2 responses to “Not quite shooting from the hip”

  1. ferd

    You’re right, it’s difficult to communicate with people who have backgrounds that are different that yours – especially when it’s the technology / layperson gap. Sometimes giving examples that relate your technology to an everyday experience can work. Sometimes you’ve got to get them to visualize without resorting to an exaggerated Sci-Fi show or video game. I try to keep my sentences short and use small words. I’m not demeaning them – I’m trying not to overwhelm them. Then be prepared to clarify yourself after the results are published. You’ll get better with practice.

    The late Bob Pease told a similar story about how he left Philbrick (or a company with a similar name) because an arrogant VP told Bob that he was stupid because he couldn’t explain technical terms to the VP’s understanding. It proved to be Philbrick’s loss as they folded while Bob’s new employer (National Semiconductor) flourished. If you read Bob’s columns in EDN magazine then you know he could communicate. Probably he got better at it over time. Don’t make it your own responsibility to compensate for others’ ignorance. If they are reporting or managing technical projects then they need to do some homework too.

  2. Vicky

    Hi, sorry only found this blog today, but felt I have to comment here…

    I have a degree in Aerospace Engineering and am currently working as a “support engineer” for a small company making portable (battery powered) equipment. The part of my job I enjoy the most is training the customer in the use of the equipment. This involves explaining the (admittedly simple) equipment to people who don’t typically have English as their first language. I try to talk to them as I would talk to a 10-11 year old – short words, short sentences, massive over-simplification. If they understand, they ask more questions and I can develop the answers. This means that I can judge their English level and their technical understanding at the same time and adjust the courses accordingly. (When doing the layperson-technical “translation”, if you start too difficult, very few people will ever admit to not understanding you, but if you start too simple, the layperson gets the chance to “show off” by demonstrating they have better knowledge/understanding than you gave them credit for….!!) I have never yet been criticised for this approach, and on a number of occasions have been complimented on it, maybe it could work for you?