Poor Communication Can Crash An Airplane Or A Real Estate Deal

Am I Communicating Effectively Now?

Poor Communication can crash an airplane. In fact poor communication has been cited as a contributing factor in too many airplane crashes. Similarly poor communication has brought down more than a few business deals.

Think about those times you were desperately trying to convey your message only to walk away thinking the other person must be an idiot.

“I might as well have been talking to a rock!”

Or maybe – you didn’t effectively communicate!

Here are a few examples of how poor communication can crash an airplane.

Read the following transcript from a cockpit voice recorder. But first, put yourself in the front seat of a B737. You’re rolling down a cold snow-covered runway with seconds to make numerous instrument interpretations, each interpretation requiring what pilots call a go/no-go decision.  The jet is quickly building speed. Check engine power; set for take off. No master warnings.  Airspeed?  Call out V1. You’re about to pass the accelerate-stop distance meaning you are going flying, problem or not, because at that speed and distance you’ll no longer have enough runway ahead of you to stop the inertia of this heavy aircraft.

Notice the poor communication between a confident, perhaps overbearing, Captain and a First Officer who is apprehensive about asserting his knowledge even when it could have saved his own life:

First Officer: Ah, that’s not right.

Captain: Yes, it is, there’s 80 [referring to speed].

First Officer: Nah, I don’t think it’s right. Ah, maybe it is.

Captain: Hundred and twenty.

First Officer: I don’t know.

The First Officer was in fact correct in his interpretations but lacked the assertiveness and the ability to effectively communicate his knowledge to the Captain.  Moments later Air Florida Flight 90, carrying 79 people, crashed into the Potomac River killing all but 5.

Flight 90 crashed on 13 January 1982 but still serves as one of the best examples of how critical it is to be able to effectively communicate with the person who needs to receive the message.  Tragically Air Florida Flight 90 isn’t the only airliner destroyed  by ineffective communication. There are dozens of examples of air crashes that could have been avoided if only communication between crew members and, or, communication between ATC (Air Traffic Control) and cockpit crews had been more effective.

Another well-studied crash happened on 27 March, 1977.  Ineffective communication: 583 killed in Tenerife, Canary Islands when ATC used non standard phraseology with a Dutch KLM crew and an American Pan Am crew struggling to interpret instructions through a thick Spanish accent. The KLM flight was cleared for take off while the Pan Am aircraft was still on the runway. The two planes collided creating the worst aviation disaster in history.

Three years later another Tenerife controller wanted a Dan Air flight to enter a hold and make left turns once in the hold. The proper internationally accepted phraseology for this request is, “Make left tuns.”  Instead the controller told a Dan Air flight to, “Turn left.” The pilots, not understanding the non standard instruction, did turn left.  But instead of entering an oval-shaped holding pattern in the sky they “turned left”,  kept going, and crashed into a mountain killing 146.

Recently I assisted in the recovery of a Real Estate transaction on a trajectory headed toward crashing into litigation. Both the seller and the buyer appeared angry and hostile toward the other. The agents had completely lost control and failed in every effort to communicate. Glancing in the rear view mirror the obvious appeared. If only the Real Estate agents had been able to effectively communicate from the beginning, two weeks of agony could have been avoided.  Two weeks of agony is far less harsh than a crash into a mountain but it could have been avoided just the same. By asserting myself, only in the communication aspect of the transaction, we turned a positive corner and both sides felt they were the winners in the end. No dollars spent on lawyers.

Effective communication between controllers and pilots have improved substantially since the Air Florida crash in 1982 because the NTSB, FAA and airlines recognized the problem and coordinated efforts giving pilots extensive training in what is called CRM. (Read: “Making Air Travel Safer Through Crew Resource Management (CRM)”   by the: American Psychological Association.)

CRM primarily strives to improve communication in the cockpit, including the difficulty some First Officers have in telling Captain’s they are wrong, and encompasses teaching flight crews to utilize every available resource when faced with critical situations.

Psychologists, doctors, researchers and business coaches have spent countless hours studying ways to improve communication in nearly all human interaction scenarios. From flying airplanes to Real Estate, with business negotiations and marriage communication in-between, you can get what you want faster and more efficiently through better communication.


First, acknowledge that the spoken word is powerful. People have gone to war because General’s have told them to. In the Bible it says, “And God said”. God didn’t wave his hand or a magic wand, he said. So be cognizant of your words, what you say, and particularly what you ask for.

Second, realize effective communication skills aren’t limited to vocabulary. Body language, for example, is also important. Not convinced? Tell your spouse you appreciate them while crossing your arms and rolling your eyes. Style, timing, intensity of your voice, all contributing factors toward effective communication.

Finally, before you can really communicate with someone you need to understand who they are.  Will you be negotiating with a man or woman? If you’re a woman communicating in business, what point are you really getting across?

(Read: “Ten Ways Women Sabotage Communication In The Workplace” by: Diane DiResta.)

What is the background of your audience?

(Read: “How Can Cultural Differences Affect Business Communication?”  by: J Mariah Brown.

You don’t have to be a psychologist to communicate well. If you’re willing to take a few moments to consider your receiver, understand their background, and make an effort to communicate in a way they can clearly comprehend your intended message, then I can guarantee you a much better result.

Note: Besides being a CFII, MEI, Pilot, I’m a Title Rep.  (Tie-tél Rep; a person or reptile that scurries through Real Estate Offices and Lending institutions in search of food, stopping at nothing, including stepping on other Title Reps in its pursuit.)  In other words, I sell Title Insurance. I am not a financial advisor so do your own research before investing. Comments made here are my own and do not necessarily belong to my employer; Chicago Title & Escrow.

For more information about Title Insurance or flying airplanes, contact me directly at ric.Lippincott@ctt.com.



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