Tag Archives: communication

Over communicating

I once had a college class where the instructor was in the process of writing a text book for the class. So we were being taught out of photocopies of the draft textbook. It wasn’t a very good class.

It wasn’t that he wasn’t a good writer. He was. The previous semester I’d had a great class using one of his text books. But it was taught by a different professor. There were some places that the text made a lot of sense to me, and some places where the different approach of the non-author professor made far more sense. With two points of view it’s about synthesizing an understanding. If something from the book didn’t really stick, something from in class might. And each aha moment made everything you’d read or heard before make a bit more sense.

I was reminded of this this morning reading through some technical documentation that was light on content and heavy on references. It was written that way so as to not repeat itself (oh, this part is explained over her instead). And while that may make sense to the authors, it doesn’t make for an easy on ramp for people trying to learn.

It’s fine to over communicate. It’s good to say the same thing a few different ways over the course of a document, and even be repetitive at times. Because human brains aren’t disk drives, we don’t fully load everything into working memory, and then we’re there. We pick up small bits of understanding in every pass. We slowly build a mental approximation of what’s there. And people have different experiences that resonate with them, and that make more sense to them.

There isn’t one true way to explain topics. So, when in doubt, over communicate.


Why Context is Important

Recently at work I got a question about tools that our project uses. I get these sorts of questions at various times somewhat regularly for a number of reasons. As a responsible answering party I asked what the context of the question was. And, this time got no response, which means that my answer was probably crap.

When someone asks you to explain the context of your question, they could very well be saying “go away, I don’t want to deal with you”. But just as frequently they could actually be trying to communicate with you and give you an answer that they know you’ll get something out of. A snap answer is almost always wrong because the context and head space you came up with your question is going to be an entirely different head space that the person you are asking has been in all day/week/month or even forever. Communication, real communication, not waiting for your turn to speak, is what happens when two or more people extend their frame of reference to try to overlap so they can actually see what’s going on in the other’s head.

It frustrates me to give a useless, or worse, a bad answer because I couldn’t draw out more information about the question. Fortunately it happens rarely enough that I still get riled up about it, like today.