Recently I was having a conversation with a fire commander who shared the following experience. He stopped by one of the stations for a visit and came upon a group of firefighters huddled around a computer screen watching videos. Relax. This is not a lecture on watching inappropriate videos on fire department computers. In fact, the videos were very appropriate. Rather, it’s a lesson in how to use video segments to improve situational awareness.
What was inappropriate was the firefighters’ reactions to the videos. They were watching emergency scenarios where actions demonstrating unsafe actions and practices were captured and posted for the world to see. As the firefighters watched, some laughed at the videos. Some retorted “How could they be so stupid?” Fortunately, this fire commander and I had spent some time talking recently and he knew just how to handle the situation. Here’s what he did…
Content and context
The first lesson he shared is things are not always as they appear. Good point. Most of the video clips where small segments of time captured and posted out of context to other things that were happening at the emergency scene. The viewers know little about how things unfolded, leading up to the apparent “stupid” things they were watching.
Don’t be so quick to judge. Another good point. Sometimes we are quick to pass judgment, oftentimes too quick. It seems to be a natural defense mechanism. It’s like we have a need to defend our honor and abilities by comparing ourselves, often in uncomplimentary ways, to what other people do. As I get the opportunity to be in the company of many emergencies throughout the year, I see this phenomenon play out often. They are so quick to judge other departments in their region. I’ve observed that it doesn’t even matter if they were at the call where things allegedly went wrong. They are quick to judge.
The million dollar question
The session this chief observed, couched as “Training” was not very productive. Entertaining perhaps. But not productive. The chief knew it so he changed the focus of the session with one question. As one of the video segments ended and the rants began the chief asked “Do you think they did that on purpose?” The room was stunned into silence. The question appeared to be rhetorical – so obvious that it required no answer at all. But the chief did not relent. He asked the question again, demanding someone answer. Finally, “No” came the answer. And at that point, the judging stopped and the learning began.
Judgement and learning are not compatible
You cannot learn while you are busy passing judgment. I know this all too well. I was one – a judge. Consequently, a whole lot of very important lessons passed me by because I didn’t take the time to learn – to understand on a deeper level how those bad things happen and, most disturbingly, how they can happen to ME as well. When I stopped judging and started learning, my mind opened up too.
Rich Gasaway’s Advice
My advice for this article is simply three things:
First, realize things are not always as they appear. Frame what you see and read in the context of the events and information that led to the actions (or inactions). Second, do not be quick to judge. And finally, always ask “Why did it make sense to do (or not do) something?”
Watch a video or read a report where things go wrong and avoid judgment. Instead, ask yourself the following questions:
1. How did things look to them at the time it was happening?
2. How did things unfold (the timeline)?
3. Why did things make sense to them as the incident unfolded?
4. Could this happen in your organization?
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