For engineers the matter is rather simple because they can follow the technical process of communication in which a transmitter is sending out signals that are then picked up by a receiver. What counts is that the signal-to-noise ratio is within an acceptable range. However, people are more complicated as for them, signal and noise are just relative concepts.
How do we communicate?
The signals which people send out while interacting with others can be completely overlooked or misunderstood, and this applies to all forms of communication e.g. body language or spoken words. Unlike technical instruments, people are unable to instantly convey information to each other – they first need to construct the meaning in their mind.
Everyone needs first to construct, test and anticipate the meaning the other might intend. Summed up, human communication is the process of influencing a human to create thoughts and actions that are consistent with the sender’s intent. Hence, people of the same culture and/ or experience can share meaning faster because the signals are shared in a common context of common values, beliefs and concepts. This setup allows increased speed and bandwidth.
The famous scientist G. H. Hofstede conducted studies into the communication practices of more than 50 different cultures. He found nine major differences in their approaches. Here are four:
• Power-Distance: Employees in France and Japan seldom seek to consult with their bosses, while employees in Denmark and the UK are not afraid of contradicting or approaching them.
• Risk Acceptance vs Uncertainty Avoidance: Risk averse cultures like Germany or Panama welcome rules and precision. Risk tolerant nations like the USA and Philippines are comfortable with innovations and living every day as it comes.
• Masculinity vs Femininity: Some cultures tend to be more aggressive, competitive and separate facts and feelings, while other cultures place higher value in passiveness and consensus.
• Individualism vs Collectivism: Speaking one’s mind and being independent is highly valued in the US and Denmark. Nations like the Philippines and Greece value harmony and group identity, such cultures say or write little, as information is assumed to be within the context of the person.
Many misunderstandings arise because people are not always aware of the possibility of interpreting the same signal in various ways, furthermore within a team everyone need to recognize the context of the greater purpose.
Think about it this way, communication is needed as people see the world differently, but with enough in common to understand each other’s signals. If people would share identical experiences and knowledge then no communication would be necessary. On the other hand, without similarities there is no starting point to explore the differences.
Mentally putting ourselves into the place of the message receiver helps to construct the message we like to send. It is easier then to consider mood, experience, culture and context.
Is communication failure a problem?
Communication failure is a critical problem. The study “The Human Element” by the UK MCA points out that this is the main feature in more than 25% of all accidents.
• The Australian aviation industry reports that communication issues account for 20% of accidents.
• Miscommunication causes 30% of small aircraft incidents in the USA.
• Communication failures kill US patients twice as frequently as bad medical skills.
Humans form their own individual view of things from available information, which is therefore unique. The difference between the unique perspectives are the source of misunderstandings when dialogs are omitted.
We must allow dialog to happen before we have the chance to send and receive signals. Crews and groups therefore need a culture that allows requests and is sharing. Other factors that inhibit a successful communication like lack of media skills, not identifying important information and the lack of cultural knowledge or social skill may arise and should be taken care of by the company.
To train crew and officers is a high priority and requires open and efficient communication in which people do not have to rely on unspoken information. As a manager, supervisor and officer it is our duty to communicate in a clear manner, to check understanding of orders and to listen carefully, knowing that not everyone may be able to express their meaning well.
Therefore do not assume a message has been received just because it was sent and do not assume no news is good news, a ship without problems has not yet sailed the seven seas.
Source: CODie software products e.K.; (https://codie.com/wp/maritime)