Great learners make great communicators, and sailing really promotes the development of good communication skills. In the work we've done on character strengths with Professor Bill Lucas, communication is defined in two ways…

Communication
1. Give and receive clear feedback
2. Clear speaking; no doubt about what you are trying to say

The importance of giving and, particularly receiving feedback, can be overlooked in how people learn. But think about it like this…

The purpose of feedback is to help you improve. Improving your ability to listen and receive feedback makes you a better communicator. Being a better communicator makes you a better learner. Being a better learner makes you a better sailor.

As their instructor you're a role model for how your OnBoarders learn to communicate. So your own mindset towards feedback can have a huge influence on how they listen to and receive feedback too.

Click on the image below to watch a short video on what being a good OnBoard communicator means

The beauty of feedback is you can choose what to do with it is.

But not everyone listens to or receives feedback well.  Some people have a huge emotional response to feedback and can either interpret any constructive criticism as a negative or personal 'attack' or find even positive feedback embarrassing and uncomfortable, especially if delivered in a group.


These individuals can get defensive, the shutters come down and all channels of communication are cut off. What is actually being said gets lost or dismissed. Yet if feedback can be separated from emotion, it could be a turning point in someone's understanding or ability to improve their execution of a particular skill.

So how can you show your sailors how to learn to listen and use feedback better?

1. Ask the group for feedback on your own performance

Show you're willing to listen to what they have to say and, if you think it's fair and valid, be prepared to act on it. But also be prepared to explain why you haven't acted on it if you choose not to.

Ask them questions like 'What's one thing I could change about my instructing you think would improve the session for you?' You want sailors to get to the point where they ask for feedback themselves so showing them how and what type of questions they could ask invites them to do the same.

2. Give them your full attention

We all know when someone's pretending to listen, but is actually thinking about what to have for tea. If that person can't be bothered to listen to us, why should we listen to them? Your sailors will feel the same about you if your mind's wandering elsewhere when they are trying to tell or ask you something.

If you don't have time to give a sailor your full attention at that moment, acknowledge you would like to hear what they have to say and commit to picking it up with them later. Then make sure you keep your promise.

3. Use conversation openers

Good communication is a two-way dialogue. Yet too often people can feel put on the spot when asked a direct question and, even worse, ashamed if they can't answer it - a guaranteed conversation killer. Using more subtle openers is a good way to coax conversation in the direction you want to take it.

So for example, 'You really looked like you were enjoying that today...' 'It looked to me like you were a bit nervous about gybing…' 'You seemed to have some really good boat speed out there…" They are much more likely to talk about how they feel about what they're doing and where they're up to with progressing their skills.

3. Empathise

We looked in detail at using empathy and emotional intelligence to develop good team players in the last In Your Element here - Creating team players through sailing - how can you do it? But it's definitely worth flagging up again as something you want sailors to develop too if they are going to become better communicators.

4. Actions speak louder than words

You might showcase one set of listening and communication behaviours when talking to the group. But if the kids then see you having a conversation with a colleague where you react negatively to an observation they have made about your session, for example, that sends mixed messages to the sailors.

5. Respect is key

Learning to respect other people's viewpoints, giving them time and space to express their opinions and being able to constructively debate a point without it descending into an argument can be huge in getting better at listening and receiving feedback.

You might not like everything someone is saying, you might not even like them, but don't instantly dismiss what comes out of their mouth. There might be a gold nugget of detail or advice in there you can use and learn from. You don't have to like someone to respect them, but you can listen to them and learn from them.