From the Chief’s Corner: Listen with Intent to Understand

Listen Graphic

Posted on April 5, 2021

At the Coalition we talk a lot about communication. For example, just look at a couple of terms we use almost daily, (ERCES) Emergency Responder Communications Enhancement System and Communications when you need it most.

For many of us, communication is really the single most important skill in this journey we call life. Along that journey, we learn how to express the art of communication through reading, writing, and of course speaking. But there is one attribute in the art of communication that is often a little less refined, and that my friend is listening.

Communication refers to the exchange of information (usually a message) between those involved in the conversation. For communication to be successful, both parties must be able to exchange information and understand each other. 

In last month’s article I wrote about “Who’s Really at Risk”. Today I want to expand on that concept and help us understand why this process called communication is important and make sure we understand it from their point of view. Why is that important you ask? 

Because I continue to hear people who have not been there and done that talk about the lack of need for such in-building communication solutions often based on cost, construction schedules, building size, etc. in lieu of life safety. Some want to basically eliminate in-building solutions except for a few select types of structures. 

In my experience in public safety, I have not seen a potentially dangerous situation that could impact a public safety responder confine itself to a particular type of structure. In fact, just this week tragedy struck when a police officer was killed in a grocery store shooting in Colorado and a firefighter was killed in a nursing home fire in New York. Based on some code proposals currently in the code development process, neither of these would have required an in-building communications enhancement solution if one were needed to provide adequate communications coverage.

After many years of working in the code development processes, I certainly understand that balance is needed and that those issues must be taken into consideration but certainly not at the peril of human lives. To that point, there are several code proposals under review that address some of the concerns that have been raised related to cost and relatively small structures. 

I imagine that many of you during your daily lives have never had to use the term “Signal 0”, “Send Back-up” “Mayday” or “Officer Needs Assistance”. In fact, you may not have ever heard them at all. Although these terms may seem different, for public safety responders communicating them, they basically mean the same thing. The urgency of the message may vary but ultimately it means help is needed. 

To get us in the right mindset of listening effectively I want to bring your attention to the 5th habit “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood” from Stephen Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. In his book, Covey states that when discussing issues “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Think about your communication style, do you listen as effectively as you speak, do you ever really think about that concept. Do you really practice listening before developing a reply? For many, the first instinct is to reply to what we heard or more likely what we think we heard. It takes time and more importantly intent to listen effectively.

I am reminded of the idiom “before you judge a person, walk a mile in their shoes”. In other words, if you have not been where they are it is important to consider or understand that person’s perspectives and experiences before making decisions about what is best for them.

Our public safety responders spend their days and nights protecting all of us from many different types of danger. They go about their shifts with one primary goal and that is service to the public often without regard for their own life. Shouldn’t they be able to call for help?

When our brave first responders enter a potentially dangerous situation, one of the single most important pieces of equipment they carry with them is their portable radio or other communication device. It is that device that they will depend on to communicate that call for help when it is needed. Our goal should be to make sure that that person listening can hear their call for help. As you can clearly see, listening is a critical factor in the art of communication so let us take time to listen with the intent to understand.