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Rank might bring privileges, but it doesn’t necessarily equal leadership. You may have the authority that comes with the badge, however, this does not mean that your subordinates will follow you. The trust and willingness on their part to follow you must be earned. One way to quickly earn trust, and therefore, leadership, is through having good communication skills.

Communication only happens when both parties hear and understand what has been said. Until then, it’s just words being spoken. Too many times we assume that we communicated simply because the person nodded their head up and down. We find out later that they really weren’t paying attention or that our statements were not clear. This means that communication didn’t take place.

Over-communication can be as much as a detriment to the situation as under-communication at times. When a fireground task must be completed urgently, repeating the same instructions in multiple ways does not always add to improved communications. Clarity is often to be desired more than the number of words.

Your communications carry more weight now simply because you have another bugle on your badge. Right or wrong, people look at the message of a higher rank in a different manner now. If the message is clear and correct then the leadership meter rises higher. The crews will believe what you say more readily. If, though, the message is garbled or not given properly the leadership meter plummets quickly. Once it goes down, the members will be very reluctant to listen to your next message. You’ve shown them that you can’t be trusted to provide good information. They will remember that.

Communication must be done by design. This means that it must be started well before the bell hits through training, having written policies or procedures in place, and by just getting to know your crew members. If these things are done ahead of time, then communication on the actual scene is usually easier. Hammering out possible areas of confusion or discrepancy in a calm environment will allow for smoother more understandable communications on an emergency run.

The list of ways to communicate well could go on and on. It is a learned skill which requires dedicated practice and evaluation. Make it a habit to listen to good communicators and adopt some of their ways of speaking. Clarify orders with your members and truly make sure they understand. Remember that communication in an emergency situation is of utmost importance. Leaving it to chance or not taking the time to make sure that it has truly taken place can lead to catastrophe.

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