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Does Everyone on Your Team Speak the Same Language?

No matter how many people I talk to, no one has ever disagreed with me that communications forms a vital part of any successful operation. And I’m not just talking about security operations here, but any operation.

There’s a reason that communications are always one of the the first things a military unit gets up and running. Because without good communication, those controlling the operation are deaf, dumb and blind. And in those circumstances, things quickly deteriorate into chaos.

It’s an anomaly then that so little importance seems to be attached to ‘comms’ both during planning and training. Having a competent ‘signaller’ on the team, who is well-trained and well-versed in multiple forms of communication has to be an advantage, right? Think back to the military example I gave earlier, the signaller clearly forms a vital part in any unit, whether on the frontline or back in the Ops Room. But most security-related courses only pay lip-service to the importance of communications, if it is ever mentioned at all.

And since I’ve also brought up the subject of Ops Rooms, let’s talk about those as well.  I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve walked into what has been referred to as an Ops Room and had to try to keep my ‘poker face’ intact! We can’t change the way people think and react overnight, but let’s start to sow some seeds that might just take root and start to expand beliefs and mindsets.

We all know the saying “Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance” and I’m sure it’s applied regularly by many. But how does that apply from a comms perspective? First and foremost, someone (your sig’s guy) needs to have responsibility for comms and for the comms plan.  Too often it is left to individuals and that is when things can go wrong. Be honest, when was the last time you included comms as a specific action in any general planning or SAP activity? If you did, well done. You are ahead of the pack, but I’d say you are in the minority. Why is that?

Why isn’t proper communication planning, training, and operational implementation taken more seriously? The answer is simple: progress.  In the past two decades, so much progress has been made in the area of mobile communications that we just take it for granted that when we want to contact someone, we can.  Unless we’re in an extremely remote or rural location, and even then, it’s not that often you find somewhere that you can’t even make a phone call, even if you can’t get online. So progress has made us blaze about the need for a comms plan, or training in how to communicate effectively and efficiently.  No need, right? Anyone can use a phone… But one day this apathy will unravel into a world of pain. Hopefully, it will only lead to an embarrassing moment when the gate isn’t open when the Boss’s car approaches. But it could be much more serious…

Proper Communications PlanningSo, let’s cover some of the areas that should be addressed when considering comms planning. First, as I already said, make someone responsible.  Nominate your comms guy and task him or her with drawing up a comms plan, both strategically and tactically.

After you’ve nominated someone, what necessary components should they include in a solid comms plan? In the first instance, you need to consider why you need to communicate.  What’s the reason? Your reason for communicating timely and effectively will inform later choices. In its broadest sense, we communicate to pass information to individuals or to groups, to allow decisions to be made to facilitate the smooth flow of an operation. But there might be other whys. Maybe the why is to spread misinformation. If, for example, you know or suspect that you are being eavesdropped and you want to mislead your adversary to throw them off track. So, it is very important to figure out your whole range of whys first.

Next comes the what.  What are we going to communicate?  The what will be very much influenced by the nature of the operation itself.  For example, a mobile surveillance task will often entail running commentary on the progress of the target relaying location, speed, distance and co-ordinating backup vehicles to take over in the event that circumstances arise which may call for it. Whereas a CP operation will be concentrating on managing the movement of a number of team members, whilst staying alert for potential threats, trying to stay as inconspicuous as possible, and trying to interpret the actions of the Principal. In these two examples, the what is very different and requires a different ‘language’, which brings us to the how.

The how actually has two elements to it. The first is the language we use (Part 1). And the second is the physical mechanism we use to deliver the information, i.e. why, what and how (Part 2). This article will mainly cover Part 1, a.k.a. the language. We will save Part 2, a.k.a the physical mechanisms for the follow-up article in this series.

Speak the Same Language to Get on the Same PageTo begin, the language or the how of Part 1 will differ according to the scenario. And also, to a large degree, your previous operational experience. I was recently on a surveillance operation where an ex-HMRC guy was working alongside and ex-SBS surveillance operator. Honestly, they may as well have been speaking different languages! And in fact, they actually were!! Being professionals, they eventually figured it out. But it could have been their undoing and the undoing of a lot of preparatory work.

As a starting point, there are generally three golden rules that apply to language, no matter what words you are actually using:

#1. A for Accuracy.

#2. B for Brevity.

#3. C for Clarity.

Next, you need to figure out, experts in the communications world, refer to as the ‘pro’ or procedural words.  We all know what they are, but do we all interpret them in the same way and fully understand their implications?  Take for example the word “bravo.” Bravo to most people is the phonetic spelling of the letter “B.” But to many surveillance operators, the word Bravo indicates the target vehicle, whilst Alpha is the target male, and Echo the target female.

A crucial part of your communications training should ensure that VP or Voice Procedure is understood and well-practised. It’s massively underestimated, but good VP can make a huge difference to the smooth running of a task. And it also sounds consummately professional to anyone who happens to be within earshot. And you never know who may be listening, which leads nicely on to delivery!

How a Message Gets Delivered MattersLet’s consider the three Ps of communicating a message: Pitch, Pace, Pause and Tone. Okay, that last one isn’t a P…! If you were talking on the phone, Pitch, Pace & Tone would be very different.  There are even courses you can go on to teach you how to get them all right if, for example, you are a telemarketer or telesales person.  However, it’s different on the radio when you are also being mindful of your A, B, C’s. (Accuracy, Brevity, & Clarity)

As a rule, your pitch and tone should be even. And whilst there is nothing stopping you using some intonation in your voice, it isn’t really necessary. Generally, the information you are delivering will be factual, succinct, and to the point. Therefore, your emotional state should not really be evident from the tone of your voice.

Pace, however, is ultimately the most important.  People who don’t practise this tend to speak far too quickly, frequently causing the message to need to be repeated and wasting vital seconds. Almost everyone would do well to slow down the pace of their communication. Not only does it add to clarity and accuracy, but it ensures costly and embarrassing mistakes don’t happen.

Lastly, let’s talk about numbers and difficult words.  If you are going to give a string of numbers, it’s sensible to alert those listening to the fact by inserting the pro-word ‘figures’ into your message. For example, “We will be departing the residence at (figures) 21.00”, where ‘21.00’ is delivered “two-one-dot-zero-zero hours’ and not “twenty-one hundred.”

And if you have a difficult or important word to relay, one which is vital and not to be misunderstood, then spell it using the phonetic alphabet (which should be second nature to all). But again, alert those listening to the fact you are going to spell a word by saying, for example: “RV at the Medici, I spell MIKE-ECHO-DELTA-INDIA-CHARLIE-INDIA at two-one-dot-zero-zero hours”

Languaging protocol is key to ensuring that everyone on the team is operating under the same set of facts and responding timely and effectively to circumstances that might arise. For this reason, languaging should be made clear through a communications plan and practised in regular training scenarios, until it is second nature to all. This is even more crucial when under considerable pressure or at the end of a very long working days.

Next time, I’ll dive deeper into Part 2 which will cover different forms of physical communications devices, their pros and cons, and some of the key things to take into account when making a selection.  We’ll also cover the Ops Room, what it does, why it’s there and how it should be run.

Comms Planning – Part IDoes Everyone on Your Team Speak the Same Language?By Andy Clark, Owner G6 Global

G6 Global has been delivering critical communications since 1999. Communications connects everything that we do, and we will find the most robust and appropriate solution to your communications needs. We recently partnered with Syops Solutions who specialise in delivering communications training that will raise your team’s communications skills to the next level. For more information, email G6 Managing Director, Andy Clark at: [email protected]. Or visit our website at: www.g6-global.com

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