The quick-witted pilot type

We all come across those quick-witted pilots who are always on top of things. There memory is sharp their knowledge is accurate, there decision making is fast and efficient. On one end, I admire them; on the other I hate them… God I wish I could measure up sometimes! Hum, maybe drinking 2 Redbull’s in a row could help me compete! Anyhow, let’s put my personal desolation aside and talk about the CRM effect of the quick-witted who are unaware of a certain psychological effect.

The more the quick-witted pilot is making swift decisions and showing assertiveness, the less participation from the other.

As you know, sitting behind pilots at work in the simulator or in the flight deck enables a first class point of view. For someone such as me, who takes pleasure in understanding pilot’s interactions, it is a valuable moment. All things being equal there are not only advantages in being a quick-witted pilot. My observations resulted in pointing out strengths and drawbacks of this pilot type.

Since the advantages are pretty obvious, I rather expose the other side of my observations. It all comes down to CRM balance. I find the team work is only as good as the weakest link. If two individuals left-seat or right seat, captain or F/O, Chief pilot or student, senior or junior.. It does not have any incidence on my observations. I am talking about two individuals teaming up to operate a flight.

When the quick-witted pilot interacts with an average colleague, a psychological superiority affects the later one. The average pilot will instantly show a reduction in self esteem, assertiveness and as a result draw back. The more the quick-witted pilot is making swift decisions and showing assertiveness, the less participation from the other. This vicious circle amplifies over time as the average pilot is losing the trust of his partner.

The effect becomes of a quick-witted pilot not trusting the ability of the colleague, therefore performing his own task added to a close watch of the other ones job. In fact, flying an airplane of this sort has a workload for two pilots. The end result is one trying to work two jobs and missing some actions required by his part of the deal, therefore making mistakes in the process. In many instances, the average guy will note the mistakes and expose them of which in turn frustrate the quick-witted. Also, I have observed in many occasions, an average pilot suggesting the absolute good thing to do, but being rejected off hand. 90% of the time, the average pilot will not argue and leave it as is. In the end of the day, the consequence is two individuals not happy about their day and partnership.

For better odds of having a nice day, there are few remedies to this situation. When the crews are extreme opposites it is easy to lessen. When crews are aware of where they fit in the scale, it is easy to mitigate. For instance, if you happen to be the quick-witted one, no need to say anything… simply slow the pace way less than what you are capable of. This way, you will bring the best out of the individual you are working with. Flying an airplane is not a contest between pilots… If you happen to be the one prove it by leaving breathing space and leeway to your partner. Instead of providing answers, ask questions.. What do you think we should do? Do you have a solution to this ? If you happen to know the answer, do not lay it out right away, suggest digging it up, be patient it will bring your partner’s self esteem up and create a joyful working environment. It will bring the best out of the team, I guarantee!

If you happen to be the average pilot, first it would be great to be aware and accept this fact. That is not a given since we all have our own pride. In order to properly set the tone for the day, you may come up with comments like: could you please slow your pace? Or I have a hard time to follow! Even better, acknowledge your partner’s ability and reveal your desire to participate actively.

In conclusion, I am witnessing that the CRM becomes as strong as the weakest link and that person could very well be a quick-witted pilot who does not recognize, respect and adjust to his colleague. Remember, a flight deck is not a place to compete but to complete each other for an enjoyable safe “team work” journey.

Happy flying!

Nicolas Charette

Fond of business quality management, the author of “attitude 80, the book”, makes use of observations and skills developed in his past career has a corporate chief pilot, Boeing 767-300 airline captain and Boeing 737-800 ACP A (approved check pilot) to promote savvy leadership and efficient team work practices.