Communicating with our people in an Airline


  • Excellent and targeted communication by management is a precursor to trust and engagement by the workforce. See my Secrets of Communicating with Pilots for the answers.
  • “Know your audience” and know that your communication will fall on willing ears.
  • Accept pilots for who they are: Intelligent introverts, and use this to the benefit of the group.

Suggestions for better communications within the UK:

There seems to be an incredible amount of effort and energy spent trying to find out what “they are up to”. For example web chats and forum posts etc. All trying to catch the company out. So I guess management need to convey this information more frequently which will have the side effect of slowly breaking down the us and them situation, after if we are not “Thomas Cook” who is? Remember Tim Walker’s story about his squadron. If this Squadron is shit then so are you.

Sources used: Brilliant Minds; Andrew T Austin; Online articles; Fruitbat; Shelle Rose-Charvet

Models used: Metaprograms; Business metaphors; Myers Briggs; 4Mat

Following on from my interest in Engaging with our people in an Airline it has become apparent to me that the way in which we communicate with pilots will directly influence the way that they engage with the organisation. The company want engaged staff because engaged staff are more productive, more efficient, take fewer sick days and generally perform better.

One solution from ETS plc (who carry out the Echo survey for TCX) was to influence what we as individuals THINK, this in turn will affect the way that they FEEL about the company and hence alter the way they DO things. That is the way we behave and engage.

To achieve this their whole approach is to align the strategy of the organisation, ie what’s in it for the company with the suggested questionnaire. Surveys are tweaked accordingly. By asking specific questions and then producing specific action plans and carrying them out, all will be well. Ask them what they want, do it and life’s a beach. Well until the results start to fall I guess? My experience of Action Planning is pretty poor. It requires  very committed manager and the work force seem to be pretty unconvinced by the outcomes for reason. All this action requires time, energy and money whilst getting on with the day job. The ECS approach would imply that there are a set of outcomes ie Behaviours that are being sought from the outset by the company. From an NLP perspective behaviour is of course the output from an individual which has been filtered and tweaked by all the usual Blueprint of Behaviour influences. In principal I agree with the concept of THINK FEEL DO but I do not believe that the ETS method is the best way to go abut it.

The second suggested solution from Dianne Lowther is to engage with every individual pilot on a 1-2-1 basis and ask the following style questions:

  • What would it take to engage that person, what would it take to fulfil their values?
  • What’s going to make the work meaningful and enjoyable to them?
  • What’s going to make them proud to work for this organisation?

Now lets agree that this is not going to happen soon so the question is how else are we going to glean this information?


I have recently read a great deal written by Dianne Lowther from Brilliant Minds and in particular her work on why the iT department nearly always come bottom in any staff survey and this got me thinking about the similarity between Pilots and IT personnel. In particular I was intrigued by the possibility of a direct comparison and then transferring these findings to TCX.


Do you recognise these people? Disaffected, cynical and disengaged.They bring up negative concern after negative concern? Not to mention nit-picking the most picayune details?”  They often tell you “I don’t know what’s going on around here!” Suspicious and even a little paranoid. Long memories of perceived injustices. Well you probably would not call these people “Intelligent Introverts” would you? Well Dianne does and her point is that these people can be extremely useful in an organisation should you choose to use their qualities.

More work by Dianne includes a closer look at Introverts and Extroverts.

According to Myers Briggs the definition of an Introvert may not be the stereotype that you hold :  “What a person will do after a days work to re-charge their batteries.”

  • Spend time with friends and family often at home.
  • Read the paper and or watch television or the web.
  • Happy with their own thoughts and ideas.
  • Poor at small talk and get frustrated by it.
  • Go for depth of knowledge – so may have a long term hobby or sport.
  • Goes for depth of experience
  • Takes time to trust somebody

She has also produced a publication about Why the IT department sucks at engagement.

This is a short list of stuff that may be worth considering regarding communication:

  1. Intelligent Introverts (see above for Introversion)
  2. The “Business”
  3. Interpersonal skills

Intelligent Extroverts offer:

  • High IQ
  • Introversion
  • A broad view of most situations
  • Logical thinking
  • Good memory
  • Myers-Brigs: Cool Blues Analytics and in NLP terms Digitals (like logic and detail)

I would like to suggest that the last two are changed so that it reads:

  1. Intelligent Introverts (see above for Introversion)
  2. The “Business” needs you! Why not harness the attributes of these guys and engage with them.
  3. Airline Interpersonal skills and personal development: Technical ability comes first and managers lack the confidence as leaders. They are often promoted for their technical ability or knowledge and not their leadership qualities.

Intelligent introverts don’t judge you on what you do, but on how you think.

I’m not sure just how this can be achieved in TCX, lets see what emerges.


Here are some interesting ideas about the sort of people we pilots are. The first one is from AVweb and suggests the following:

 In a practical sense your non-pilot manager must understand that your concern with what might go wrong is not negativity. Instead, it is the pilot’s natural training to look for problems that he/she does not even remotely imagine are going to happen. It is fastening your safety belt taken to an extreme. And since, as a pilot, many lives depend on your decisions, you tend to take things to an extreme.

Here’s another rather funny one from the partner of a pilot and some possibly useful findings:

“Pilots tend to be scanners, drawing conclusions rapidly about situational facts. Pilots scan people as if they were instruments; they draw conclusions at a glance rather than relying on long and emotion-laden conversations.”

And here is a list of Traits of Pilots which also includes a couple more references.

  • “More concerned with modifying their environment than changing their own behaviour.”
  • “Pilots are bimodal: on/off, black/white, good/bad, safe/unsafe, regulations/non-regulations.”
  • “…in some ways, pilots are the most consistent and even-keeled group anyone is likely to meet…” they are “trained not to rush!”
  • “Pilots tend to be self sufficient and may have difficulty functioning in team situations without CRM and other training.”
  • “Perhaps there are times that you as a pilot need to understand that some business projects can be rushed with no significant loss of effectiveness. Equally important, help others to understand that to a pilot “rushing” is often synonymous with “making hasty and dangerous decisions.””
  • ” ….. most pilots want to know about anything that affects their work, even tangentially.” Pilots like information that is “condensed” and “to the point,” just like talking to ATC. A lot of pertinent, essential information conveyed succinctly. They must understand why they are being told this information and what is going to happen during the rest of the meeting or FCN or briefing.
  • “Pilots are positive but they remain so by questioning everything that could go wrong. They are diligent but they do not like rushing, especially to meet artificial deadlines. They are interested in what’s going on but like to have a quick overview of the big picture at the outset and they like their information to be concise. Finally, they are cooperative but never ask them to delegate decisions about safety; it’s not a choice they have nor one passengers would want them to have.”

Optimistic and positive attitude; self confident; self disciplined; detailed; logical; good social skills; good reasoning; high personal standards; firm but polite; hard nosed to the point of intransigent when it comes to flight safety;


  • Internally referenced vs Externally referenced
  • Procedural vs Options
  • Detailed vs big picture although when not in the cockpit could be big picture
  • Balance of towards OTP and getting the job done and away from danger or lack of safety.


This work comes from Shelle Rose-Charvet. See my work on this subject here.