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CLEARED FOR TAKEOFF with Kevin Nothstine (Part 3 of 3) – Communication

Professional pilot and corporate trainer Kevin Nothstine talks about how the lessons learned from flying airplanes apply to running a business.  This is the final episode of a 3-part series where we discuss communication with lessons learned from the Indonesian tsunami to the battle fields of Afghanistan.

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CLEARED FOR TAKEOFF Part 3 of 3 – Communication

Karla Nelson:  And welcome to The People Catalysts podcast Kevin.

Kevin Nothstine:  Thank you very much, Karla. Happy to be here.

Karla Nelson:  Yeah, glad to have you on the show. So we are wrapping up part three of the three part series, Cleared for Takeoff. And as you shared several times over again Kevin, that everything that you needed to learn about business, you learned in pilot training and today we’re going to be talking about communication. And obviously communication is extremely important well in your line of business. My gosh, I mean it’s important for people’s lives and typical business. It’s obviously a critical part of everything that we do, but not quite as imperative. So can you share with us a little bit about, what you learnt in being a pilot in your line of business, the importance of communication and how that relates to what we do day in and day out.

Kevin Nothstine:  Oh, most definitely. And it all started actually even before pilot training. I actually had a time in college, I was at a reception one time and I got to meet Bud McFarlane and Stansfield Turner and they are respectively the National Security Advisor and the Director of the CIA working under Ronald Reagan. And I got to meet them in college and I said you guys are obviously very successful people. What would you say is the one key to your success or the one key to being successful? And Bud McFarlane said, “Oh, that’s easy.” And Stan Turner, former Director of the CIA, turned to him and looked at him and said, “Really? It’s easy?” And Bud McFarlane said, “Yes, it’s communication.”

And so Stan nodded his head yes. And Bud Mcfarlane said, “You can be the most intelligent person in the room, but it doesn’t mean a thing if you cannot communicate with other people.” So, and that really did lay the groundwork for me of looking at communication as something very important that’s gone on throughout my life.

Karla Nelson:  Yeah. It’s pretty much the pillar of everything, right. It doesn’t matter if you’re communicating with your team or it’s the communication with your clients or those that support and refer you sure. Communication is definitely the pillar of every relationship and of course on The People Catalysts podcast, right. In business and in life, relationships are everything. So, we all have these examples or stories of a mentor or a trainer, coach that reinforce what we already know to be true in regards to that.

So, can you share a little bit about maybe a story or a mentor that you had that basically reinforced the fact that and you already shared one example, that’s fantastic with us, that really reinforced the fact that communication is the pillar behind everything that you’re doing. And of course, this is not business, right. We’re talking battlefield, life or death kind of things. In business, we don’t really focus or have to take it with that type of seriousness. But is there anything top of mind that you could share with the listeners in regards to your journey and how communication became at the forefront of what it is that you do?

Kevin Nothstine:  Yes, definitely. This particular example I’m thinking of didn’t come from the battlefield, but it was a life and death situation. In December of 2004, we had the Indonesian tsunami and after the tsunami, well at the time I was flying C-130s, which is a cargo aircraft, bring things around and I was flying out of Japan.

Karla Nelson:  Oh, cargo aircraft that drops tanks out of the back of it. It sounds like oh yeah, it’s a cargo aircraft. Dropping tanks out of the back of an aircraft is pretty impressive, just saying.

Kevin Nothstine:  Yes, we drop tanks or other things out of the plane. It was a very capable aircraft. But on this particular mission set we are delivering supplies to the hundreds of thousands of people that were affected by the tsunami and dying at the time and bringing them supplies that was going on. And I got to split my time, half and half between flying the missions and working up at the headquarters that was running the missions and the people that were in charge of that particular one was the III Marine Expeditionary Force or the III MEF.

And something that I loved, they had posted up in their headquarters area. They had these giant signs that they posted in a couple places and it had two rules on it. It said, number one, what do I know, with a question mark. And then right after that was number two, who needs to know it. And I really thought a lot about that while I was there and it’s affected me profoundly. And I’ve used that to teach all of my students in flying and the mission that I fly now with a tactical reconnaissance aircraft. And it’s a very proactive form of communication. If you constantly have this mantra going through your mind, what do I know and who needs to know it, you’re constantly getting that information out to other people and that’s answering the very first question of communication of what is it that I need to communicate and it’s very proactive. On the plane that I fly now it’s called an MC-12.

And, and like I say, we do tactical reconnaissance in that aircraft. And our job is to find the bad guys and tell the good guys where they are. So that whole part of telling the good guys where they are is all about communication a and I routinely teach my students continue to be proactive. As soon as you find out a piece of information, then you take that information and ensure that it is being sent to the right people that need to know it. And it doesn’t matter if you’re working with your team, folks on your team and you find something out that’s going to affect them or with your clients, something that’s going to affect them. Being proactive in your communication with your client and giving them the information is just paramount to making things happen. And something that I teach my guys, if somebody is asking you for information, it means that you have failed as a communicator. You should be pushing enough information out to other people that they don’t need to ask for anything more.

Karla Nelson:  I like that, pushing enough information. You know what’s so funny about that is early on in my first business that I ran, I always said, if the phone is ringing, we’re not doing our job. If somebody is calling you asking about their financing and what’s going on with it, that means we’re not being proactive enough about letting them know about it ahead of time, so love that. So one of the things that I think is kind of critical here in regards to communication that has changed quite significantly over the last decade, is the pool between verbal and nonverbal communication, right. So we’re communicating and it’s live and we’re talking back and forth, but then you’ve got text, you’ve got email and just this extended group of individuals that’s more comfortable, right, with typing something and heck even email communication when it comes down to marketing is the most influential part or piece that you can utilize in marketing.

  So how is it that you can kind of blend that nonverbal or verbal and nonverbal together but realize that it’s … You’re going to, you know, when you’re texting somebody or emailing somebody, it’s kind of a blend of the two. It’s not like you’re on a radio going back and forth. So what are some of the things that you’ve learned in regards to that and how we can, it’s not life or death but it’s still right, like it’s a piece of communication that’s absolutely critical. The number one marketing strategy you can have, is have a great email campaign, but yet that completely eliminates verbal communication.

Kevin Nothstine: Yeah, it definitely does. It takes out a lot of those visual cues. Traditionally in communication, when you look at the communication model, when you’re talking face to face to somebody, you are getting a lot of cues just by watching them, body language or eye movement. Are they looking at you? Are they looking away? Are you getting the head shakes or head nods and you get all of those cues for communication and for it to be communication, it really needs to be a two way street that you get that feedback. Well, something that I trained a lot of my students in the MC-12, some of them are new to working with a crew on an aircraft and we have four people on our crew. We have two pilots and two people in the back end of the aircraft.

Now we’re all on an earphone that we can talk to each other. Just like you and I, we don’t see each other right now, but we can have this conversation going on. We have the same thing on there. Well, what I teach them in that environment is you have to account for the fact that you lost all of those visual cues. Now the tool that I use there is another flying example. The fact that a lot of our communication when we’re flying is done over the radio. So when we’re talking to somebody and I teach my students, and when you’re on the earphone talking to your crew internally, you have to treat it just like we treat the radio. And way back in pilot training, I was taught that when you’re talking on radio, there’s a couple rules you have to follow. And the first one is you have to respond to every call because you don’t have that verbal feedback.

Karla Nelson:  Love that, love that. Respond to every text, respond to every email, respond to every call. Absolutely.

Kevin Nothstine:  Yes. And it can be as … When we’re talking on the radio, if my call sign is freedom one one and somebody calls me up and says, hey, freedom one one, the traffic we told you about earlier is no longer a concern. Well all I have to do is just acknowledge that I received that message and the easiest way I can do that is just respond back with freedom one one over the radio and it lets them know, I heard you. It’s the same thing. If somebody sends you a text or an email and says something, you can very simply return a message back saying thanks or in the military we use the term copy a lot saying yes, I heard you. And so we do that all the time on the radio and I teach my students to do that on the earphone because you can’t see them. And it’s certainly applicable that in the business world or anytime somebody sends you a message, always acknowledge that you receive that message.

Karla Nelson:  I love it. Love it. Yeah.

Kevin Nothstine:  And another part of that, when we’re speaking on the radio, the next part, the first part is always respond to every message. Well, the next part is to read back the important information. Now when we’re talking on the radio, they teach us in pilot training, they teach every time that you are given a certain altitude you have to fly to or a heading to follow or an airspeed to fly, you have to read that information back. It’s mandatory for the FAA. Now, the reason we do that, it’s a very important piece of information and you want to ensure that it’s passed correctly. Well, when we were having phone conversations and when you talk about active listening in a business environment, it’s the same thing. When somebody sends you a message, you read back those important parts to confirm that, yes, I understand what is important about this and you and I are singing from the same sheet of music here.

Karla Nelson:  Yeah, you know what’s great about that, that is a two way street. What I mean by that is, number one, it says, I heard you, but the other thing, the piece of it is, and we used to do this all the time, is we had a questionnaire when we brought a client in and we still do this to this day, but with financing it’s imperative that you actually understand the largest asset most people will ever have, their business or home or whatever you’re looking to get money for, is that everyone kind of has a little bit of a different agenda, right. There’s some other different goal at stake and when you hear them and you repeat it back to them, I think that leads us into the next part, which is, it’s part of it is communicating and then the second part is building a relationship with somebody because you actually listened to what it was that was most important to them.

Kevin Nothstine:  Oh, most definitely. And talking about that next thing, something else that I’m just really reminded of. Communication’s such a big part of the plane I fly and everything I teach there, that I did a lot of research on this and actually came across a TED Talk and an article by a man named Dr. David Webber. And he had what he calls his four iron laws of communication. And if we’ve got the time, I’d love to just talk about two of them here.

Karla Nelson:  Sure.

Kevin Nothstine:  Well the first one of those is … Now it depends upon how much you’ve read about communication, but a standard communication model. It’s an old one that’s been around forever, Schramm’s Model of Communication. You have a sender and a receiver and the sender has the information they want to send. And first they’re going to encode it based on the language that they use and that encoding, everything of their being, of who they are, their background all comes into play on how they encode that message. And then it goes through some filters, those same type filters of who they are and what’s going on in their life right now for the sender. And then it passes through some noise before it even gets to the receiver. And then the receiver, it goes through their filters of their life experience, who they are, what they’re feeling right now, and then they decode the message, the language that it comes across in.

Karla Nelson:  I think you brought up a really good point about how people read emails, texts, communication in the mood they’re in at that point. So can you talk a little bit about that and then we can go back to the actual model because I think that’s critical and I don’t really think those models identify that, is the receiver’s side, right. And so as a sender, how do you ensure that the person reading your email, reading your text,right because they’re going to read it in the mood they’re in. How do you overcome some of those challenges?

Kevin Nothstine:  You’re right on that. And that is that Schramm’s business model and that filter for the receiver. They, when you’re reading a message or hearing a message, you’re reading it in the mood you’re in. Or if you read a text message, you can have the exact same text read by four different people and they can have four different interpretation.

Karla Nelson:  Yeah good point. That’s the filter. So basically on the model itself, it’s, hey, that’s the filter, the person that the … Whatever mood they’re in, they’re going to receive it in a different way.

Kevin Nothstine:  Right.Very much so. And that’s just that … That comes from Schramm’s communication model. Now this Dr. Webber, his first law of effective communication, he says that … Well I added a little bit to it, that when you send a message, you have your intent and at the end of the communication, the receiver has their perception. So your intent and their perception is what matters here. And Dr. Webber, paraphrasing his first law, is that the sender is responsible for ensuring that the receiver, that their perception matches your intent of what you want to send. And that really puts a lot of onus on the sender of the message.

It’s very complicated to try and understand who are you communicating with and how are they going to receive this information. So that’s his first law that just really struck me, read those. I’d also like to talk about his fourth law and this one like to spend a little bit of time on every time you communicate with somebody you’re doing two different things. There are two aspects of the communication. The first aspect is the actual information that you are transferring to someone. So it’s actually passing that information to them. Now just as important or even more important quite possibly is the second aspect is every time you communicate or don’t communicate, you are affecting the relationship between the two.

Karla Nelson:  No doubt. Well, hello, this is The People Catalysts podcast, right. In business and in life, relationships are everything. And communication is absolutely important. However, if your relationship is suffering, typically you’re going to run into a challenge on communication no matter what, right.

Kevin Nothstine:  Oh, yes.

Karla Nelson:  Yeah. So can you share with us maybe a story or as much of a story as you can share with us, in regards to communicating and then also building relationships that you’ve encountered?

Kevin Nothstine:  Oh yeah. I’ve got a really good one. This is the … I was flying the MC-12 over in Afghanistan and like I said, our job is to find bad guys and tell the good guys where they are and help out the people on the ground as much as we can. We were … Our platform was brand new. This is back in 2010 and we had just started flying, is a new airplane and a lot of the people that we are supporting, our customers, they’re the army guys on the ground. We’re not very familiar with our capabilities and what we could bring to the fight and what we can do to help them. Well, we had one day, there was a helicopter that had experienced some engine trouble and crashed over in Afghanistan.

And so they’re doing a rescue effort to help those guys. And they called us in my aircraft with my crew of four, we went in to help them out and we checked in and the guy that we’re talking to wasn’t very familiar with who we were and what we can do. And when we first got on the frequency they’re like okay. The guy on the ground, his call sign was Dark Knight and us up in the air our call sign was Freedom. And we checked in, we said Dark Knight, this is Freedom. We’re overhead. And he said, “Yep, I don’t know where the helicopter is. I don’t know why they sent you to me. I don’t have anything for you.” Okay, well we’ll do what we can. And then about two minutes later, an F-15 checked onto the same frequency and their call sign was Dude. And they came in and said, Dark Knight, this is Dude, this is where we are, here to help.

And Dark Knight responded and told him, okay, here’s the information in the AOR, here’s what’s been going on for the last couple of days. Here’s all the information I have, here’s limited stuff and this is what’s going on, and we’re on the same frequency. We’re like, whoa, this guy just completely ignored us basically. But he really went with as far the guy of who we knew. So we’re looking around and saying, okay how can we make this better? How can we affect this relationship with what’s going on? Well, one of the things we do is we look for things and we’ve got a really nice camera.

And my sensor operator in the back was very capable at his job and he actually found the helicopter on the ground. So he called Dark Knight and told him, and I told him, hey, tell Dark Knight where that is. And he said, okay, Dark Knight, we’ve got a location of the helicopter, you want it? And he said, yes, send it. So we gave him the coordinates where the helicopter was down and Dark Knight’s, very next radio call, he goes, “Dude, this is Dark Knight standby, ready to copy location helicopter and Dude say send it. And Dark Knight gives them the location and we’re just like-

Karla Nelson:  Everybody is knowing you’re the black sheep on the call, but yet you have all the intel.

Kevin Nothstine:  Right. So we’re still trying to affect…and we’re watching as they started to do the rescue efforts on the helicopter, and I told my sensor operator, hey, the best way we can support these guys is you need to scan the area around there and see if there’s any potential ingress routes that some bad guys could come in and affect them while they’re trying to do this rescue. And so he did that and he found a road, it’s about a half mile away. And I told him, okay, send that down to Dark Knight and let him know that. So he called him up, Dark Knight-

Karla Nelson:  And so Dark Knight’s the boots on the ground, right?

Kevin Nothstine:  Yes.

Karla Nelson:  All right. And Dude is the fighter.

Kevin Nothstine:  Yes. And so he called him up and said Dark Knight, I’ve got a potential ingress for hostiles, one half mile north of the downed helicopter. And Dark Knight responded, copy and he calls Dude and said, ” Dude, I’ve got a road, a half mile north, request you scan that route with your sensors. So he had a different tone in his voice and he’s saying, Whoa, these guys are doing something good for me and they’re helping me out. And Dude said copy. So Dude was using their capabilities on the aircraft to scan the road to see if any hostiles were there and we continue to scan the area. Well, we had another system on our aircraft that we can, other ways of finding bad guys and through that other way, there was some bad guys that claimed credit for downing a helicopter and we had an estimate of their position about five miles away from where the helicopter was. So we got that information-

Karla Nelson:  All right. I’d like to ask you how you actually had that information. I’m pretty sure that’s the whole, I can tell you, but then I’d have to kill you kind of thing.

Kevin Nothstine:  Yeah. There’s some things that we can’t talk about it here. So we have this information and said, okay, let’s send that down to Dark Knight. So we called him up. Dark Knight. This is Freedom. We have a central hostiles five miles away at this location that are claiming credit for getting the helicopter. And the very next radio call from Dark Knight, he called his but his buddy Dude and said, “Dude, did you hear that?”

Karla Nelson:  Dude said dude. No, I’m just … That’s a really funny call sign.

Kevin Nothstine:  Yeah, and the Dude, they responded with, “Yeah.” That all of them are just pretty incredulous at the information and what we could bring to them and what we could give to them. And it really did highlight the fact that, while even though they didn’t know who we were, and when we first got on frequency, he was of a mindset of, I don’t know why you’re here. I don’t know what you can do for me. I don’t know who you are. In our communication, all we were doing was transferring information that was pertinent, but is exactly what they needed and when they needed it and the way we’re transferring it to them, we affected that relationship. And internally I was teaching my sensor operative how we needed to do the mission better and how we can communicate with our client.

Dark Knight was our client down on the ground and we’re able to give him the information they need and following the concept of just give, give, give, give and continue to give and do that to our direct client. Now, word from that client and if we continue to operate in the same mindset or the course of a couple months and over time the units on the ground, they started to really request us. When they were doing their operations they were talking-

Karla Nelson:  They’re like, hell yeah. I want those guys overhead giving me that good data and information that are going to totally support the boots on the ground because they’re obviously on the ground. You guys are in the sky.

Kevin Nothstine:  Yup. So we really did apply that time. When you communicate, you’re transferring information, but you’re also affecting the relationship and we were able to see a really good outcome. Now, of course there’s, sometimes you can have negative outcomes but you’re always going to affect the relationship even in a positive and a negative way. And if you realize that, then you can have a lot more times that you were affecting the relationship between you and who you communicate with, whether that’s the people on your team or your clients or your channel partners. If you are aware of the fact that every time you communicate with them, you are going to affect the relationship, then you can try and manage that communication to ensure that you are making it a better relationship.

Karla Nelson:  I love that from so many different aspects. First the team, right, because we’re only as good as the team that we work with. And then your clients as in this example, was the army and the boots on the ground. However, in business, my goodness, every aspect of business that we engage in, we’re communicating right. And I love the fact that how can we give, how can we do more? How can we speak more to the challenge that they are facing. So I really love that. That’s fantastic and completely bleeds into business except for the whole getting shot and things like that. Bombs and stuff like that, but outside of that, there’s a complete metaphor for one to the other. So, well, thank you so much again, Kevin, for joining us as we wrap up this series of Cleared for Takeoff. We really appreciate your time and sharing your journey and how everything that you needed to know about business, you learned in pilot training.

Kevin Nothstine:  Thank you very much Karla. It’s been a great time.


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