Follow up, get it right

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. M. L. Turner
  • 4th Security Forces Squadron first sergeant
"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."
George Bernard Shaw

Airmen and civilian communicators miss the mark everyday because they rely on e-mail as their primary source of communication.

"Hey, did you get the e-mail announcing the meeting tomorrow morning?" asked Master Sgt. Hicks. "What meeting are you talking about?" replied Sergeant Smith. "The meeting to review and finalize the squadron's new operational instruction" Sergeant Hicks said. "No, I've been out all day and haven't checked my e-mail," Sergeant Smith said. "I guess I'll just go to the meeting and sit in. I doubt they'll need my input."

Similar scenarios play out time and time again throughout the Air Force resulting in unneccessary confusion and unclear directions. While e-mail can be an excellent mode of communicating, it is always the sender's responsibility to ensure receipt and understanding of the message.

To be effective communicators in today's Air Force, we must follow-up to ensure the message we send is the same message received. Not following up to ensure there is mutual understanding between the sender and the receiver is one of the most neglected steps of effective communication.

How many times have you heard someone say, "I thought he said ..." or "I thought we were supposed to ..."? Why are so many messages unclear and confusing? The success of the Air Force mission, "To fly, fight and win in air, space and cyberspace," demands clarity. Unambiguous communication at every level is one of the simplest, but often overlooked, keys to success. It is everyone's duty to communicate clearly; the stakes are far too high to get it wrong.

Former Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Rodney J. McKinley stressed the importance of communication across the Air Force. He encouraged supervisors at all levels to help keep Airmen informed of current issues, clear up confusion, dispel rumors and provide additional face-to-face communications between supervisors and their teams. He knew taking actions on issues without knowing all the facts could jeopardize the mission and be detrimental to unit morale.

I once counseled a non-commissioned officer who wanted to issue administrative paperwork to an Airman for not reporting to an assigned detail. My first question to the supervisor was, "Did the Airman know he was supposed to be there?" His reply to me was, "O'yea, he knew it." I asked the NCO the same question the next day, and this time his answer was, "I'm not sure." This supervisor was ready to issue paperwork to his Airman, but neglected to follow-up with the Airman first to get all the facts. Obviously, in this case, it was inappropriate to issue any kind of paperwork. I have witnessed countless times where a supervisor or subordinate thought he or she had effectively received the message only to find out later it was not received the way the sender intended.

Ineffective communication occurs at all levels on different occasions but in most instances proper follow-up is the crucial link to getting something right. As warriors and leaders, all Airmen are responsible to know what's important and to share that with fellow Airmen when needed.

In peace and war, effective communication supports mission accomplishment and can save lives. We can't afford not to get it right, the stakes are too high.