Communicate Across Cultures: Lessons Learned Aboard the International Space Station, with Chris Hadfield, Retired Canadian Astronaut and Author, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth.
What is a “cultural difference”? In practice, it comes down to unconscious assumptions about how things are or how they’re supposed to be. Even within a single family, there are cultural differences based on generation, gender, temperament, and more. As the circle widens to other families, cities, states, and nations, these differences multiply. The bigger the differences and the higher the stakes, the more conscious effort is required to communicate effectively and avoid misunderstandings. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the complex international effort required to plan and execute the International Space Station.
High above our heads is the International Space Station. It’s an amazing, complex thing – the most complicated thing we’ve ever built in space and one of the most complex international projects ever conceived and ever completed. But the key word of that is “international.”
Rethink “normal” 重新思考“常规”
It is a place built by people from all around the planet – 15 different countries. And that just sounds sort of theoretical until you start thinking: Different languages. Different measurement systems of units – is it in feet or is it in meters? Different communications – are we using VHF or UHF? Different electrical systems – is it 220? Is it 110? Is it positive ground? Negative ground?
But the most complex problem to deal with is just people who have come from a wildly different cultural background – a completely different sense of what is normal. What do you do on a Friday night? What does “yes” mean? What does “uh huh” mean? What does “tomorrow” mean? What is the day of worship? When do you celebrate a holiday? How do you treat your spouse or your children? How do you treat each other? What is the hierarchy of command? All of those things seem completely clear to you, but you were raised in a specific culture that is actually shared by no one else. If you have brothers or sisters, ask them in detail about some stuff and they will disagree with you. They have a different culture than you do. So imagine if the people you’re flying a spaceship with come from a wildly different part of the world. Trying to find a way to share a sense of purpose so that you can overcome the natural barriers of a difference of culture to do something really difficult – that’s one of the biggest tasks that an astronaut faces.
Speak the listener’s language 说对方能听懂的话
You can start just by learning language. It’s obvious if it’s as discreet as learning English or Russian or Japanese. That’s a clearly defined language. But have someone from Louisiana talk to someone from Brooklyn. They both speak English, but it’s a different language. And if you want to speak clearly and communicate with that person, you have to recognize that the culture with which they interpret the world is absolutely necessary for you to understand if you want to clearly communicate with them. And for me the only real measure of clear communication – and successful communication – is a change of behavior of the listener. If all they did was go, “uh huh”, then you have no understanding of whether they actually comprehended and internalized what is was you were trying to communicate to them. But if you can see that their actions now reflect a different idea, then you can measure whether what you were intending actually got communicated across. Then the loop is complete, and you’ve successfully crossed whatever cultural barrier was there.
So that requires a lot of extra effort. Learning to speak the language, learning to express yourself in a way that is meaningful to the person you’re talking to, and then doing it on a frequent enough basis to be able to see that your message got through, and see that that person is doing what it was that you were talking to them about, seeing a change of behavior so that you know for sure that the two of you are on the same page of this new thing that you’re doing. It’s complex. It’s not natural. It’s difficult, but it’s necessary. And the higher the stakes are – if you’re doing something that is life or death, or doing something that has big financial consequence, then the necessity to communicate effectively and clearly just continues to skyrocket, continues to go up. And it really puts more pressure on your own shoulders to learn to be a good communicator, but also learn to be as sensitive and aware as you possibly can of the people that you’re speaking with. Try to overcome all those natural barriers. Try to accomplish something together no matter where you’re from.
Communicate Across Cultures: Lessons Learned Aboard the International Space Station, with Chris Hadfield, Retired Canadian Astronaut and Author, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
•There are natural barriers to overcome when working with people from different places than you. (E.g. Language, units of measurement, communication systems)
•Oftentimes the most complex problem to deal with is a difference of culture. Ask: What does the other person consider “normal”? What do they do on a Friday night? Do our words have different meanings? Do we have different customs around worship or holidays? Do we have different expectations for our relationships? Do we have a different understanding of hierarchy and command?
•Recognize that you were raised in a specific culture that is shared by no one else.
Speak the listener’s language
•Try learning both the spoken language and the cultural language of the other person. Recognize that you need to understand their culture in order to communicate with them.
•Successful communication is measured by a change of behavior in the listener. Analyze your interactions: Did the other person comprehend and internalize what I said? Do their actions reflect a different idea? Did what I was intending to communicate actually get across?