Interpersonal Communication Training SPEECH for NASA Employees

Dear Collegues,

Team success depends in large part upon its member’s ability to interact with each other because of the myriad of different personalities involved. Personality assessment tests can be interpreted incorrectly, but those such as the MBTI (Myers-Briggs) do at least allow individuals to learn something about themselves and how a variety of personality types interact. Team members may not be able to or even want to change their personality traits, but learning how to deal with others is an essential part of project management. The following items cover materials on determining individual personality types, interpersonal communication, and how to use such knowledge to improve project and team success.

Human communication has two immutable laws:

1. You are communicating all the time, in your words, tone of voice, actions, dress, your presence and even your absence.

2. You cannot but communicate.

Interpersonal communication is not just a process of sending and receiving messages, but also a process of negotiating meanings, and the meaning you intend is not necessarily the one the audience takes away with them. Furthermore, communication is always complicated by an almost infinite number of factors such as expectations, attitude, prejudice, history, values and beliefs, moods, likes and dislikes, etc. One way of understanding how we interact with other people is to imagine that people are television sets. The various broadcasting channels then represent the different communication channels, or personal styles, that people have. Each person seems to select the channels that suit them best. So, one person may choose a comedy, another a serious drama, another a musical channel, and so on.

When we meet someone, we respond to these personal styles in the same way we might to the TV programme. If we like their particular communication channel, we will expect to get on with them. For example, if both of us prefer a channel that plays old movies, then we will feel we have a lot in common. However, if we adopt different styles, we may not want to interact much. Someone who likes documentaries may not feel comfortable with a colleague who adopts a less serious approach. Someone who selects a comedy channel may think anyone who prefers the news channel is boring. Skilful communicators are the people who have the greatest range of channels available to them. They are quick to identify the channel that someone else is tuned to, and flexible enough to switch quickly to a corresponding channel themselves. In this way, other people find them easier to interact with.

Unskilled communicators tend to stay within a restricted range of channels. They may even be stuck in just one style. They make little attempt to match other people. Instead, they expect other people to change to suit them. This inflexibility limits their effectiveness when dealing with others. Occasionally we meet someone who does not seem to tune in to a channel properly. We pick up conflicting signals, just as when a TV is not properly adjusted. We then find it difficult to know which programme to pay attention to. Or it feels as if there is a lot of interference within the communication.

Communication starts with an idea, a thought or an emotion.The process that takes place when somebody wants to communicate an idea is as follows: the sender translates an idea into symbols and sends a message to the receiver, who decodes the message into information. A very simple process, but in interpersonal communication many things can go wrong. For example: there is little chance that the decoded information corresponds to the original idea if the sender decides to use the Chinese language as symbol for his idea and the receiver does not understand Chinese. Communication can lead to transfer of information when the symbols can be translated, and even then it is still uncertain whether the information corresponds to the original idea. Feedback is necessary to check whether the information is right.

Applicants who meet the basic qualifications are evaluated by discipline panels. Those selected as finalists are screened during a week-long process of personal interviews, thorough medical evaluations, and orientation. The Astronaut Selection Board’s recommendations are based on the applicant’s education, training, and experience as well as unique qualifications and skills. Because several hundred applicants fulfill the requirements, the final selection is based largely on personal interviews. Astronauts are expected to be team players and highly skilled generalists with just the right amount of individuality and self-reliance to be effective crew members.

What is more, Will Schutz designed the new training course to enable participants to experience increased self-awareness and self-esteem. Among the main Course Highlights are:

1) the overarching concepts of Truth and Choice as problem-solving tools for understanding human behavior;

2) the interpersonal behaviors of Inclusion, Control and Openness;

3) the underlying interpersonal feelings of Significance, Competence and Likeability;

4) the behaviors and feeling applied to the self: The Self-concept and Self-esteem;

5) defense Mechanisms;

6) health and Illness: The Mind-Body Connection;

7) team Compatibility and Work Relations (This is where work-teams most benefit);

8) concordant Decision-Making;

9) workshop methodologies include lecturettes, self-assessment instruments, guided imagery, feedback, and nonverbal activities.

Communication is often referred to in the context of good leadership. Little is said about what a good follower is, although good followership is not a given. Good communication is as much a responsibility for employees as it is for bosses. Employees add value to the team by using followership skills to ensure that their potential becomes an active contribution. Assertive communication is such a skill. Assertive communication is essential in good teamwork, it is a means of getting attention and respect from other people without being submissive or aggressive. Submissiveness leads to the “door-mat effect” – people walk over you too easily. Aggressiveness may look successful in the short term, in the longer term, however, you make enemies – people turn their back on you. In other words, assertive communication is communication on both levels: the rational level (the content of our words) and the emotional level (how we feel about it).

Forced readbacks, open pronunciation, slow rate of speech, it all looks so simple. In practice, however, readbacks are time-consuming and slowly articulating wide-open mouths look pretty unnatural. The rule of 80 words per minute is a nice example. Who counts words while sitting in the hot seat? Impossible! But it is possible to train yourself in a rhythm of speech, the rhythm of 80 words per minute. Intensive training, in the ab-initio phase, but also in refresher training, should make these aspects an integral part of the professionalism in the job.

Thank you for your attention.


  1. “The Human Element: Productivity, Self-esteem and the Bottom-Line” – by Will Schutz, 1995.
  2. “Human Factors Module. Interpersonal Communication” – the report of European organisation for the safety of air navigation, 2002.
  3. “Astronaut Selection and Training” – by National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
  4. 4. “Pilot-Controller communication – a human factors perspective” – by S. Baker – in  Contact, the RAF Air Traffic Control Journal, 1996.

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