There's a tricky thing that comes up a lot when having conversations and talking about something you do - finding the right level of context for the listener. A simple example that happened to me just last week: talking with a new coworker about where we live. I started simply by stating the city I live in... to which he responded, "Oh, me too... Where?" Next I mentioned the rough neighborhood, to which I got an increasingly amused "Me too... where?" By the time we got down to street level, we were comparing notes on neighborhood amenities and generally having a great conversation.
I owe you an apology - This last week I failed in my commitment to you to send you a tip every weekday. And worse, I didn't let you know anything about why. Yes, I was sick and recovering from an illness, but that is no excuse. And it's not really the reason.
I was reading The Manager's Path by Camille Fournier and found this gem on page 111: 'Saying no to your boss rarely looks like a simple "no" when you're a manager. Instead, it looks like the "yes, and" technique of improvisational comedy. "Yes, we can do that project, and all we will need to do is delay the start of this other project that is currently on the roadmap". Responding with positivity while still articulating the boundaries of reality will get you into the major leagues of senior leadership.'
I've written a few updates recently that have talked about exploring different types of communication. I've talked about mixing up modes, between speaking, writing, add sketching. I've talked about acronyms, and how they can help specialists communicate faster and in more depth. I've talked about creating shared language between specializations. What all of these have in common is they involve communicating about how we communicate.
Jerod, Feross, Divya and I recently had a conversation about communication skills for software developers on JSParty #93. This is a topic that has come up a lot on JSParty, so it was great to do a whole episode focused on tips and best practices, and the results were too good to leave buried in a show transcript so I thought I'd pull them out into an article.
One of the challenging things about communication skills at work, particularly in creative jobs like design or software engineering, is that we're frequently bridging between different areas of specialization. Which means that we often use the same words to mean very different things.
What's the point of small talk? Why spend time at the beginning of a meeting talking about the weather, or the weekend, or something else? And why do some conversations dance around the point so much as to almost seem like the participants aren't focused on the outcome? The reason is simple: Direct outcomes are only one layer of conversation, building or maintaining a relationship is another.
Let's talk a little more about the origin of the 'hard skills / soft skills' classification system.
One of my biggest pet peeves is the description of skills like leadership, communication, and collaboration as "soft skills".
Have you ever tried to convince someone of something and they looked at you like you were crazy? Or had someone try to explain something to _you_ that was so full of buzz words that you couldn't understand a word they were saying? The problem is one of perspective.
When listening to someone say something that you disagree with, it's super common to start thinking about how you're going to respond. This is a mistake.
Language is so imprecise a tool for communicating. We're trying to get ideas across, but all we have are words that imperfectly represent those ideas.