Can the misunderstanding of a few words literally mean the difference between life and death? They can in the airline business. A number of aviation disasters have been largely attributed to problems in communication .Consider the following:
History’s worst aviation disaster occurred in 1977 at foggy Tenerife in the Canary Islands. The captain of a KLM flight thought the air traffic controller had cleared him to take off. But the controller intended only to give departure instructions. Although the languages spoken between the Dutch KLM captain and the Spanish controller was English, confusion was created by heavy accents and improper terminology .The KLM Boeing 747 hit a Pan Am 747 at full throttle on the runway, killing 583 people
In 1990, Colombian Avianca pilots, after several holding patterns caused by bad weather, told controllers as they neared New York Kennedy Airport that their Boeing 707 was running low on fuel. Controllers hear those words all the time, so they took no special action. While the pilots knew there was a serious problem, they failed to use a key phrase—fuel emergency—which would have obligated controllers to direct the Avianca flight ahead of all others and clear it to land as soon as possible. the people at Kennedy never understood the true nature of the pilots problem. The jet ran out of fuel and crashed 16 miles from Kennedy. Seventy- three people died.
In 1993, Chinese pilots flying a US-built MD-80 tried to land in heavy fog at Urumqi, in northwest China .They were baffled by an audio alarm from the jet’s ground proximity warning system. Just before impact, the cockpit recorder picked up one crew member saying to the other in Chinese .What does pull up mean? The plane hit power lines and crashed, killing 12.
On December 20,1995,American Airlines Flight 965 was approaching the Cali, Colombia, airport. The pilot expected to hear either the words cleared as filed ( meaning follow the flight plan filed before leaving Miami) or cleared direct ( meaning fly straight from where you are to Cali,a slightly different route from the flight plan).But the pilot heard neither. The controller intended to clear4 him as filed but said cleared to Cali. The pilot interpreted that as a direct clearance. When he checked back, the co0ntoller said affirmative .Both were obviously confused .The plane crashed killing 160 people.
In November 1996, there was a mid-air collision near New Delhi of a Saudia 747 and a Kazakhstan Airlines cargo plane .Investigators placed blame for the collision on poor communications between the Kazakh pilot and the Indian air-traffic controller .The crash killed 349 people.
In September 1997, a Garuda Airlines jetliner crashed into a jungle, just 20 miles south of the Medan Airport on the island of Sumatra .All 234 aboard were killed. The cause of this disaster was the pilot and the air traffic controller confusing the words left and right as the plane approached the airport under poor visibility conditions.
The preceding examples tragically illustrate how miscommunication can have deadly consequences
Research indicates that poor communication is probably the most frequently cited source of interpersonal conflict. Because individuals spend nearly 70 % of their waking hours communicating—writing ,reading, speaking, listening—it seems reasonable to conclude that one of the most inhibiting forces to successful group performance is a lack of effective communication.
An idea, no matter how great, is useless ,is useless until it is transmitted and understood by others. Perfect communication ,if there were such a thing, would exist when a thought or an idea was transmitted so that the mental picture perceived by the receiver was exactly the same as that envisioned by the sender. Although elementary in theory ,perfect communication is never achieved in practice, for reasons we shall expand upon later.Before making too many generalizations concerning communication and problems in communicating effectively, we need to review briefly the functions that communication performs and describe the communication process.