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My Own Worst Critic?

As we often do, my buddy Tim and I recently spent a satisfying hour of pattern work at a nearby airport in my club's Cessna 172. Afterwards, he and his wife Janine joined my wife Janet and me for dinner at a favorite Italian place.

"I hear it didn't go so well," said Janine as we settled in at our table.

That was news to me. "What do you mean?" I asked.

"You're your own worst critic," explained Tim, referring to my assessment of my soft-field takeoffs and landings. "You're never satisfied with your performance."

It was true that I felt my soft-field work had left a lot of room for improvement, but I hadn't meant to convey dissatisfaction or discouragement.

"I was having a great time," I tried to explain. "It's just that I'm always looking for ways to improve my technique."

I was concerned that I'd left Tim with the wrong impression. Overall, I was very pleased with how the flight had gone. The winds were strong, so I got to play with large crab angles in the pattern and challenging turbulence on final approach. My normal and short-field takeoffs and landings were quite good and I had said as much at the time.

I remembered, however, expressing some momentary frustration as we plunked down on the runway during what was intended to be a soft-field landing. "Aw, hell. That would've been a nose-over on a real soft field. I can't give that more than a 4. With the nose-over potential, I could even call it a zero."

I had intended my comment as an honest assessment of the maneuver and a call to action. I didn't see it as a problem or a reason for despair. I realized, though, that Tim had probably heard it that way and came away with the impression that I was unhappy with myself. What's worse is that Tim seemed to feel discouraged by my words, perhaps projecting himself into my situation.

This was a lesson for me. I need to be very mindful of the words I use when talking about flying, especially with people like Tim who want to learn to fly. This will become all the more important as I work toward becoming a flight instructor.

As I reviewed the experience, I remembered reading an article on crew resource management (CRM) by John King in which he emphasized the importance of using factual, non-critical language when communicating about in-flight performance deviations. For example, if an air carrier's policy is that bank angle may not exceed 25 degrees and the pilot not flying (PNF) notices a bank angle greater than that, he or she is required to note the deviation by saying, "Bank angle exceeds 25 degrees" rather than something like, "Dammit, you're bank's too steep!" The pilot flying (PF) is then required to respond by saying, "Correcting" and reducing the bank angle as appropriate. Using factual, standard phraseology minimizes emotional distraction and keeps the crew's focus on their desired results.

It occurred to me that I could apply this same principle when assessing my own performance. For example, in the case of my plunked soft-field landing attempt, I might have said, "That was too firm for a soft field." I could then have moved on to noting possible corrective actions, for example, "I could try a touch more power during the landing flare."

This discipline will not only help keep me focused on my desired results, it will also more accurately convey my intention to anyone who might be listening.

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