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Recommendations for improving communication in teams

Effective communication is crucial for most of the non-technical skills discussed in this book. Drawing from research carried out in a range of high-reliability industries, it is possible to make a number of recommendations for improving communication, especially between team members. Four aspects of communication are described: explicitness, timing, assertiveness and active listening.


Explicitness means clearly stating the desired action and who should do it. Explicitness in communication is required for the avoidance of ambiguity. Being explicit means that the receiver does not assume what the sender knows or thinks. It ensures the inclusion of an adequate amount of information to reduce the chance of errors. However, the message should be as brief as possible, giving the required information, but not overloading the receiver. it is important that only the most relevant information is given due to the cost in attention and cognitive resources for both the sender and the receiver (particularly during periods of high workload). US naval aviation refers to this as ’comm-brevity”. Further, it will be helpful for the receiver if standardised communication patterns are used. Kanki et al. (1989) found that cockpit crews that communicate in standard (and therefore predictable) ways were better able to co-ordinate their tasks, whereas teams that did not use standard communication phraseology were less effective in their performance. it would appear that only in uncertain tasks is a flexible communication pattern beneficial (Tushman, 1977). The phonetic alphabet (A - alpha, B - bravo, etc) is often used as a standard method of communicating letters of the alphabet. Although this method is used in aviation, it is suggested that other organisations should also adopt the phonetic alphabet when spelling out words that cannot be understood, or describing pieces of a plant that are identified with alphabetical and numerical codes.

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