The Rest of the Story...Take the Time to Get It!
By Col. Andrea Vinyard, 379th Expeditionary Medical Group
/ Published September 12, 2014
AL UDEID AIR BASE, QATAR -- As a little kid I remember riding in the car with my parents listening to Paul Harvey on the radio. He closed all his stories with the signature catch phrase, "and now you know ... the rest of the story." It always sounded so corny to me and I'd roll my eyes, but as a commander I find myself using that phrase almost every day. The "rest of the story" is what allows us to have the full picture and make the right decisions both personally and professionally.
Effective communication is one of the hardest things we humans do. It's easily overlooked and often taken for granted, but if we can't communicate effectively, situations often get more complicated than required. At work or at home communicating with others is fundamental to everything we do. As deployed forces, we need to be able to talk about difficult topics with our families back home, we need to be able to maintain good relationships with our deployed teammates and host nation partners, and we need to communicate to our superiors and subordinates. Most importantly we need to be able to paint the right picture and tell the whole story to make the mission happen.
As leaders we are programmed to make decisions with the information available and circle back later entrusting our subordinates at the lowest level to take that information and make things happen. As a commander, I often find that the message I think I am providing is diluted or changed by the time it gets to my Airmen who are often 3 to 4 layers removed.
Remember playing the telephone game when you were a little kid? You know, the one where you started off the conversation by saying "Go Air Force, Sink Navy" and by the time it gets back to you the message is "Gophers north, Drink gravy." Now clearly this isn't right, and people might ask for clarification or context. Unfortunately and all too often when it is an actual important message we don't stop and ask questions regardless of how surprising the information is to us.
This works up and down the chain of command. If a shift supervisor comes to a flight chief and explains a personality conflict between two airmen that just doesn't sound right, you can bet there is a "rest of the story." When a flight commander explains new guidance on the base transportation policy that sounds a bit draconian, you can bet there is a "rest of the story."
Effective communication is hard but can be our best weapon. I spend hours each week talking with my airmen and working on how to hone messages so it gets out the right way and doesn't cause confusion. For those of us in leadership positions, putting out clear guidance and making sure our people understand the context can go a long way. Similarly, when bringing something up the chain of command, it's not just enough to bring one or two details, but you need to give your supervisor a sense of the bigger picture. For all of us, if we can provide the rest of the story to someone, it usually spurs a greater dialogue and more questions. If you aren't walking around your organization and providing the rest of the story...who is?