Interpersonal communication

Control Measure Knowledge

Good interpersonal communication skills are essential for effective incident command; communication is the tool used by commanders to facilitate many aspects of their role. Interpersonal communication skills are used to transfer information between incident commanders and other people. Effective use of these skills will ensure that what is said and emphasised is supported by the way it is said and the body language of the speaker.

Effective communication between incident commanders and others is of primary importance at an incident. The quality of communication moderates the degree to which people communicate, co-operate and co-ordinate with each other.

Effective interpersonal communicators should:

  • Actively listen to others
  • Communicate with clarity and confidence
  • Adopt the most appropriate communication style for the situation
  • Verify information communicated to them to avoid making assumptions
  • Avoid barriers to effective communication
  • Ensure their verbal and non-verbal communication aligns
  • Check for confirmation of understanding

Fire and rescue services should be aware that the culture of their organisation can influence behaviours on and off the incident ground. This may affect the way in which incident commanders communicate with others and the way in which personnel respond.

The manner in which an incident commander communicates may affect the perception of them in terms of their competence, confidence and trustworthiness. This perception can influence the actions and behaviours of others, which may impact on several important aspects of command, including:

  • How information is managed in support of incident commanders
  • How information is received by others
  • The quality and frequency of information that is shared with incident commanders
  • The transfer of command
  • The extent of personal, team and organisational learning from incident reviews

Fire and rescue services should reference the important characteristics of effective interpersonal communicators in relevant policies.

Communication can be a direct one-way process such as an order, which may need to convey a sense of urgency. Communication can be a simple two-way process that involves an exchange of information; effective interpersonal communication skills can be used to ensure that the information received has also been understood, by using active listening and confirmatory questions.

When transferring command, briefing or debriefing, incident commanders should communicate clearly and concisely, following a recognised structure. This assists others, including personnel, command support functions, fire control rooms and other agencies, to engage, follow and understand the information and to identify when something may have been inadvertently omitted.

Commanders should check the other person’s understanding of important communications to ensure there is a shared understanding of the information.

Further information may be found in Incident command: Knowledge, skills and competence: Interpersonal communication.

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