The Human Factor Makes Us Great Communicators


The human factor is still crucial for success in everything we do. That was my key take-away from the just-released movie, Sully. The movie portrays the famous “Miracle on the Hudson” water landing performed by US Airways Capt. Chesley Sullenberger on Jan. 15, 2009. It was the experiences and emotions of a lifetime — from his training flights in a biplane as a young man to landing a crippled F-4 Phantom as an Air Force pilot — that caused Sully to make the decision to land in the Hudson River.

My experiences caused a flood of emotions to overtake me as I watched the story unfold — good, sad, happy, bad.

Good: I helped develop some of the crisis communication processes and tools at America West Airlines that were used on 9/11 and most likely put to use eight years later in the immediate aftermath of Sully’s miraculous landing. America West acquired US Airways in 2005 and took their name and merged with American Airlines in 2015. Doug Parker, the CEO I worked with at America West, is now the Chairman of American Airlines. America West was present in Sully, at least to those in the know. The old America West radio callsign, CACTUS, was carried over to US Airways and was heard in the movie and the America West logo was shown on the forward door of Sully’s A320 aircraft just as it actually was.

Sad: I was reminded of my oldest son’s death, which was four years ago this Friday. He took his own life the night before his final test to become a pilot. His dream had been to be a commercial pilot.

Happy: It was great to watch an uplifting movie on Sept. 11 about all of the heroes of Flight 1549 — Capt. Sully, First Officer Jeffrey Skiles, the flight attendants, the air traffic controllers, the ferry boats operators, and the New York City fire and police departments.

Bad: Everyone in the theatre of course knew how the story would end. But the film kept our attention as it took us on a journey through the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation that at times seemed to be a witch hunt. The NTSB questioned Capt. Sully’s decision. The electronic data indicated that the aircraft still had one operable engine. It was later proven to be wrong. Flight simulators indicated that Capt. Sully could have landed the aircraft safely at an airport. That assertion also was eventually shown to be false.

When it came down to it, a gut feeling saved the 155 souls on board Flight 1549. It was the human factor.

Few if any of us will ever face a decision comparable to what Capt. Sully faced. But in this age of communication chatterbots, information algorithms, and data analysis, it’s important to remember the human factor and how it impacts our work and our personal lives.

There’s no doubt that technology helps to make us good communicators and live better lives. But it is the human factor that helps makes us great communicators and better people.

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Marginalia: Future of Work Magazine

HR for Humans (podcast)


Judith Jones

about 5 years ago

Loved this! Yes, let's keep in the human factor. So important! With all of the systems, automations and technology we forget that simple human connection makes the difference.

Mark Hudson

about 5 years ago

As someone who has been engaged in communication responses during periods of crisis it was refreshing to here your perspective. I often seek to put a human face on the communications activities I engage in. Some issues are more open to that approach than others however they all benefit from it.

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