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Improve Communication … Lessons from Search & Rescue

The problem with communication is the illusion that is has occurred.

~ George Bernard Shaw

Ah, communication.

The first thing to fail and the first thing to be blamed for the team’s troubles. Yes, of course, Response Leaders must be good communicators but what does that actually mean?

All too often communication training is built around what we say, instead of being built around what we hear.


  • In search and rescue, there is a tactic used to find a responsive victim called “hailing”, which is like it sounds.
  • Picture a group of searchers clamoring around on top of a rubble pile calling out for the lost and missing: “search and rescue! If you can hear me, knock loudly on something and make some noise!”
  • When hailing loudly, the lost or trapped person is likely in a diminished condition and unable to make a lot of sound. So finding them and rescuing them can not rely solely on the calling, but must also include active listening.

The great searcher knows that to be successful in finding the distressed person that can only scratch lightly to signal help, they must excel at active listening.

The great response leader knows this too.

Active listening detects the sounds and signals that most people miss.

So, let’s focus on being more “active listener” and less “hailer”.


Mike McKenna

About the author

Mike McKenna is the founder and president of TEAM Solutions. He helps public and private sector leaders improve their outcomes before, during and after a planned event or unplanned crisis.

Please contact Mike via the Contact page.

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