My blog post on January 18 addressed the top complaint that I have heard about fire department battalion chiefs: a failure to listen. Listening is an active skill, and the process goes far beyond staring at the other person when they are speaking.
In his book, Situational Awareness for Emergency Response, Dr. Richard B. Gasaway writes, “The act of listening requires a substantial amount of cognitive horsepower.” He also stated, “It takes quite a bit of attentional energy to be an active listener.”1
Energy and horsepower
Not only is listening a skill, it requires discipline, and remaining disciplined can be a drain on our energy. Listening becomes more of a power drain when:
- We are hungry, fatigued, stressed, and overwhelmed with work.
- We are not interested in the topic of discussion.
- We are dealing with someone who constantly complains, someone we do not like, someone we do not respect.
- We are trying to manage multiple sources of communication at one time such as more than one person vying for our attention, an engine company captain calling on the radio, and the cell phone ringing.
- This last bullet point leads to auditory overload and exclusion, but that is not the topic of today’s blog.
Paying attention to the other person
Firehouse life is chaotic, and conversations are often interrupted when you listen to hear if the alert tones are for your company, when the station telephone is ringing, or a visitor is at the front door.
Setting the above circumstances aside, are you paying attention to the other person in the conversation? Fire officers expect subordinates to listen to every word they say, but what prevents the officer from listening to every word the subordinate says? Is it one of the items in the bullet list above or something else?
The ability to connect with another person requires us to engage in active listening. Active listening is a sign of respect, you will gain more traction with people, and they will respect you more. Active listening also means you are not off in LaLa Land formulating your rebuttal or answer to what is being said.
Do NOT interrupt the other person.
Unless there is an emergency or a Chinese spy balloon is hovering over your station, do not interrupt the person who is speaking. At my church, there is a woman who barges into the middle of a conversation and begins speaking like she is the Queen of Sheba, expecting everyone else to bow to her whims and wishes. That type of behavior is rude and ignorant.
Also, when you are speaking with someone, do not sever the conversation and walk away to address someone of higher rank or office when that person walks into the room. I worked for a fire chief one time who would do that. If he was talking to you and the city manager came into the station, the chief would stop talking and walk away to start speaking with the city manager. That behavior is also rude and ignorant. Not to mention that it is kissing someone’s rear end.
A solution to the problem
I was in the fire service for thirty-seven years, including fifteen-years as a battalion chief. I have the command and leadership experience, and resources to provide meaningful and relevant training to equip you to become a fire officer that people want to work for. Please visit my website at www.impactusleadership.com and contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am going through a rebranding process and renaming my business the Fire Officer Leadership Academy. Please watch for announcements on my social media platforms regarding changes to my website and course offerings for individuals and fire departments.
1Richard B. Gasaway, Situational Awareness for First Responders (Tulsa, OK: Penn Well Corporation, 2013), 275