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CFI to CFI

Where Mars meets Venus

Adjust your training style to the student

It's been said that that the two sexes communicate so differently that we could be from different planets. In the airspace where Mars meets Venus, "she-said, he-heard" situations can lead to miscommunication, even in the cockpit. I experienced this some years ago as a freshly minted flight instructor.

As Joe's CFI, I never had to simulate an emergency in his airplane. On this night, the engine quit after Joe reduced power for descent over the outer marker. I stretched desperately across the wide cockpit of the Rockwell 114, supported my elbow on the seat between his legs, and turned the key as I attempted a restart.

He slid his hand from my waist to my hip. "Not now," he half-whispered.

"Why not now?" I asked, somewhat distracted. I thought that we might be able to glide to the runway, but I didn't want to take the chance. Joe was under the hood. Expecting the descent and wearing a well-muffling headset, he didn't realize that the engine had died. I assumed he understood our situation.

The tires squeaked as we touched down. The green light occasionally filling the silent cockpit was dimmed by Joe's blushed face. It took some discussion to understand both perspectives of what was happening in the cockpit. That was the night I found out that men think differently than women.

Communication can be improved when the instructor changes delivery and demeanor based on the student's background and learning style. It's also appropriate to consider gender when approaching a training style.

I've found that, in general, women appreciate hearing "please" and "thank you" more. If you are male, instructing a female student, make eye contact while talking and avoid interrupting when she speaks. If you are a female instructing a male student, ask for his input and allow him to explain concepts to you. Generally, men appreciate challenge and competition.

Ed wanted an instrument rating and hoped to fly with the school's senior instructor. Instead, he got me. He was absolutely opposed to my being female and younger than his daughter. He demanded a "crusty" instructor who could and would push him to his limit.

I wasn't happy either. This man was a grizzled World War II ace pilot who yanked and banked, slamming the yoke without finesse. He would fly and cuss with an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips.

I worked extra hard on Ed's lesson plans, finding small ways to add challenge as soon as he was ready to go to the next step in learning. The lesson on partial-panel vertical speed proved to be Ed's limit.

His concentration was deep into the instrument scan. He was working so hard that perspiration dripped from beneath the hood. Suddenly, without warning, his cussing reached new heights in both volume and syllables. The man insulted my mother -- and I was thrilled!

I felt validated that Ed no longer considered me a genteel female but accepted me as a bona fide professional who could and would push him to be good. He needed the challenge to feel a sense of accomplishment.

Another sensitive area in student/ instructor communications occurs when a young and possibly inexperienced instructor is expected to confidently handle a vastly more mature icon of aviation. The key to success for the instructor is confidence in the task to be completed, and a delivery heaped in respect.

As a retiring L-1011 captain, Cliff had spent the past four decades criss-crossing the Atlantic. He was requesting a flight review in a Cessna 172.

After searching for a unique instructor who would not be intimidated by his credentials, he thought he'd found one, but he was taken aback by my robust estimate of 20 hours to complete the review. Again, more challenges about my young age, lack of experience, and gender.

I clarified my position: "When was the last time you were alone in a cockpit? When was the last time you checked the forecasts to formulate a weather strategy instead of being handed dispatch information?" A few more examples and he submitted to the full program.

It's not that he didn't have great skills -- they were just different skills. He handed over the mic and ordered, "Get us taxi clearance." I handed the mic back with a comment about single-pilot control.

Flying in the flight levels yields smooth air with great visibility -- flying in the haze at 3,000 feet msl was disturbing to him. Reading sectional charts and juggling classes of airspace were new to Cliff. The first time a bug smashed into the windshield he about jumped out of his skin.

Cliff found much to learn about our side of aviation, but he crossed over to become a safe general aviation pilot -- partly because of his great attitude toward training and partly because I was confidant that the skills being taught were vital to any pilot, regardless of his total hours.

Male and female communication styles influence our cockpit relationships. If you have been feeling as if your customer is from another planet, maybe he or she is.

Arlynn McMahon is chief instructor for Aero-Tech, Inc., a busy flight school with facilities in Lexington and Louisville, Kentucky. She welcomes feedback.

By Arlynn McMahon

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