The Four Types of Technical (Over)Communicators

I just stumbled across something I wrote a long time ago and, if you'll pardon the hubris, I think it's probably one of the single most important things I've written.

Communication is more than just saying words that are technically correct.

For technically minded people who tend to use extremely technical terms to people who may be less technically minded, I find that there are four reasons for this:

  1. They're oblivious.
  2. They're trying to bluster their way through something they don't understand.
  3. They're trying to be overly precise.
  4. They're trying to say something other than what they're saying.

For those who are oblivious, I feel bad for them. They often genuinely fail to realize that they're boring the other person to tears. They don't appreciate other's viewpoints and sometimes think the other person is "stupid" because they can't remember the difference between OpenBSD and FreeBSD. Barring an epiphany on their part (and possibly very supportive friends who will help let them know when they're doing this), there's not much which can be done for them. They fail to communicate because they don't know their audience. (If you're not technically minded, ask me to describe "traits" at some point. I can probably do it in a way you sort of understand even though it's such a new software practice that many programmers don't understand it.)

The blusterers are simply offensive. These are the people who simply won't admit to not knowing something. They often use bluster to impress others without realizing that, with a few exceptions, they fail miserably. They fail to communicate because they offend or annoy their audience. Blusterers are often very easy to spot.

Being overly precise was my great failing for a long time. I still have this problem and need to rein it in. Even if my target audience understands what I'm saying, I often find that by filling in too much detail, my audience either can't remember everything I said or they seize on a minor point which distracts from what I was actually trying to communicate. People with this problem fail to communicate because their audience can't remember the main point or get distracted from it. One does not sip from a fire hose.

For those who are trying to communicate something other than what they're saying, it's dangerous. Sometimes they're trying to intimidate those they are talking to. Sometimes it's a strategy to deliberately put off those who they are talking to. Sometimes they're just playing politics. Regardless of their reasons, they're dangerous. Those who say one thing and mean another, unless it's explicitly made clear that they're using a parable or something similar, are simply duplicitous. Once this tendency is recognized, they fail to communicate because they can't be trusted.

With all due respect to my technically-minded friends, sometimes we're a pain in the ass to be around.

"Communication is more than just saying words that are technically correct."

That is fantastic!

:coughcough: Cedric :coughcough:
True dat. Being the "sandwich person" in my job duties (being the interface between the engineers and the customer base), a lot of my job entails that I translate engineer-speak into custy-understandable terms, and also translating these two languages the other way. Ugh.

Alas, that's one of the reasons why I make $100 per paycheck playing the role of the Lead Worker. I just need to make sure that things do not get Lost In Translation.... ;)
You Missed One
You missed the most important one - those for whom tech speak comes to them just like any other English words. Tech speak is just a bunch of new words that you know the meaning of. This is exactly the same for those of any trade, indeed those whom have any hobby that isn't mainstream. If a car mechanic started telling me the ins and outs of the engine, I wouldn't have a clue. It's another language. The vast majority of speakers of it don't think the listener is "stupid", they aren't trying to "bluster their way through something they don't understand", they aren't trying to be overly precise, and they're not trying to say something other than what they're saying. They're just speaking naturally.

Just because someone else doesn't understand what someone is talking about, doesn't mean there is a malicious meaning behind it.
Re: You Missed One
Note that nothing you've written precludes "being oblivious". If the car mechanic is explaining to you what's going on and she's going into such great detail that you don't know if it's a serious problem with your car or not, then that mechanic hasn't communicated to you. If that mechanic can break things down in such a way that you understand, then the mechanic has communicated with you. In the case of the mechanic, they're likely explaining something that you have to decided "yes" or "no" on. If you don't know what they said, then even if they're speaking naturally, they fall into one of the four categories above.

People ask what I do for a living and I usually say something like "I work with computers" or "I'm a computer programmer." I used to automatically give a longer answer, but frankly, people don't care. If they do care, they'll ask more and that's fine.

Finally, the example I often use to explain this is an ex-coworker who, when our accountants would call up and ask where the reports were would say something like "we got a SOC7 in GLJ0030R and need to reload the dataset and start from the top."

Technically, that's correct, but it's also useless to the accountants who would alternate between pissed off and intimidated by this guy. That's not communicating.
Re: You Missed One
I usually say something like "I work with computers"

That is my response as well. One woman responded with "Oh, what, you don't think I'm smart enough to tell me what you really do?!" So, I started to tell her some more details, and she said "Oh, well I don't want to hear about *that*."

This is why I like routers more than people.
My day. Encapsulated.

By the way, my CV says my name, then "Technical Communicator."
I had written up a 6,000 word reply on why you're misinformed, but seem to have misplaced it.
Re: *applauds*
Looks great! At the bottom of the page it reads "page 1 of 2", but there's no link to the second page.
Re: *applauds*
Hmmm.... I think this is a quirk of google-docs converting a MS word file. Its complete!
I even have problems with this when playing hockey. I'm new to the sport (only been playing about 18 months) and a lot of the guys I play with have been playing for years or have had actual coaches. So when I ask them a question, they just say "play the point" or "cover the pass" or "don't screen the goalie". Well, WTF do you want me to do, exactly?

One guy who was playing in the Elite division actually pulled me aside and showed me what he was talking about and explained the reasoning, and that helped more than all the BS that people shout from the bench.

So it's pretty funny when they complain about "geek speak" and I can't understand them either :o)