If you take a minute to think about how our strategies and social skills are intertwined, you see the connection. Many levels and types of social skills are important aspects of our duty. How we interact socially affects how we will interact strategically.
If you have not read “Training Warning Flags”, go through that first along with “Owning Training” as they are built upon each other.
Four of the five more significant warning flags are dependent upon the social skills of those leading and following. Tone of voice, body gestures/language, respect given and received are large players when conveying a message. When the student has already “checked out” it is even more challenging to bring them back. When these skills are corrected and honed during training, the dividends will pay off on the street.
The following list applies to classroom, the firehouse and the fire ground.
1. How people interact with each other.
2. How leaders interact with their subordinates.
3. How bosses disseminate information down to the managers.
4. In the ways we influence each other through social skills when dealing with our customers.
5. How the public perceives us.
Does the administration empower the students to take ownership of their training?
This can be a difficult situation to pin down. Consider this scenario, you are the duty Captain and the BC called to have your crew sweep the drive near the road. It is nearing the end of winter and all the salt, sand and rocks make for a not so clean appearance. How do you approach your guys? “Hey guys, the #$%^ Chief told us we have to clean up the drive because it makes his station look like we are a bunch a lazy !@#$%%^.” Instead, try this “Men, I noticed that the drive could use some spring cleaning and we should clean it up because I know how much pride you take in our house.” Which one would motivate you more to get the job done, well with less complaining at least? A scene from the movie Office Space really shows how poor social interaction while giving orders in the work place fails. Mmm-k. Department administration should feel confident they have the right oversight in place. Micromanaging the players takes away feeling ownership of their personal success. Training is where it starts. As the lead or assistant, wear the same amount of gear the students are expected to. Sweat with them, crawl with them and work with them. Standing by the rehab fan with coffee is not re-enforcing expectations; in fact, you will fall well short of the mark. The students will understand how important the training is when those that teach it also participate. Success is built on how we fail, allow the students to fail so they can learn and succeed. Ownership comes from the sense of accomplishment. A human emotion cannot truly be created for someone else, it must come from within. Empower your students to want that emotion.
Does your program allow for student feedback?
This small gesture is monumental. The students use these skills. If they do not find value when applied on the street or see better ways, collect that feedback. We have many books to educate with, but they are not perfect resources. A combination of classroom, hands on training, real world application and feedback, works best to create excellence. Collecting the feedback is not enough; it is your response to the feedback that must be valued. Even if the feedback is not substantial, thank the student; let them know you will consider their point of view. Body language as a social interaction skill will tell your feelings more then your words. Be mindful of this when receiving and responding to feedback. Save feedback and use it to YOUR advantage. Create a type of log to review and ensure changes are made to your program that address these short-comings.
When the student sees this process in the training environment, they will also see the benefits on the fire ground. Personal experience has shown the best Incident Commanders value the information coming from the crews performing the work. When the feedback is valued, a cohesive organization exists.
Do you have weaknesses with the conduct of training?
The training program may be the best in the world but unless you lay out your expectations in an open, honest and positive way, you are destined to fail. The simple interaction between students and Instructors could be the only weakness. Create a systematic approach to training. Define what types of training there are and define how each is to be conducted. For example:
Department Training – training that all members are required to attend. Each session will start with the Instructor defining the expectations for the session, reviewing all rules and responsibilities and how the training will be conducted. These sessions are started in the classroom using a presentation regardless of the type of training. Stay consistent with the regimen. Knowing what is going to happen allows the students to focus on what is being taught rather then how its being taught.
Company Training – training that a company or squad performs under the direction of a senior member or officer. This informal session typically reviews skills that the company would like to practice and are performed with less rigor.
The world’s problems get solved sitting on the tailboard. Smaller group sessions can discover imperfections in how training is performed. The feedback collected from this type of training can sometimes excogitate the Training Organization, as we go along.
Are your trainers reinforcing department standards and expectations?
Refer back to the first example, cleaning the drive. We are here to do a job, we may not always agree and may not feel it is our job, but the bosses make the decisions. In my experience, this falls back to the staff not seeing they are part of a larger picture. The bosses may have a plan; they may not articulate every detail of the plan to the crews. If your duty is to work the haul line, focus on the haul line and do it well. The team works best as a team, all performing their function. During training, leaders should follow department standards and expectations. Just as we want our people to “train like we fight”, we should be consistent with other department policies.
Strategies, tactics and socially engaged.
Being at the end of a hose line, working to stop unrestrained fire is the last place you need to be worried about social shortcomings. The training environment shouldn’t limit it’s scope to the skills of our vocation. Training can develop solid communication and interaction skills between members. Fireground participants must have strong teamwork and interactions skills so their tasks are completed with vigor. Individuals entering the fire service in current times may not have participated in team sports, those skills will need to be developed.
For the Instructor, the most important social skill that you can exhibit, allowing your passion to shine. When you make training on new and old skills your passion, others will appreciate that. For the Officer, when you have well-trained and proficient Firefighters, you can step back and manage people. Social skills are strategies and tactics.