Movie B-School: Avoiding communication blunders with Airplane!

3 minute read

If you’ve seen Airplane!, you’ve probably re-watched it a hundred times. The classic slapstick film is full of hilarious one-liners used as a super-secret fan club knock – If you’ve never heard the exchange:

“Surely you can’t be serious.”

“I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.”

…then you are not my people. If you can finish the line, however, we can be friends.

One of the many memorable scenes in the movie features three pilots in the cockpit named Capt. Clarence Oveur, Victor, and Roger, speaking to the control tower on the two-way radio. They are performing their pre-flight check in the utmost confusing way, similar to Abbott & Costello’s legendary “Who’s on First” skit.


There are myriad business lessons that could be pulled from this movie, but we are going to focus on the importance (exemplified by that scene) of communicating clearly and effectively. Airplane! is chocked full of unclear interactions, which facilitates the slapstick nature of the movie. If you’re like most, and do not work in an environment where a comical lack of productivity is enabled, read on for helpful suggestions to grow your communications skills at work.

Movie B-School: Avoiding communication blunders with Airplane! I North by Northwest Boise

1. “Be crisp, clear, and concise”

Thanks to this Forbes article, for the ultimate tip in business communications. This easy-to-remember guideline implores you to always keep your words crisp, clear, and concise to best reach your audience. People are far more receptive to requests when they are straightforward, and not muddled with flowery and unnecessary language.

2. Think before you speak

Whether in written or spoken communications, it’s incredibly important to consider the words and tone you’re using to deliver your message. In order to be clear, unlike our good friend, Capt. Oveur, think about the way your subject will receive what you’re saying. Clarence, Roger, and Victor could have thought about what they were saying before opening their mouths, but then again, we wouldn’t have that scene. Practice on paper, out loud, or to a friend before committing to communications with more at risk.

3. Circle back

If you’re unsure of how your words came off, then check back and make sure it was received to its intention. More importantly, as Inc. points out, keep circling back until you’re both on the same page. Inc. author Peter Cohan advises you not go too overboard, though. “Following up is an art. If you do it too often or too insistently, you may create the opposite outcome from the one you want.”

4. Pave the way for successful interactions down the road

Once you’ve aced these steps, continue to keep them in practice and develop a communications plan for you and your team. As noted, clear and effective interactions are crucial to a team that works smarter, not harder. The Pell Institute provides a great free guide to create a plan, which includes a template and instructions.

(Images via & via)


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About the Author

Stephanie Norell is the Marketing Director for North by Northwest’s Boise office. She loves horror movies and Pinterest, adores the classic film Xanadu, and “enjoys” disseminating her thoughts for trolls to discuss online.


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