Cultural Issues in Aviation

The over-riding goal of the aviation industry is to operate aircraft safety. In order to do this, individuals must interact in teams continually making decisions. For a team to make competent, correct, efficient decisions, individuals must communicate effectively with one another, understanding each other’s meaning and thus achieving similar goals. Today the aviation industry is indeed a global industry, with people from diverse cultures and backgrounds and individuals of different ages and gender interacting, working either side by side as equals on an equivalent hierarchal footing or as leaders and subordinates. This diversity of individual team members can cause barriers in communication, affecting the interpretation of the communicated meaning and may in turn affect how teams make decisions affecting the safe operation of aircraft.

The Merriam-Webster (2009) online dictionary defines communication as: ‘a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs or behaviour’. Transport Canada (2001) defines communication as: ‘The process of exchanging ideas and information by the use of a common system of verbal and non-verbal signals’. Both therefore define communication as exchanging of information through use of a common system. However exchanging information, with or without using a common system, is only a small part of the entire communication process. The key to communication is for all parties to correctly understand each other as described by Transport Canada (2001):

      ‘Effective communication is being able to communicate your thoughts and feelings in such a way that the other person shares the same meaning you do’.

The key here is to ‘share the same meaning you do’, but this is not as easy as it sounds. Mehrabian and Ferris (1967) explain in an early edition of the Journal of Counselling Psychology that communication does not occur only through spoken or written means...