6Safe and Sound

“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”

—Marcus Aurelius1

“Birds,” said Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III.

“Whoa,” said First Officer Jeffrey Skiles.

The two pilots, side by side nearly three thousand feet above Manhattan on a cold, clear day in January 2009, both knew that this deceptively simple word – birds – could spell disaster. Sullenberger, age 57, and Skiles, age 49, had met for the first time just hours earlier. Both were highly-experienced pilots, well-versed in the clipped verbal exchanges of cockpit communications.2 For the next few seconds they watched as Canadian geese filled the windscreen, heard a loud thudding as the large birds were ingested into the Airbus' engines, and then smelled burning feathers and flesh. The lives of 150 passengers and five crew, including their own, would depend on how the two pilots, the crew, and the air traffic controller handled the next three minutes. What would become a miraculous, zero-fatality landing on the Hudson River drew on aviation training, navigation skills, old-fashioned luck, and that extra, less tangible quality that knowledge workers today must acquire: the ability to team by communicating fearlessly. Fearless communication is vital input into making complex decisions, often quickly, that have no precedent and bring serious consequences.

Use Your Words

We have many examples of how even brief verbal exchanges can be thwarted by a lack of psychological ...

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