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The immortal words of Socrates: I drank what?

What could possibly be misunderstood? It's so simple!

In the 1985 film “Real Genius“, the character played by Val Kilmer quoted the title of this post… or I suppose I am quoting him.

Have you ever been on a project, software or otherwise, where you didn’t realize what you were “drinking?”

In Socrates’ case, it kinda ruined his day. Of course you might ask, “How could he not know it was hemlock?”

Well, I don’t intend to go any further with the Socrates intro, but I hope it caught your attention.

What we have here…

Where I am taking this post is into failures to communicate… for which the movie quote was way too obvious to use.

So back to your project. When I communicate with you, the result is some coordination… though I may not see the coordination in some physical or observable way.

The short and very direct post by Melanie Pinola: “Redefine problems by changing the words you use to describe them” emphasizes the significant differences a single word can make in the way we orient around a simple question. Choosing your words carefully makes a huge difference – in her case it can stimulate difference ways to think about a problem – used ineffectively it could also send the wrong signals to the other person.

Tuning in the receiver

In communicating with you, I signal some meaning that you have to interpret. If you don’t, then I didn’t communicate… as when someone sends you an email request that you never receive. There is no connection, and though your lack of response disappoints them, you have no idea it even happened.

All this talking and asking questions sure makes a guy thirsty...

These missteps occur more often than you think – even if you have some experience recognizing them. The email thing has happened to me before… more than once. I have also made requests of people they didn’t realize I made, and I’ve had requests made of me that I didn’t interpret as requests.

In yesterday’s post, bfmooz and I traded some thinking about communication within the concept of vision. The same fundamentals apply in this case as well – there is no direct line between your brain and mine. They are not connected together, and we cannot “download” information from each other.

All that we can do is make interpretations, and we are stuck with the interpretations we make.  To us they seem to be “right”, and if we don’t think we need clarification (another interpretation) we won’t ask for it.

One strength of agile coaches is their capacity to remember this simple truth about communication – nobody truly hears what  someone else actually says… they only interpret what was said. So we choose our words carefully, we distinguish requirements and specifications from notions that might be more volatile and we set priorities accordingly.

What did you interpret from this post?