CRM: The Antidote to Silence

UN-ZIP your lips!

The FIRST goal of Crew Resource Management (CRM)

CRM is a catchphrase that Aviation Administrations flock to – and they should. CRM was developed as a response to mass aviation casualties and has finally been mandated. Even small air carriers now provide CRM training to crewmembers. There is one major issue: no one is drinking the kool-aid. Why? Because to meet the new training requirement as inexpensively as possible, these small operators have turned to overused powerpoint presentations to teach one of the most exciting topics in our industry. Many pilots and crewmembers feel that CRM training is just a dull, monotone, one-hour presentation that they HAVE to sit through – and most of them can’t even define CRM!


CRM training provides communication skills that all crewmembers understand, but it is much more than that. It is a language deeply embedded in the roots of all tight-knit teams and is at the heart of crew synergy. The military defines this as battle rhythm. It is an intangible commodity that a group must embrace, BUT for it to work, all participants must not be afraid to speak.

Fear of is deep-rooted

Consider what would keep people from helping a young woman in distress during the late 60's. 

38 people watched a young woman named Kitty Genovese suffer a vicious attack that lasted over 30 minutes! Initially, she was stabbed but got away. The attacker continued pursuit and finally caught up with her a second time to finish the job. Kitty was SCREAMING the entire time, desperately requesting help. So why did no one take action? We have an innate tendency to follow the crowd; inaction is contagious. Read more here.

38 witnesses

Watch this video, it is a social study conducted as a result of Kitty's murder.

Psychologists were astounded that no one would speak up or call 911 so they conducted a study that would introduce the Bystander Effect. When watching this video, notice the difference in behavior when people are alone VS in groups. 

Play Video

Why didn’t the woman try to escape as quickly on take two? 

How does this murder scene relate to YOU and aviation?

When there is a variety of experience between crewmembers, often the less experienced will look to the more experienced for reassurance or validation. They feel that the expertise of the other crewmembers is superior to their own and, as a result, they keep quiet when no one else notices the issue – even with that little gut feeling nagging away. 

Imagine this scenario: You feel an unusual vibration and look to your partner. They seem unaware or unconcerned, so you suppress your natural survival instincts.


On a dark, misty night, a medevac team set out in a Bell 407 to rescue a patient in need of urgent transportation. They loaded up and pressed onward to the hospital. In the back – isolated from the pilot – the crewmembers noticed that the weather was deteriorating. As visibility continued to decrease, they felt nervous, an uneasy feeling that sent their hearts jumping into their throats. 

The helicopter began to lurch and bank. The engine started to wine. Gravity seemed to be there one moment, but not the next. Stomachs turning, warning systems beeping, a loud BANG, metal shearing, the onset of pain, and then……………….silence.

The following day, NTSB began sifting through the carnage. In the back seat, between the corpses of the nurse and paramedic they found a note:

We can only speculate what kept the crewmembers in the back from speaking their concerns to the pilot. This situation is the most extreme consequence of a communication barrier. If you feel compelled to remain silent – know this – the spirit of Crew Resources Management is being neglected and you must BE BRAVE to fight the urge.



The story above is very sad and tragic. Those individuals have left loved ones behind and no doubt have altered the courses of many lives. This is just one story. There are countless occurrences similar to this due to complex social psychology and the dynamic changes with every team. 


Assertiveness is the immediate solution to all communication barriers.



is essential to building a relationship that is conducive to effective communication and synergy. 

It is not an easy discussion to have, but here are some tactics that can help you get started. Communication barriers may be residing deep inside our personalities due to human nature, culture, and your heritage. 

Don't forget to debrief

There are endless barriers to communication. The problem with Crew Resource Management training by Powerpoint is that they tend to bullet critical topics. Human beings don’t learn by looking at lists. They learn by correlating compelling stories to practical applications. We all have deep-seated issues. The bottom line is that you understand the solution to ALL deadly silencers is ASSERTIVENESS. You must learn to recognize WHEN you have a communication barrier. If you realize that you don’t feel like speaking out, then THAT is the very thing you can begin speaking about. Just politely say, “I don’t feel comfortable talking about the way I feel.” Consider what may be keeping you silent before traveling at unsurvivable speeds through obstacle-rich environments.


Next time you hesitate or you feel uncomfortable speaking, ANTENNAE UP! Uncertainty is a HUGE RED FLAG. It’s time to prioritize. First alert someone about the flight issue – hopefully, your team is well aware, and you all choose the most conservative response. After landing, make sure to debrief about what caused your communication barrier. DO NOT gossip about it another day. Fail to do this, and you have just created a link in the error chain that is irreparable – for you have broken trust in your team.



That little gut feeling CAN BE TRAINED. This book has stuck with me and has helped me understand why and how to trust that "6th sense." The Key Takeaway​: LEARN AND UNDERSTAND what your instincts are telling you.


Often, during a malfunction, an aircraft will emit a pungent odor due to a fluid (e.g., hydraulic or engine oil) touching hot surfaces. Due to seating configurations in most helicopters, the crewmembers are closer in proximity to the gearbox and engine, thus, are typically first to smell the impending failure.

A few extra moments could give the pilot the upper-hand to make decisions, execute emergency procedures, and select a safe spot to land.Next time you hesitate or you feel uncomfortable speaking, ANTENNAE UP! Uncertainty is a HUGE RED FLAG. It’s time to prioritize. First alert someone about the flight issue – hopefully, your team is well aware, and you all choose the most conservative response. After landing, make sure to debrief about what caused your communication barrier. DO NOT gossip about it another day. Fail to do this, and you have just created a link in the error chain that is irreparable – for you have broken trust in your team.


WHEN you say things can often be just as important as WHAT you say.



Being assertive doesn’t mean you should become a howling monkey every time you hit some rough air, but if you hear, smell, feel, see, taste, or predict anything abnormal, be sure to ASK about it. Try to be situationally aware of pilot workload as you could cause more harm than good (i.e., distraction). Situational Awareness is a whole can of worms I can’t open right now – an entire CRM course can’t possibly fit into one blog article. I recommend starting with a solid crew briefing as it will include how to time information delivery.

How many languages do you speak?


Hopefully you say "TWO!"


Hopefully, you speak at least TWO languages – English and CRM. Even if you are the person who polishes the hangar floors at night, YOU ARE PART OF THE TEAM and vital to its success. See a little red puddle under the aircraft? Do you just mop it up or do you make a call to the aviation supervisor? Everyone is part of the crew, never forget that. An open culture of participation is cultivatedwhen you welcome critique, solicit advice, and know that there is a science behind this topic that still has room for development. 

Crew Resource Management training teaches you how to effectively communicate your concerns and get the results you seek; I highly recommend you learn to speak the language. Drink the kool-aid, and know that “in the spirit of CRM” there is no such thing as a stupid question, so ASK, ASK, ASK.



Here are a few bullets that you may or may not see in your powerpoint classes. Just IMAGINE the actionable resultsthat can take place if you expand upon each item as we have done here. We can not just rattle off a list these elements and then break for lunch.


Who is teaching your CRM class?


Do you have a designated CRM instructor in your organization? Have they been certified to teach CRM or are they just reading to you from a script? I recommend that your company instructor attend the CRM Instructor Course by Randy Mains. He facilitates a brilliant class, and you will leave well equipped to teach CRM; I can attest to its potency. If you can’t take the course right away, here are two books that will enhance your crew synergy. The links will take you directly to his checkout page.

Have a story to share?

Add to the discussion below!


We can all benefit from stories, examples, and the wisdom of others. “A life shared is worth living.”

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Cody Robinson


What did the paramedics note say in the 407 crash??! The image isn’t loading on my end.




Hi Cody,

Thanks for reading. Sorry about the image, we are doing an update to the site.

The note said, “I wish the pilot would turn around!”

The point of this article is to eliminate communication barriers. Try to identify potential reasons why your team may fear speaking out to their concerns. Part of my briefing always includes some form of “Take the gloves off during the flight, and remember facts don’t have feelings.”

That concept seems to motivate even the newest crewmembers to feel impelled to speak out when they think something is wrong.

Talk soon,


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