Chief's View: Effective communication key to helping people cope with change

Chief Master Sgt. Jackson A. Winsett

Chief Master Sgt. Jackson A. Winsett

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- Have you seen a copy of Air Force Reserve Command's new vision document, "One Air Force, Same Fight ... An Unrivaled Wingman"? If not, you should review it. Copies have been sent to all wing locations; however, it's also available on the AFRC homepage.

It's a great publication, and you need to be fully aware of the mission, purpose, vision and future of the Air Force Reserve. After all, you are a major part of the command. ... you're the unrivaled wingman.

Now let's get down to business. My commentary in the June issue of Citizen Airman introduced some of my beliefs as they relate to leadership. I want to continue that train of thought and talk about change and what you, a supervisor or manager, a leader, should do to assist our members in time of change.

We all know change can be a traumatic event that has far-reaching ramifications on all those directly and indirectly involved. For members of the Air Force Reserve, change can threaten their way of life, and people often react emotionally and behaviorally to that threat. Those reactions are not bad or reflective of a bad attitude; they simply mean that Reservists are normal people, caught in an abnormal situation, with normal human emotions.

As a supervisor or manager, a leader, you commonly want to avoid these types of scenarios. The normal reaction is to not get involved or not want to share uncomfortable information. However, you must get involved in order to ease the transition for your people. You must help them accept their losses, decide what to do next and make a new start.

In addition to easing the pain of change and maintaining mission readiness, supervisors and managers, leaders, must be willing to listen to the members' concerns, work with them to address these concerns, and establish an environment that features open communication and a positive attitude.

Supervisors and managers, leaders, must increase the aperture directed toward recognizing those items for dealing with change, to include: dealing with your own feelings prior to helping anyone else handle theirs; recognizing and understanding how change is emotionally affecting Reservists; focusing on Reservists' reaction, not the solution, because you don't have the solution; encouraging open communication; and being aware of Reservists' emotional needs.

Normally, people in transition act in certain characteristic ways. As a supervisor or manager, a leader, you must observe Reservists' behaviors to identify those who are having difficulty coping. You must look for those people who are focused entirely on themselves; this kind of attitude undermines teamwork.

Remember that change is a major contributor to stress, and members can only deal with so much change or loss at one time. Look for increased absenteeism and conflicts.

I believe resentment can and will cause anger, and sometimes resentful people look for opportunities to achieve a little "payback." This can happen by starting rumors, instigating morale problems, causing property damage or interfering with the mission.

To ensure that you and your people are ready to effectively deal with change, I recommend dealing with issues head-on. Ensure your actions are consistent with guidance from higher headquarters. If not, ask someone for assistance.

Be honest, quick and empathetic. Stop false rumors. Disclose all. Provide advance notice of any upcoming change. Be an ally to our members who are seeking information.

Communicate, communicate and communicate some more. It's critical to the success of our members.