Better communication with captains is not only a captains responsibility

Apr 1, 2014 by Lucy Chabot Reed

Nearly everyone in yachting — from crew and support staff to business people — wonder how to communicate better with yacht captains. We’ve heard them blame a lack of leadership training and poor management skills, but we have to remember: there are two sides to every communication.

Perhaps the key to better communication with yacht captains is to learn to speak captain.

Triton Publisher David Reed and I presented this idea to the morning session of the inaugural Superyacht Summit just before the Palm Beach International Boat show in mid-March and got some great feedback.

After 10 years of hosting captains lunches — bringing together no fewer than 500 captains over that time — I’ve learned a little bit about how they think, how they operate, what makes them tick.

I recruited 10 of them to take a personality test to see if their results would show any patterns. They did.

But first, let me explain the test.

The captains took the DISC personality assessment ( Through a series of questions that ask the participant to describe not only how they feel about different circumstances, but also how they would react, DISC is able to identify patterns in behavior and thoughts that help identify the personality of the person taking the test.

The four types correspond to DISC, giving it its name. D types are dominant and direct; I types are inspiring and interactive; S types are supportive and steady; and C types are cautious and consistent.

Everyone has some of each trait, but most of us (about 80 percent) register high in two types. (Only 5 percent are high in one type, the remaining have three types.)

Consider the four types in a circle, as in the graphic above. The two types at the top of the circle — the Ds and Is — are outgoing; the bottom two — the Ss and Cs — are reserved. The left two types — the Ds and Cs — are task-oriented, while the two types on the right — Is and Ss — are people-oriented.

It’s important to remember that very few people are at the extreme of these descriptions, but rather somewhere on a gradient toward the center.

The DISC analysis considers two parts of a person’s personality: how we are (our natural style) and how we act in our role (our adaptive style). So the results offer two categories for a person, their natural style and their adapted style.

The pattern we found among yacht captains was that they were either naturally D with an adapted style of C (described as D/C), or naturally C with an adapted style D (described as C/D). About half exhibited a second adapted style of S (described as D/CS).

Only one captain registered low on the D style, the most novice captain in our sample. But he was still task-oriented, showing up as a C but with an S adaptive style

What that tell us is that the yacht captains we studied were, without fail, all task-oriented, all having natural styles of D and C. That makes sense when you think about the jobs they are asked to do.

Perhaps even more interesting is that their adaptive styles — the way they have learned to behave in their work environment or relationships — are flipped. The captains we studied have all learned to be more or less outgoing than their natural style.

The interesting thing is that they blend between D and C. So those captains who were naturally outgoing had an adaptive style of being reserved. Those who were naturally reserved have and adaptive style of being outgoing.

What all of this tells us is that yacht captains are task-oriented, and as such, they focus on the task first: the form, function, process, results, data and thoughts.

But captains are also a mix of outgoing and reserved, so this is where crew and business people need to observe and make some deductions about them before deciding how to proceed.

Knowing the likely style of a yacht captain is most powerful when we consider it in relation to ourselves, meaning they are more or less dominant than me, more or less cautious. Then we can adapt your words, actions and tone to connect and communicate faster, more efficiently and more effectively.

There are a few dangers when considering personality styles. The first is that we tend to label people: Capt. Brown is a dominant person. Instead, think of Capt. Brown as having dominant behaviors or that he seems to have a dominant perspective. Those are observations of behavior, not a label of a person.

The danger with labeling is that it steers us to communicating in ways that damage relationships and escalate conflicts, not at all what we want. If we simply observe that Capt. Brown has a dominant perspective, we change our approach to better reach him.

The second danger is assuming you know everything about the person because you know the DISC model. This is just one part of a person. Important parts, too, are their educational background, culture, family and relationship history, and other life experiences. Knowing their DISC does not mean you know them; it just means you have an idea how to approach them and how to communicate with them.

We’ll share more information about just how to do that next month.


About Lucy Chabot Reed

Lucy Chabot Reed is publisher and founding editor of The Triton.

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