Speaking the Same Language

Most organizations simply let communications evolve. They think that once they have established a common language and set up a working e-mail, fax, and telephone system nothing but milk and honey will flow. All they have done is put the mechanics in place.

Communication is more about the traffic than the media. Good communication is clear, largely predictable, and systematic, both internally and externally. Although everyone knows this, it's frightening how many of us forget it.

Just because everyone speaks English, don't assume that everyone speaks the same language. There are many Englishes. The standard vocabulary comprises over 880,000 words. The Shakespeares of this world typically use 30,000 in print.

Managers and marketing people rarely use the same vocabulary and idioms as programmers, and vice versa. Each sometimes assumes that this separation in word use conveys some kind of superiority born of exclusive knowledge. However, silence born of bewilderment on the part of the recipient is not the same as understanding.

Always use the vocabulary of the lowest common denominator in your audience so that everyone understands and feels included. In other words, describe everything you possibly can in plain English. If you have to use words exclusive to your specialty, accept that the onus of education rests on you. Explain what the technical word means before you bring it into the conversation. Make sure the other person understands your explanation before you speak further. Gradually, simple bricks of mutual understanding will assemble into long fluent strings and all sides will wonder why there was ever a problem at all.

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