Communication lessons from Star Trek TNG

George TorokCommunication skills Leave a Comment


Do you remember Star Trek TNG, the TV series about space exploration. It featured Patrick Steward as Jean Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise.

The fiction is only one part of the story. The  setting is a spaceship, yet the individual episodes are often about relationships and communication challenges.

What might we learn about communication while humans attempt to communicate and forge relationships with alien species about the cosmos?


Universal Translator

The first hint at the importance of communication is the universal translator. This is a sophisticated technology that translates alien languages into English. Imagine that. We have hundreds of languages on earth and then we venture into the cosmos to communicate with alien species.

The irony is that even though the universal translator can interpret alien languages it can’t help us understand people speaking the same language. Speaking and understanding the same language isn’t enough for full comprehension because we miscommunicate.


Perspectives and communication challenges


Perspective: Bags of Water

How might others see you? In this episode, the aliens labelled humans as ugly bags of mostly water because that’s what they observed. Humans are about 90% water, therefore they labelled us correctly. We are bags of water and because we looked different from them, we are ugly to them.

They weren’t insulting simply expressing their observations. To any species that is not composed of water, we appear as bags of water.

Are you aware that your perceptions of people who are different from you and how you label them? And do you recognize how they might label you? What are the bags that they see?

analogy how to convey your message


One Moon Circles

This episode is about analogy and understanding what people say when then are in need. The Enterprise becomes trapped in orbit about a planet. Meanwhile, councillor Troy, the empath experiences weird dreams. The images and message of the dreams keep repeating. The image seems to be a planet with a moon in orbit. The words that repeat are “one moon circles”.

The crew of the Enterprise believe there is another ship on the opposite side of the planet that is also trapped and suggesting a way for both to escape the pull of the planet.

The dilemma is – what does the message mean? Enterprise decides that one moon circles refers to hydrogen because it has only one electron circling the nucleus, a curious analogy.

Enterprise realizes that the answer to their escape is to create a gaseous explosion that will propel them away from the planet.

The next dilemma is, “Are they offering hydrogen or asking for it?” Then they realize that a dying man in the desert asks for want he wants – water.

The alien ship is asking for hydrogen. So Enterprise releases a massive amount of hydrogen into the atmosphere while recognizing that they need to send a message to the alien ship that must be simple and clear. Councillor Troy slips into sleep and send the message, Now!

The alien ship releases their gas which produces the explosion that releases both ships from the planet’s gravity.

we communicate with stories



Stories influence us. And the best way to influence others is through stories. Witness the marketing and advertising industry. Notice the prominence of the entertainment industry which is built on story. That includes, movies, TV, sports, music, theatre and books. The speaker learn to tell captivating stories. Leaders leverage anecdotes, analogies and stories to convey their message.

Imagine if we could only communicate indirectly via stories, metaphors and allegorical references.

That’s the way this species communicates. Captain Picard is transported to the planet along with the captain of the other ship to face an electromatic beast together. The hope of the alien species was that the two captains would defeat the beast as a team and hence build a bond between them. The real challenge was how to communicate and trust each other.

While Captain Picard struggles with comprehension, the other captain is mortally wounded by the beast. Despite the death of their captain, the alien crew review the news from captain Picard who has learned to use their stories with grace. A bond of trust is established because of stories.

“Shaka when the walls fell” is their phrase for failure and that is the phrase that Captain Picard uses to deliver the news that their Captain died on the planet.

This episode illustrates the challenge of communicating when the words don’t make sense.

A life time of stories and memories


Picard Lives a Lifetime in 20 Minutes

This is an example of putting your audience into your story, so they understand, feel it and remember – because they’ve been there.

Imagine the challenge of a species who know they will die because their sun is about to go super nova and they have no technology to escape. They don’t have spaces ships to escape.

What can they do? What’s the one thing that people want when they know they are about to die? To be remembered!

The people on this planet wanted to be remembered by future visitors. So, they created a satellite with the ability to convey their storey.

When the Enterprise encountered this satellite, Captain Picard was struck by a beam that placed him in a coma.

During that time, he experienced a lifetime of experience on their planet in their society. He got married, raised children to adulthood and grew old. Through the story immersion, he experienced decades of life on their planet within 20 minutes.

During that time, he also learned to play the flute. That skill stayed with him after the coma. He lived the experience in their society and he had the flute to remind him of that experience.


The best lessons from these alien encounters were that it’s all about how we perceive, connect and communicate with each other.

And stories are a powerful way to convey your messages and memories.

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