Communication is not always a simple matter. Whenever you have to communicate something of vital importance to your peers or team, it is critical you are all on the same wavelength — you have to KNOW the intended message was received.
An example is during a briefing for an arrest or search. It’s important that everyone clearly understands their role and responsibilities. This is more difficult when dealing with people you haven’t worked with before. But even within a seasoned team, it is easy for miscommunication to occur. We all know of incidents in which a lack of communication or miscommunication led to fatal results.
How do you ensure this doesn’t happen? One of the best things I learned while on SWAT was the value of a ‘brief back.’ It not only was invaluable during every planned SWAT operation, it was also useful in everyday communications.
Preventing (and Fixing) Problems
For those not familiar with it, a brief back is simply having a team member repeat the orders/information after receiving them. For example, a team leader briefing his/her team would have the team members gather around and then specify the duties and responsibilities of each team member prior to an operation.
Rather than assuming everyone was paying attention and understood, or asking if there are any questions, the team leader would then ask each team member, “OK, tell me and the rest of the team what you will be doing.”
When I was on the receiving end and knowing I would have to provide a brief back to the rest of the team, I listened very carefully, organized my thoughts, and repeated my responsibilities. If there was any misunderstanding, it was corrected immediately.
It also benefitted each person to be aware of others’ duties. We heard the tactical plan multiple times. For the person providing the plans, I was confident each member was ready to go.
Everyone knew what vehicle to get in, who was driving, who was responsible for each piece of equipment, any special weapons or equipment needed, their place in the line, entry points, etc.
Don’t Abuse the Brief Back
Obviously, you shouldn’t use the brief back for everyday communications.
Team Leader: “Hey Bob, would you check to make sure the Suburban has a full tank?”
Bob: “Sure, no problem.”
Team Leader: “Okay Bob, now repeat back to me what I just asked you to do.”
It would be insulting and quickly get on people’s nerves. But for something complex, potentially dangerous, and critical, it becomes extremely useful.
Team Leader: “Bob, you’ll be the number six position in the line and responsible for rear security for the entry team. I want you to ride on the passenger side running boards of the blue Suburban, positioned behind Tom. You’ll follow Tom up to the entry point. Take a hooligan tool and ram with you as well as extra sets of flex-cuffs. We’ll be operating on radio channel A6.”
Bob: “I’ll be number six in the line and responsible for...”
This dialogue would be repeated for every member of the team. It’s also beneficial in that a team member may catch something the team leader missed.
“Hey TL, you didn’t mention any spotlights. Do you want those for the perimeter team?”
When planning for something of this importance, your communication can never be too good or too well understood.