Analyzing Communication in an Article About Professional Performance

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

In order to enhance my ability to train professionals in specific fields, I am always looking for examples of outstanding professional communication. In this connection, have you ever read an article that focuses on the actions of professionals (such as company presidents, doctors, or lawyers) but not on their specific communication? One such article is titled What Air Crash Investigations Didn’t Tell You About QF32 (Airbus A380)by Tony J. Hughes. The article describes the actions of various professionals, but it does not answer one question to my satisfaction:

How did the various professionals communicate to achieve the results described in the article?

In this TESOL Blog post, I examine Hughes’ article in view of my question above.

In the first part of his article, Hughes writes:

…in late 2012 I was fortunate enough to interview Captain Richard de Crespigny in his home. As we discussed the incident, it became very apparent to me that Richard is not only a talented and seasoned pilot, in both military and commercial aviation, but also an exceptional leader. Richard de Crespigny is an example of what Jim Collins calls ‘Level 5 Leadership’. There is much to learn from the culture he imbues on any flight he commands. Richard is more than a professional pilot, he is committed to giving his passengers the best possible experience and being a positive representative of the Qantas, Airbus and Rolls-Royce brands.

As a researcher (and trainer) of professional communication, I want to know specifically how Captain de Crespigny communicates in his various roles in his workplace. In particular, I want to know how he communicates in order to lead others, create culture, and represent different brands.

As I read the article, I notice that Hughes has written the accomplishment of Captain de Crespigny as a C.A.R. (challenge, action, result) story, which is a framework commonly used to describe accomplishments in job interviews. What was the challenge that led to the action of Captain de Crespigny? (Note: I have inserted the titles of CHALLENGE, etc. above the italicized extracts from the article.

CHALLENGE 

On November 4th, 2010, Captain de Crespigny was in command of QF32 flying from Singapore to Sydney…. At 7,400 feet during climb-out there was a catastrophic failure of an inboard Rolls-Royce engine resulting in a very rare uncontained explosion. Shrapnel flew out at supersonic speed crippling control systems running along the Q380’s left wing leading edge, peppering the fuselage, invading the underbelly, puncturing two wing fuel tanks in at least ten locations and wreaking havoc with 21 of the 22 aircraft’s systems. In my opinion it was far more serious, and far closer to being a disaster, than anyone has been willing to acknowledge…

In view of the challenge above, I now wonder what action Captain de Crespigny took to successfully overcome the challenge.

In his article, Hughes focuses on the action of Captain de Crespigny before, during, and after the challenge.

ACTION (before the CHALLENGE) 

Before take-off, Captain de Crespigny had ensured that there would be no confusion concerning the chain of command and that everyone’s roles were crystal clear. He discussed these issues at the pre-flight briefing, during the drive to the airport and again before the A380 pushed back from the aerobridge in Singapore.

….

ACTION (during the CHALLENGE)

During the incident everyone knew their roles, and every issue and task was dealt with calmly and professionally. The First Officer, Matt Hicks, dealt with well over one hundred alarms and checklists while Captain de Crespigny concentrated on flying the aircraft, monitoring his First Officer, keeping his situation awareness, weighing his options and laying strategies to complete the flight. The second officer visited the cabin to investigate the damage and to communicate with the Customer Service Manager, Michael von Reth….Back in the passenger cabin, Michael von Reth and his team were calmly assuring passengers while watching for any signs of panic in individuals and then quietly addressing problems with empathy and reassurance.

At this point in my reading of the article, I continue to wonder how the various professionals communicated during this challenge.

The article does provide one example of communication during the challenge.

Captain de Crespigny knew that height gave them more time and options so he told the flight deck team he was initiating a climb. “No!” they all said in unison. It was the only time in the entire flight that there was any discord – teamwork in action. They were in stable level flight and they did not have all the information about what was wrong… leave everything as it is. No ego, just teamwork. Captain de Crespigny simply said, “okay.”

In view of the above, I want to know more details. It seems that panic is implied in “No!” Did Captain de Crespigny ask “Why not?” Was Captain de Crespigny persuaded to change his action by the word “no” or by a subsequent explanation provided by one or more of the leaders on board? Who provided such an explanation?

The article gives us more information about Captain de Crespigny’s communication after the aircraft has been landed safely; i.e., after the challenge has been overcome.

Rather than leave it to PR and customer service people, he took charge and when every passenger was safely in the terminal he went and spoke to them saying: “When you fly Qantas you’re flying with a premium airline and you have every right to expect more. An army of Qantas staff are right now finding you hotel rooms and working out how to get you to Sydney as soon as possible. But right now I want you to write down this number – it’s my personal mobile phone and I want you to call me if you think Qantas is not looking after you or if you think that Qantas does not care.”

The quote above is something that I can analyze, discuss, and practice with my students.

Actually, I did analyze the article with university students in an organizational leadership seminar and with adult learners in a Business English class. In both cases, I also encouraged students to look for models of leadership (and professional) communication outside of class and in their own workplaces.

From where do you get the “models of professional communication” that you use in training your students?

All the best,

Kevin

About Kevin Knight

Kevin Knight

Kevin Knight (PhD in Linguistics, MBA, MPIA) is an associate professor in the Department of International Communication (International Business Career major) and has also been working in the Career Education Center of Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan. In the TESOL ESP Interest Section (ESPIS), he has served as chair and English in occupational settings (EOS) representative, and he is currently the ESPIS community manager. He was also a member of the Governance Review Task Force (GRTF) appointed by the board of directors. In addition, he has been a TESOL blogger in the area of English for Specific Purposes (ESP). He has more than 30 years of professional experience working for private, public, and academic sector institutions including Sony and the Japan Patent Office. His doctoral research on leadership communication (i.e., discourse) as a basis for leadership development was under the supervision of Emeritus Professor Christopher Candlin and Dr. Alan Jones.

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2 Responses to Analyzing Communication in an Article About Professional Performance

  1. Hi Kevin,

    I have been curious but honoured that Tony Hughes analysed my flight from a PR and Brand perspective.
    I am now curiouser but still pleased that you have analysed my flight from a communication angle.

    Thanks for asking the questions above because I think that they are VERY important.

    To fully appreciate the answers to your questions you need to analyse fear, dread, startle effect, panic on the human condition so that you can generate empathy for your customer. Then you need to know why the WHY is more important than the HOW (SOPs) or WHAT (safety). When you understand my WHY, the rest falls into place.

    Readers of my book (QF32) hopefully get the WHY. I’m an writing more on leadership and crisis management in a book that comes out next year.

    Best wishes, rich

    • Kevin Knight Kevin Knight says:

      Hi Rich,

      Thank you for responding to this blog post and pointing out to us all the importance of your WHY and where we can read about it! (I agree that it is important!)

      The WHY was also a very important factor in my own doctoral research (in which I explored how leaders in the public, private, and academic sectors conceptualize “leadership”). I recognized that there were numerous “inputs” resulting in the conceptualizations of leadership of the leaders I interviewed. It sounds to me like your conceptualization of leadership (in the context of crisis management) appears in your new book.

      The HOW factor involves (for me as a researcher) a close look at what professionals say (exactly) and do in specific situations. In this connection, I am very interested in “framing”; for example, the way in which “leaders” use their words to influence how stakeholders perceive a situation. I would expect to see such “framing” by leaders in the management of a crisis.

      I look forward to your new book!

      Kevin