Don’t neglect your CRM: The value of telling stories

Last week was a CRM week. I was immersed in a Crew Resource Management course for aspiring facilitators with three full days dedicated to talking, listening, and learning about flying, human factors, and facilitation. Learning from the experiences of others is a lot of what human factors training is about. You don’t do that without a forum to talk and listen. But as I found out last week, it doesn’t have to be a classroom.

As is so often the case, it was beyond the course that the most enlightening, goose-bump inducing, and sometimes sheer terrifying stories were shared. Over lunch, or after hours with a beer in hand gathered around the table for dinner we picked up on themes from the classroom with personal tales. We don’t often have time to share these moments anymore. When they do come up, the opportunities are invaluable, sometimes priceless. 

I have just tucked away two or three anecdotes from colleagues which will go with me for the rest of my career. For as long as I fly. These stories held the room. You could hear a pin drop. Every single listener was perched on the edge of his seat straining not to miss a single detail. Stories of miraculous escapes in the air from almost certain disaster – usually at the hands of somebody else – and almost always ending in an unreasonably large serving of outstanding good luck. “I’ll never forget that day”, said one. “It is now my birthday,” he said, quoting the date from memory. “I was born again that day. I was given a second chance to live”. Strong stuff.

At the heart of all of these stories were not technical but human failings. In each case, the tellers were fully aware of the extreme danger into which they were being led, but did not have the tools at the time to do anything to prevent it. 

The telling of stories is such a fundamental part of learning about our failings. We all have stories. Many of us have lots. Most of us are able to identify with the stories of others. They all serve as a reminder that – as so many accident investigations demonstrate – it is unlikely to be your hands-and-feet technical ability that will keep you out of trouble, or save the day when things start to go badly wrong in the air. What will keep you safe, and in some cases even keep you alive, is your understanding of the human element. Don’t neglect your CRM. Your CRM skills and knowledge of human factors deserves as much or more attention that the rest of your flying training put together. It’s not just another currency item. Statistically, it is what is most likely to keep you out of trouble. It might, one day, just be the thing that keeps you alive.

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