Defining Objectives in Behavioral Terms

Defining Objectives in Behavioral Terms

Who among us hasn’t experienced some type of communication problem during flight training? I worry every time I ask a student to put the airplane on the numbers when landing. What if he heads for the airport elevation painted on the taxiway? No longer do I request that a student keep his head out of the cockpit. You can lose a toupee that way.

Yes, communication is a fragile event. But flight instructors can communicate better by following one simple rule: Always state your objectives in behavioral terms.

For instance, suppose you told your student to be “smooth” with the flight controls. What do you mean by smooth? This is a command having many shades of meaning. It probably means one thing to a jackhammer technician and something entirely different to a bomb disposal expert. Let’s identify this objective in behavioral terms.

You can define “smooth with the flight controls” by referring to how fast the controls move in centimeters per second. You can define it by the amount of pressure applied to the controls at any one time. You can also define it by suggesting a rate at which the airplane changes its pitch or bank in degrees per second.

You’ll find some objectives difficult to describe verbally. When this happens, identify the objectives by demonstrating the behavior you expect. Show your students what it’s like to manipulate the flight controls smoothly. Demonstrating control movements that aren’t smooth also helps them understand the objective.

Several months ago I overheard an instructor yelling at his student while giving him simulator instruction at a local flight school. “Altitude, altitude,” barked the instructor, “for Pete’s sake, maintain your altitude.” At first, I thought the flight school was making their coffee a little too strong. Apparently not. This flight instructor’s frustration was born out of his inability to communicate effectively. He wasn’t defining his objectives in behavioral terms.

He could have solved the problem by saying, “Bob, lower your pitch attitude by two degrees and increase power to 2,200 RPM.” Since the instructor wasn’t inclined to say this, I helped him. I peeked over the cubicle and said it myself. (There are some things you just can’t resist as a flight instructor.)

Practice defining your objectives in behavioral terms. This helps minimize some, but not all, of the most common communication problems. I can’t guarantee a student wont dig their heals into the floorboard and push back in their seat when you say, “Back pressure, back pressure.” But I can guarantee that it’s less likely to happen.

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