Developing Communication Clarity
I hadn’t thought of myself as a geek. I’ve been accused of being a bit word obsessive, and I admit I have trouble scaring up opponents for a game of Scrabble. But a geek? Nah! Geeks are computer geniuses who speak techno-babble that is incomprehensible to the rest of us. And they get younger every day. My current go-to tech geek is 11.
The times, they are a changin’. Dictionaries struggle to keep up with the continuous changes to the definition of a word that started out meaning “a crazy carny who bites the heads off chickens”. As technology advanced the word because associated with those who “engage in or discuss computer-related tasks obsessively or with great attention to technical detail”. More recent definitions have gone beyond the tech geek to “a person who is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about a specific subject”.
If geeks are people who are passionate and very knowledgeable about a topic then I guess that makes me a word geek. We all get geeked out about something. Where it becomes a problem is when we try to communicate with someone who is not a geek about our particular subject. Communication breakdowns can occur anytime experts attempt to communicate with non-experts. The breakdown occurs when we assume everyone else shares our level of knowledge.
We all have our own Geek Speak. Lawyers seem to deliberately obfuscate and use forty words where four will do. Doctors maintain the proper distance with the medically uneducated by their liberal use of Latin to describe simple things. I recall my initial shock when our pediatrician told me our son had a severe case of otitis media. My first thought was- he’s speaking Latin, it must be serious and expensive. When he saw the look on my face he hastened to reassure me. “You know. An ear infection.” Silly me. I should have brushed up on my dead languages before our appointment.
Insurance companies, financial institutions, Wi-Fi providers- every industry has its esoteric language. No matter how detailed my super-handyman husband’s instructions are for buying a simple thingie (my non-geek term for all things hardware) at Home Depot, there’s always one more trick question. “With or without the flange?”
I’m also a communications geek. I’ve been teaching geeks how to communicate with non-geeks for over 25 years. When a failure to communicate is not an option, these tips will get you started in the right direction:
Assess the other person’s level of knowledge. Ask questions- good questions- and listen to the answers. We all know how “is it plugged in?” makes us feel. Which leads to…
Skip the sarcasm. It doesn’t make you appear smarter- it makes you seem like an ass. And it makes the recipient feel a bit like she just got her head bitten off.
Avoid jargon and acronyms. It’s amazing how many three-letter, esoteric, pseudo-words we’ve managed to make up for our specialized areas. Along with jargon, they just create a barrier to communication that sometimes seems to be deliberate.
Silence the sigh. It’s not just what we say, it’s how we say it. A sigh conveys exasperation- not a desirable conversation quality. I firmly believed that my GPS was sighing at me just before she intoned, “re-calculating route…re-calculating route…”.
As George Bernard Shaw said, “The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place”. Effective communication only occurs when we can get from “You don’t understand me!” to “Ahhh, you get me!”
What’s your Geek Speak?