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Effective Communication

Introduction:

  • Effective communication is simply asking the question, has message sent translated to message received
  • There are various cues and questions you can ask in order to determine if understanding has occurred
  • Effective communication is an essential element of instruction
  • An aviation instructor may possess a high level of technical knowledge, but he or she needs to cultivate the ability to communicate effectively in order to share this knowledge with students

Basic Elements of Communication:

  • Communication takes place when one person transmits ideas or feelings to another person or group of people
  • The effectiveness of the communication is measured by the similarity between the idea transmitted and the idea received
  • The process of communication is composed of three elements:
    • Source: (sender, speaker, writer, encoder, transmitter, or instructor)
    • Symbols used in composing and transmitting the message: (words or signs (model prop/desk lamp in Figure 3-1))
    • Receiver: (listener, reader, decoder, or student)
  • The three elements are dynamically interrelated since each element is dependent on the others for effective communication to take place. The relationship between the source and the receiver is also dynamic and depends on the two-way flow of symbols between the source and the receiver. The source depends on feedback from the receiver to properly tailor the communication to the situation. The source also provides feedback to the receiver to reinforce the desired receiver responses
  • Source:

    • As indicated, the source in communication is the sender, speaker, writer, encoder, transmitter, or instructor. The effectiveness of persons acting in the role of communicators is related to at least three basic factors
    • First, their ability to select and use language is essential for transmitting symbols that are meaningful to listeners and readers. It is the responsibility of the speaker or writer, as the source of communication, to realize that the effectiveness of the communication is dependent on the receiver’s understanding of the symbols or words being used. For example, if an aviation maintenance instructor were to use aviation acronyms like ADs, TCDS or STCs or a flight instructor were to use aviation acronyms like ILS, TCAS, or TAWS with a new maintenance student or student pilot respectively, effective communication would be difficult if not impossible. Use of aviation acronyms or technical language is necessary, but the student must be taught the language first. Conversely, a speaker or writer may rely on highly technical or professional background with its associated vocabulary while addressing a receiver with a similar background
    • Second, communicators consciously or unconsciously reveal attitudes toward themselves as a communicator, toward the ideas being communicated, and toward the receivers. These attitudes must be positive while delivering the message if they are to communicate effectively. Communicators must be confident; they should illustrate that the message is important and that the receiver has a need to know the ideas presented
    • Third, communicators are more likely to be successful when they speak or write from accurate, up-to-date, and stimulating material. Communicators must constantly strive to have the most current and interesting information possible. In this way, the receiver’s interest can be held. Out-of-date information causes the instructor to lose credibility in the eyes of the receiver. Use of monotonous or uninteresting information runs the risk of losing the receiver’s attention
  • Symbols:

    • At its basic level, communication is achieved through symbols, which are simple oral and visual codes. The words in the vocabulary constitute a basic code. Common gestures and facial expressions form another, but words and gestures alone do not communicate ideas. Ideas are communicated only when symbols are combined in meaningful wholes, as in ideas, sentences, paragraphs, speeches, or chapters that mean something to the receiver. When symbols are combined into these units, each portion becomes important to effective communication
    • On a higher level, communication through symbols is achieved by their interpretation through different perceptions, sometimes referred to as channels. While many theories have been proposed, one popular theory indicates that the symbols are perceived through one of three sensory channels: either visual, auditory, or kinethestic. As discussed in Chapter 2, visual learners rely on seeing, auditory prefers listening and speaking, while kinesthetic learners process and store information through physical experience such as touching, manipulating, using, or doing
    • The instructor will be more successful in gaining and retaining the student’s attention by using a variety of channels. As an example, instead of telling a student to adjust the trim, the instructor can move the trim wheel while the student tries to maintain a given aircraft attitude. The student experiences by feel that the trim wheel affects the amount of control stick pressure needed to maintain the attitude. At the same time, the instructor can explain to the student that what is felt is forward or back pressure on the control stick. After that, the student begins to understand the correct meaning of control pressure and trim, and when told to adjust the trim to relieve control pressure, the student responds in the manner desired by the instructor. Most frequently, communicators select the channels of hearing and seeing. For motor skills, the sense of touch, or kinesthetic learning, is added as the student practices the skill
    • The feedback an instructor is getting from a student needs to be constantly monitored in order to modify the symbols, as required, to optimize communication. [Figure 3-2] In addition to feedback received by the instructor from the students, students need feedback from the instructor on how they are doing. The feedback not only informs the students of their performance, but can also serve as a valuable source of motivation. An instructor’s praise builds the student’s self-confidence and reinforces favorable behavior. On the other hand, negative feedback must be used carefully. To avoid embarrassing a student, use negative feedback only in private. This information should be delivered as a description of actual performance and given in a nonjudgmental manner. For example, it would be appropriate to tell a maintenance student that a safety wire installation is not satisfactory. To refer to the work as careless would not be good and could do harm to the student’s feeling of self-worth
    • The parts of the total idea should be analyzed to determine which are most suited to starting or ending the communication, and which are best for the purpose of explaining, clarifying, or emphasizing. All of these functions are required for effective transmission of ideas. The process finally culminates in the determination of the medium best suited for their transmission
  • Receiver:

    • The receiver is the listener, reader, decoder, or student—the individual or individuals to whom the message is directed. Effective communicators should always keep in mind that communication succeeds only in relation to the reaction of their receivers. When the receiver reacts with understanding and changes his or her behavior according to the intent of the source, effective communication has taken place
    • In order to understand the process of communication, three characteristics of receivers must be understood: abilities, attitudes, and experiences
    • First, an instructor needs to determine the abilities of the student in order to properly communicate. One factor that can have an effect on student ability is his or her background. For example, consider how familiar the student may be with aviation. Their familiarity may range from having grown up around aviation to absolutely no familiarity at all. Some students may have highly developed motor skills, and others have not had opportunities to develop these skills. These factors must be taken into consideration when presenting information to a student
    • Instructors in aviation enjoy a unique advantage over other teachers, in that the aviation student, as an adult learner, usually exhibits a much more developed sense of motivation and self-concept. The aviation student generally wants to be in the learning environment, as opposed to a typical school student, and is willing to expend his or her own time and money to learn. Additionally, they usually come into the learning environment with a significant amount of prior knowledge, many life experiences, and have already developed a number of decision-making skills
    • The instructor also must understand that the viewpoint and background of people may vary significantly because of cultural differences. However, this consciousness of the differences between people should not be overdone. The instructor should be aware of possible differences, but not overreact or assume certain values because of these differences. For example, just because a student is a college graduate does not guarantee rapid advancement in aviation training. Student education certainly affects the instructor’s style of presentation, but that style should be based on the evaluation of the student’s knowledge of the aviation subject being taught
    • Second, the attitudes students exhibit may indicate resistance, willingness, or passive neutrality. To gain and hold student attention, attitudes should be molded into forms that promote reception of information. A varied communicative approach works best in reaching most students since they have different attitudes
    • Third, student experience, background, and educational level determine the approach an instructor takes. What the student knows, along with student abilities and attitudes, guides the instructor in communicating. It is essential to understand the dynamics of communication, but the instructor also needs to be aware of several barriers to communication that can inhibit learning

Barriers to Effective Communication:

  • The nature of language and the way it is used often lead to misunderstandings. These misunderstandings can be identified by four barriers to effective communication: lack of common experience, confusion between the symbol and the symbolized object, overuse of abstractions, and interference. [Figure 3-3]
  • Lack of Common Experience:

    • Lack of common experience between the communicator (instructor) and the receiver (student) is probably the greatest single barrier to effective communication. Communication can be effective only to the extent that the experiences (physical, mental, and emotional) of the people concerned are similar
    • Many people seem to believe that words transport meanings from speaker to listener in the same way that a truck carries bricks from one location to another. Words, however, rarely carry precisely the same meaning from the mind of the instructor to the mind of the student. In fact, words, in themselves, do not transfer meanings at all. Whether spoken or written, words are merely stimuli used to arouse a response in the student
    • The student’s past experience with the words and things to which they refer determines how the student responds to what the instructor says. A communicator’s words cannot communicate the desired meaning to another person unless the listener or reader has had some experience with the objects or concepts to which these words refer. Since it is the students’ experience that forms vocabulary, it is also essential that instructors speak the same language as the students. If the instructor’s terminology is necessary to convey the idea, some time needs to be spent making certain the students understand that terminology
    • For example, a maintenance instructor tells a student to time the magnetos. A student new to the maintenance field might think a stopwatch or clock would be necessary to do the requested task. Instruction would be necessary for the student to understand that the procedure has nothing to do with the usual concept of time
    • The English language abounds in words that mean different things to different people. To a farmer, the word “tractor” means the machine that pulls the implements to cultivate the soil; to a trucker, it is the vehicle used to pull a semi trailer; in aviation, a tractor propeller is the opposite of a pusher propeller. Each technical field has its own vocabulary. Technical words might mean something entirely different to a person outside that field, or perhaps mean nothing at all. In order for communication to be effective, the students’ understanding of the meaning of the words needs to be the same as the instructor’s understanding
  • Confusion Between the Symbol and the Symbolized Object:

    • Confusion between the symbol and the symbolized object results when a word is confused with what it is meant to represent. Although it is obvious that words and the connotations they carry can be different, people sometimes fail to make the distinction. An aviation maintenance technician (AMT) might be introduced as a mechanic. To many people, the term mechanic conjures up images of a person laboring over an automobile. Being referred to as an aircraft mechanic might be an improvement in some people’s minds, but neither really portrays the training and skill of the AMT. Words and symbols do not always represent the same thing to every person. To communicate effectively, speakers and writers should be aware of these differences. Words and symbols can then be chosen to represent what the speaker or writer intends
    • Overuse of Abstractions:

      • Abstractions are words that are general rather than specific. Concrete words or terms refer to objects people can relate directly to their own experiences. These words or terms specify an idea that can be perceived or a thing that can be visualized. Abstract words, on the other hand, stand for ideas that cannot be directly experienced, things that do not call forth mental images in the minds of the students. The word aircraft is an abstract word. It does not call to mind a specific aircraft in the imaginations of various students. One student may visualize an airplane, another student might visualize a helicopter, and still another student might visualize an airship. [Figure 3-4] Although the word airplane is more specific, various students might envision anything from a Boeing 777 to a Piper Cub
      • Aircraft engines represent another example of abstractions. When an instructor refers to aircraft engines in general, some students might think of jet engines, while others would think of reciprocating engines. Even reciprocating engine is too abstract since it could be a radial engine, an inline engine, a V-type engine, or an opposed type engine. Use of the technical language of engines, as in Lycoming IO-360, would narrow the engine type, but would only be understood by students who have learned the terminology particular to aircraft engines
      • Abstractions should be avoided in most cases, but there are times when abstractions are necessary and useful. Aerodynamics is applicable to all aircraft and is an example of an abstraction that can lead to understanding aircraft flight characteristics. The danger of abstractions is that they do not evoke the same specific items of experience in the minds of the students that the instructor intends. When such terms are used, they should be linked with specific experiences through examples and illustrations
      • For instance, when an approach to landing is going badly, telling a student to take appropriate measures might not result in the desired action. It would be better to tell the student to conduct a go-around since this is an action that has the same meaning to both student and instructor. When maintenance students are being taught to torque the bolts on an engine, it would be better to tell them to torque the bolts in accordance with the maintenance manual for that engine rather than simply to torque the bolts to the proper values. Whenever possible, the level of abstraction should be reduced by using concrete, specific terms. This better defines and gains control of images produced in the minds of the students
  • Interference:

    • Some barriers to effective communication can be controlled by the instructor. Interference, or the prevention of a process or activity from being carried out properly, is composed of factors outside the control of the instructor These factors include physiological, environmental, and psychological interference. To communicate effectively, the instructor should consider the effects of these factors
    • Physiological interference is any biological problem that may inhibit symbol reception, such as hearing loss, injury, or physical illness. These and other physiological factors can inhibit communication because the student is not comfortable. The instructor must adapt the presentation to allow the student to feel better about the situation and be more receptive to new ideas. Adaptation could be as simple as putting off a lesson until the student is over an illness. Another accommodation could be the use of a seat cushion to allow a student to sit properly in the airplane
    • With the advent of advanced avionics, multitasking has become a form of physiological interference. The term multitask comes from a computer’s ability to simultaneously execute more than one program or task at a time. Although it now refers to humans performing multiple tasks simultaneously, humans are not computers. Research shows that although human comprehension can handle two simple, low-level cognitive tasks at once, a higher level cognitive task takes brain function and concentration to perform optimally. Adding even a simple activity diminishes the comprehension and recall of both. Research shows that multitasking is just a series of constant micro-interruptions and “stop-go” decisions, all of which tend to reduce mental and motor performance
    • Environmental interference is caused by external physical conditions. One example of this is the noise level found in many light aircraft. Noise not only impairs the communication process, but also can result in long-term damage to hearing. One solution to this problem is the use of headphones and an intercom system. If an intercom system is not available, a good solution is the use of earplugs. It has been shown that in addition to protecting hearing, use of earplugs actually clarifies speaker output. Vibration is another possible example of environmental interference, applicable to rotary wing aircraft
    • Psychological interference is a product of how the instructor and student feel at the time the communication process is occurring. If either instructor or student is not committed to the communication process, communication is impaired. Fear of the situation or mistrust between the instructor and student could severely inhibit the flow of information

Developing Communication Skills:

  • Communication skills must be developed; they do not occur automatically. The ability to effectively communicate stems from experience. The experience of instructional communication begins with role playing during the training to be an instructor, continues during the actual instruction, and is enhanced by additional training
    • Role Playing:

      • Role playing is a method of learning in which students perform a particular role. In role playing, the learner is provided with a general description of a situation and then applies a new skill or knowledge to perform the role. Experience in instructional communication comes from actually doing it and is learned in the beginning by role playing during the instructor’s initial training. For example, a flight instructor applicant can fly with a CFI who assumes the role of a student pilot. In the role of student pilot, the CFI can duplicate known student responses and then critique the applicant’s role as instructor. A mentor or supervisor can play the student AMT for a maintenance instructor applicant
      • It is essential for the flight instructor to develop good ground instruction skills, as well as flight instruction skills to prepare students for what is to transpire in the air. Likewise, the maintenance instructor must develop skills in the classroom to prepare the maintenance student for practical, hands-on tasks. In both cases, effective communication is necessary to reinforce the skills that have been attempted and to assess or critique the results. This development continues as an instructor progresses in experience. What worked early on might be refined or replaced by some other technique as the instructor gains more experience
      • A new instructor is more likely to find a comfortable style of communication in an environment that is not threatening. For a prospective maintenance instructor, this might take the form of conducting a class on welding while under the supervision of a maintenance supervisor; the flight instructor applicant usually flies with a CFI who role plays the student
      • Current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) training emphasis has moved from a maneuvers-based training standard to what is called scenario-based training (SBT). SBT is a highly effective approach that allows students to learn, then apply their knowledge as they participate in realistic scenarios. This method of instruction and learning allows students to move from theory to practical application of skills during their training. Instructor applicants, flight or maintenance, need to learn to think in terms of SBT while they are students. Not only does it prepare them to react appropriately in the situations they encounter in the workplace, it also helps them as instructors when they are responsible for creating scenarios for their students
      • For example, James (the flight instructor applicant) designs a scenario in which Ray (the CFI playing the role of student) is learning to perform stalls to Practical Test Standards (PTS). James briefs Ray on the maneuver before the flight, demonstrates the stall, and then talks Ray through the maneuver. Ray pretends to be an anxious student pilot, replicating several reactions he himself has experienced with flight students. After the flight, James critiques their instruction period. As increased emphasis is placed on SBT, there will be a corresponding increase in the importance of role playing
    • Instructional Communication:

      • Instruction has taken place when the instructor has explained a particular procedure and subsequently determined that the desired student response has occurred. The instructor can improve communication by adhering to several techniques of good communication
      • One of the basic principles used in public speaking courses is to encourage students to talk about something they understand. It would not be good if an instructor without a maintenance background tried to teach a course for aviation maintenance. Instructors perform better when speaking of something they know very well and for which they have a high level of confidence
      • The instructor should not be afraid to use examples of past experiences to illustrate particular points. When teaching the procedures to be used for transitioning from instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) to visual cues during an approach, it would be helpful to be able to tell the student about encountering these same conditions. An instructor’s personal experiences make instruction more valuable than reading the same information in a textbook. The instructor should be cautioned, however, to exercise restraint with this technique of illustration, as these types of discussions frequently degrade into a “war story” or “there I was” discussion
      • Communication has not occurred unless desired results of the communication have taken place. The instructor needs some way of determining results, and the method used should be related to the expected outcome. In the case of flight training, the instructor can judge the actual performance of a maneuver. For a maintenance student, the instructor can judge the level of accomplishment of a maintenance procedure. In both cases, the instructor must determine whether the student has actually received and retained the knowledge or if acceptable performance was a one-time event
      • The aviation student should know how and why somethingshould be done. For example, a maintenance student may know how to tighten a particular fastener to a specified torque, but it is more important for the student to know that the security and integrity of any fastener depends on proper torque. In this way, the student would be more likely to torque all fasteners properly in the future. For a flight student, simply knowing the different airspeeds for takeoffs and landings is not enough. It is essential to know the reasons for different airspeeds in specific situations to fully understand the importance of proper airspeed control. Normally, the instructor must determine the level of understanding by use of some type of evaluation. See Chapter 5, Assessment, for more information
    • Listening:

      • Instructors must know something about their students in order to communicate effectively. As discussed earlier, an instructor needs to determine the abilities of the students and understand the students to properly communicate. One way of becoming better acquainted with students is to be a good listener. Instructors can use a number of techniques to become better at listening. It is important to realize that in order to master the art of listening, an attitude of wanting to listen must be developed. [Figure 3-4]
      • Just as it is important for instructors to want to listen in order to be effective listeners, it is necessary for students to want to listen. Wanting to listen is just one of several techniques that allow a student to listen effectively. Instructors can improve the percentage of information transfer by teaching students how to listen. [Figure 3-5]
      • Listening is more than hearing. Most instructors are familiar with the concept that listening is “hearing with comprehension.” When the student hears something being communicated, he or she may or may not comprehend what is being transmitted. On the other hand, when the student truly hears the communication, he or she then interprets the communication based on their knowledge to that point, processes the information to a level of understanding, and attempts to make a correlation of that communicated information to the task at hand. The increased level of motivation of typical flight and aviation maintenance students makes this process much easier
      • Students also need to be reminded that emotions play a large part in determining how much information is retained. One emotional area to concentrate on is listening to understand rather than refute. For example, an instrument student pilot anticipating drastic changes in requested routing becomes anxious. With this frame of mind, it is very difficult for the student to listen to the routing instructions and then retain very much. In addition, instructors must ensure that students are aware of their emotions concerning certain subjects. If certain areas arouse emotion in a student, the student should be aware of this and take extra measures to listen carefully. For example, if a student who is terrified of the prospect of spins is listening to a lesson on spins, the emotions felt by the student might overwhelm the attempt to listen. If the student, aware of this possibility, made a conscious effort to put that fear aside, listening would probably be more successful
      • Listening for main ideas is another listening technique. Primarily a technique for listening to a lecture or formal lesson presentation, it sometimes applies to hands-on situations as well. People who concentrate on remembering or recording facts might very well miss the message because they have not picked up on the big picture. A listener must always ask, what is the purpose of what I am listening to? By doing this, the listener can relate the words to the overall concept
      • The instructor must ensure that the student is aware of the danger of daydreaming. Most people can listen much faster than even the fastest talker can speak. This leaves room for the mind to get off onto some other subject. The listener who is aware of this problem can concentrate on repeating, paraphrasing, or summarizing the speaker’s words. Doing so uses the extra time to reinforce the speaker’s words, allowing the student to retain more of the information. Nobody can remember everything. Teaching a student to take notes allows the student to use an organized system to reconstruct what was said during the lesson. Every student has a slightly different system, but no attempt to record the lecture verbatim should be made
      • In most cases, a shorthand or abbreviated system of the student’s choosing should be encouraged. Notetaking is merely a method of allowing the student to recreate the lecture so that it can be studied. The same notetaking skills can be used outside the classroom any time information needs to be retained. For example, copying an instrument clearance word for word is very difficult. By knowing the format of a typical clearance, student instrument pilots can develop their own system of abbreviations. This allows them to copy the clearance in a useful form for read back and for flying the clearance. By incorporating all or some of these techniques, students retain more information. Instructors can vastly improve their students’ retention of information by making certain their students have the best possible listening skills
    • Questioning:

      • Good questioning can determine how well the student understands what is being taught. It also shows the student that the instructor is paying attention and that the instructor is interested in the student’s response. An instructor should ask focused, open-ended questions and avoid closed-ended questions
      • Focused questions allow the instructor to concentrate on desired areas. An instructor may ask for additional details, examples, and impressions from the student. This allows the instructor to ask further questions if necessary. The presentation can then be modified to fit the understanding of the student
      • Open-ended questions are designed to encourage full, meaningful answers using the student’s own knowledge and perceptions while closed-ended questions encourage a short or single-word answer. Open-ended questions, which typically begin with words such as “why” and “how” tend to be more objective and less leading than closed-ended questions. Often open-ended questions are not technically questions, but statements that implicitly ask for completion. An instructor’s ability to ask open-ended questions is an important skill to develop
      • In contrast, closed-ended questions tend to evaluate the student’s understanding only at the rote level of learning. Closed-ended questions can be answered by “yes” or “no.” When used in a multiple choice scenario, closed-ended questions have a finite set of answers from which the respondent chooses. One of the choices may be “other.” It is a good idea to allow respondents to write in an optional response if they choose “other” because developing the student response may lead to insights into the learning process
      • One benefit of closed-ended questions is that they are relatively easy to standardize and the data gathered easily lend themselves to statistical analysis. The down side to closedended questions is that they are more difficult to write than open-ended questions, generally lead the student towards the desired answer, and may under certain circumstances direct the conversation toward the instructor’s own agenda
      • To be effective, questions, regardless of the type, must be adapted to the ability, experience, and stage of training of the student. Effective questions and, therefore, effective communications center on only one idea. A single question should be limited to who, what, when, where, why, or how and not a combination of these. Effective questioning must present a challenge to the student. Questions of suitable difficulty serve to stimulate learning
      • Two ways of confirming that the student and instructor understand things in the same way are the use of paraphrasing and perception checking. The instructor can use paraphrasing to show what the student’s statement meant to the instructor. In this way, the student can then make any corrections or expansions on the statement in order to clarify. Perception checking gets to the feelings of the student, again by stating what perceptions the instructor has of the student’s behavior that the student can then clarify as necessary
      • Since it is important that the instructor understand as much as possible about the students, instructors can be much more effective by using improved listening skills and effective questions to help in putting themselves in the place of the students. Questions should be phrased to focus the student on the decision-making process and the exercise of good judgment
      • Knowledge of the subject material and skill at instructional communication are necessary to be an instructor. Increasing the depth of knowledge in either area makes the instructor more effective
    • Instructional Enhancement:

      • An instructor never stops learning. While professional development is discussed in greater detail in Chapter 8, the more an instructor knows about a subject, the better the instructor is at conveying that information. For example, a maintenance instructor teaching basic electricity might be able to teach at a minimally satisfactory level if the instructor had only the same training level as that being taught. If asked a question that exceeded the instructor’s knowledge, the instructor could research the answer and get back to the student. If would be much better if the instructor, through experience or additional training, was prepared to answer the question initially. Additional knowledge and training would also bolster the instructor’s confidence and give the instructional presentation more depth. It is important for an instructor to tailor whatever information that is being presented with the learning level of the students

Conclusion:

  • An awareness of the basic elements of the communicative process (source, symbols, and receiver) indicates the beginning of the understanding required for the successful communicator. Recognizing the various barriers to communication further enhances the flow of ideas between an instructor and the student. The instructor must develop communications skills in order to convey desired information to the students and must recognize that communication is a two-way process. In the end, the true test of whether successful communication has taken place is to determine if the desired results have been achieved

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