Most NCOs are good at voicing their opinion; however, understanding the right time, audience and tone through which to express that opinion, so that it achieves the desired effect, is key. A mistimed opinion, on its own, can be misinterpreted, lost and even become the downfall. Further, most honest NCOs will agree that written communication is an area many of us could improve.
Effective communication for NCOs
‘Communicational brilliance’ is not just an ability or proficiency to which officers should aspire. For too long, the NCO attitude towards communication, particularly written communication, has been ambivalent or even dismissive. In order to influence subordinates, and superiors, an NCO needs a strong vocabulary, confidence in their message, breadth of subject knowledge, and control of tact and tone. All contemporary leaders, which of course include our NCOs, need to demonstrate an ability to continuously improve their communication skills, and apply these skills to new mediums as they emerge (such as tweets, blogs or forums, which are popular at the moment: who knows what future mediums will emerge). You still need the qualities of strength, confidence and control as stated above; however, a strong drive to continually self improve and ‘try new things’ is required.
As a young JNCO, I was confident about verbally presenting my ideas, orders and issues. However, I had no confidence in expressing those same ideas on paper. I had little faith in my writing ability and actively avoided such activities. It was not until I was posted to Kapooka that I was forced to recognise this weakness and change my attitude about writing. I realised that I was missing a part of the puzzle. I embraced the idea that if I was going to become a better, all-round communicator, I needed to develop my written skills to match my verbal confidence.
“The art of communication is the language of leadership.”James Humes
I do not advocate that NCOs need to have the writing ability of a staff officer. The success of an NCO lies in the frank and fearless advice they provide, based on their experience and knowledge. They contribute to good ideas and act as sounding boards; they are persuasive, insightful and cut to the chase. NCOs need not learn how to waffle or write multi-syllabic words to impress people. They should, however, learn how to write well in order to influence decisions. A clear, well-written argument that concisely meets the aim will resonate louder than some flowery concoction of words meant to bluff someone into thinking you know what you are talking about. Although the thought of self-developing your communication skills may make you anxious and uncomfortable, I can assure you it will make you a more effective leader.
Understanding when to push a point is another key skill for leaders to master. They must be able to approach disagreements and/or conflict with superiors with consideration and emotionless articulation of the facts; even better, based on experience, knowledge and policy. It is extremely important, and healthy for any organisation, to have frank, robust, honest and open conversations about matters of importance. Incessantly opposing decisions, verbally or in writing, will only be viewed as unhelpful and obstructionist. Learning the right time and the right issue to dispute will see you being more successful at influencing thought and action, more often.
Most NCOs are more relaxed and confident in verbally discussing ideas and issues. It seems that the non-scripted, informal approach suits most NCOs better. However, writing down these ideas and issues can give them more authority; plus, the time to write enables you opportunity take your time, filter your ideas, and gather evidence to support their worth. Once your ideas, are down in black and white, they can form a baseline for which further discussion can build upon. Maybe give it a go before diving head first into a pointless argument next time.
So how do I become better at writing?
I will say now that I believe removing the now abolished Subject 3 from the prerequisites for promotion was a mistake. Admittedly, I believe literacy is more relevant than numeracy in the day to day routines of most NCOs. Both have weight and are relevant to an NCOs development as a leader.
The Chief of Army actively encourages soldiers to further their education and professional development. This can be achieved in a variety of ways. The key is to open your mind to the practice of improving and developing yourself, and seeking opportunities for learning. To develop your written ability, you have to embrace opportunities to improve.
Firstly, whether you are writing an email or a minute, take care to get it right. Seek-out someone in your area that is better than you at writing, and actually try to take on board their advice.
Secondly, read professional development articles and expose yourself to the art of expression and structure.
Thirdly, seek assistance from your local Regional Education Office. They are available for advice on education schemes, literacy, numeracy and can provide you strategies on how to improve.
Finally, in order to improve, focus on you. You need to have the drive and passion to improve, and become a more effective leader.
When I was a JNCO, my written communication was poor. After some self-evaluation, I recognised it as one of my weaknesses, and I have now worked hard, over many years, to improve. I have not become Shakespeare; but I have become more confident and competent. I
can honestly say I no longer fear writing, in fact, I quite like the challenge.
Communication skills for NCOs are critically important for Army. Investing more resources and/or time in improving communication skills will pay off in the quality of NCOs Army produces. I am not suggesting that the current NCO model is broken, I am suggesting that we can improve, ensuring that our NCOs feel confident and in control of their communication in the contemporary world, and our contemporary Army. I just thought I would write it down….
About the author
WO1 Jason Moriarty is the Regimental Sergeant Major of 12th/16th Hunter River Lancers in NSW.