First Due: The Art of Communication, Delivery and Confirmation

April 3, 2024
David Keyser stresses how important it is for fire service leaders to abandon their ego to become the most effective communicators.

Communication and the ability to experience and express emotions make us human. However, the delivery and receipt of this likely will be different from one person to the next.

A leader’s ability to communicate clearly with others is imperative. You can’t just “be yourself” and expect to be successful in this business. In other words, if someone doesn’t like or misinterprets your message, it isn’t their fault.

In a profession that’s dominated by Type A personalities, it can be incredibly difficult for other personalities to shine. That said, you don’t have to be the loudest or most direct person in the room. Sometimes, you must take a softer approach and just be a good listener. It might take more work and certainly more time, but that doesn’t make you less of a leader. The bottom line is we all need help from each other to be successful. When we fail, those who pay the immediate price are ourselves, our company, our department and our community, and, ultimately, it stains the service and its reputation.

If failure to communicate and ways to improve communication are among the most discussed facets of fire service leadership, why do we keep coming back to the same issue after every incident or confrontation? We have the answer, but we disregard it.

No one likes to admit fault, and no one wants to feel like they’re submitting to someone else, but the truth is our social skills need to be worked. Be present in a conversation. Ask questions. Repeat what was said by the other person to ensure that you understand.

Communication is key to building trust and to powering through difficult conversations.

When you fail to recognize the need to be present in conversation or to empathize with someone’s needs or when you don’t like a person and fail to get over your ego, you’re going to be affected negatively. You won’t be trusted with personnel issues. Peers of the same rank won’t respect you. You might be reprimanded over something that you could have fixed.

Opening doors
Most folks who use the gym have a favorite workout or exercise that they love to do. By that same token, there are things that they absolutely hate to do—let’s say, leg exercises. They focus on one thing or group of things and neglect other important areas of fitness. In doing so, the risk of injury goes up. Communication is the leg day of a workout regimen. It’s a necessity, but many people skip it or scale it down and then wonder why they fail in certain areas of their job. Regardless of your personality, you must give attention to communication.

Understanding those who are around you makes you more effective at every level of the command structure. It opens doors for conversations about individuals’ performance and their family life. Here are three suggestions to try with someone at shift change or at the kitchen table:

  • Put your phone down and look the other person in the eyes. This gives the other person the visual cue that he or she has your undivided attention.
  • Inquire about more details. If a member went on a trip, ask about the travel, activities or possible plans to go back. If it’s a shift report, ask about plans for the day.
  • Make physical contact. Offer a fist bump, a high five or a handshake when you greet a member or depart. This really makes it more personal, that you’re there for the individual. If your relationship is a close one, offer a hug, too.

Concerted effort
Be intentional and don’t be dismissive. Be present, but don’t be robotic. Show up for them, because someday you might need them to show up for you.

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