February 16, 2024
I used to be a Boy Scout leader. One of the important components of the “Trail to Eagle” is the Communications merit badge. In our troop, we made it the first “required” merit badge taught to the new kids. Yes, ahead of camping, first aid, or even cooking, we worked on communications. Why? We got that question a lot from parents and kids. The answer was always the same: if you cannot communicate you cannot succeed. Mothers in particular were uncomfortable with the requirement that scouts make their own phone calls to other troop members, leaders, and counselors. We held the kids accountable — not their mothers. It saves time and misunderstandings when you contact someone, ask your question, and get your answer without a “middle mom.” It works the same way with delivering bad news; filtering through others does not work. The need for precision communication becomes clear when the troop gathers at two different locations because no one specified which “tree” was “the tree.” I would chuckle getting calls from grown men asking if “their gear” was on the truck. Unless you clarify which gear is “the gear,” no amount of communicating will ensure it gets on the truck. You can see the requirements of the Communications merit badge online if you are curious. A final but important step is teaching a skill to other kids. The true test of subject mastery is passing it on. First you tell them what you are going to tell them. Then you tell them. Finally, you tell them what you told them and field questions. This is when you really find out how well you understand your subject — and how well you are understood. Come to think of it, the Communications merit badge is not bad preparation for presenting an AGMA Fall Technical Meeting paper. Those question-and-answer periods can be brutal for the unprepared. Too bad the Q&As do not get into our online archives.