Medical Services Captain II and previous Training Program Manager for the Arlington County (VA) Fire Department, with which he served 31 years of his more than 36 years in the fire service. He served as chair of the Northern Virginia Fire Departments Training Committee. Nick is a contributor to Fire Engineering Magazine, www.fireengineering.com and Stop Believing Start Knowing, https://www.facebook.com/StopBelievingStartKnowing/.