There's something magic about acronyms. I've written before about a number of reasons we like them, but the short of it is: They help us remember things. For that reason, I've been working on some acronyms to help remember key concepts about communication, and I'd like to introduce one today.
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.
Different people perceive things in different ways. Some people understand things best by hearing them. To explain something to them or persuade them of something, the most important thing is to have a verbal conversation. Others perceive best by reading. I'm in this boat. If you want me to really grok what you're saying, write it down for me. Others have to see something in pictures. My last boss was extremely visual - if you wanted him to understand anything you had to sketch it out. If you don't know what it is for your audience, you can get stuck. So if you feel like you're not getting through, mix it up!
I just published a post drawing out communication lessons specifically for software developers, derived from a podcast episode. There's a lot of great stuff in there, so go check it out, but today I want to draw out one particular lesson in more detail. When you give feedback, include information about the priorities and weights of your feedback.
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.
Why do people love acronyms so much? Why have things like 'WTF' and 'TL;DR' made their way out of "text" culture into things we actually say out loud? And why does it seem like every specialized profession comes with a stack of acronyms so large that conversations between specialists are completely opaque? I think the answer comes back to 2 key aspects for how people perceive information: memory and perspective.
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.
Have you ever had to do some research, an analysis, or a post-mortem and present your conclusions? It's super tempting to structure your presentation to take your audience through the same journey you traveled. Show them the pieces of evidence, one by one. Build up from the evidence to bigger picture ideas. And bring them to a resounding close with the your conclusion. There's just one problem with this: It doesn't work.
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.
The halo effect is a universal human bias that is important to understand to master communication. The effect is simple: If I feel positively about you in one dimension, I will feel positively about you in others. If I think you're attractive, I'm more likely to think you are smart, skilled, and honest.
One of the keys to becoming an effective communicator is to understand the limitations of the person you are speaking or writing to. And one of the limitations that impacts ALL of us is the limit to our short term memory.