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Talking across great divides

by corenth (Monk)
on Dec 29, 2006 at 07:24 UTC ( #592183=perlmeditation: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??

Some time in the recent past, my wife made a"technical" suggestion to her supervisor.

She wanted to make some cosmetic changes to the web page in order to help "clients" realize that important changes had been made. This was resisted by her supervisor. Why?

Was she a PHB?      No. She is very forward thinking and very intelligent.

Was she closed minded?      Again, no. She does a good job listening and understanding what a person says.

My wife explained to me that she thought that she was speaking a different language from her supervisor. She didn't know how to get her ideas across.

This also happened when she tried to explain how to improve office processes at another job further in the past.

My wife reminds me that she has a tendency to see problems everywhere and to want to fix them. This doesn't lead to friction so much as blank stares.

This is my question(s):

Have you ever encountered a non-PHB induced event such as this?

How is the best way to deal with it?

     Living with it?

     Keeping on working toward your goal(s)?

     Curl up in a fetal position and fall into a great depression?

Maybe the question is:

     How would you talk to someone when you're in very different mindsets or speaking "different languages"?

Thank you :)

------------

$state{tired}?sleep(40):eat($food);

Comment on Talking across great divides
Re: Talking across great divides
by Anonymous Monk on Dec 29, 2006 at 07:50 UTC
    Learn to communicate effectively (take a night class). Then put together a presentation (sales pitch), and test it out on friends or classmates. Revise your presentation, and try it on your boss.
Re: Talking across great divides
by toma (Vicar) on Dec 29, 2006 at 08:11 UTC
    The following comments apply to large organizations.

    Supervisors often take training courses. Often they come back from the course with a binder or a book about what they were supposed to have learned. Perhaps several of these books are laying about the supervisor's office. Read them, and learn the latest jargon.

    If you use this jargon and you get an even more blank stare, it may be that you are working in a hierarchy in which you are not supposed to be a person who comes up with new ideas, or the person you are telling them to has no way to bring them forward. In this case, find the person who is assigned to have new ideas, and tell them what idea you would like them to have next. Figure out how to get what you want out of this process before you use it.

    In some organizations there are very specific requirements and formats for new ideas, and there is extensive review and justification. The process can have a high overhead, and it's not always worthwhile to execute it. For example, the system could have been created by contractors who are gone, and no one is available who can make even trivial changes.

    It should work perfectly the first time! - toma
Re: Talking across great divides
by derby (Abbot) on Dec 29, 2006 at 14:19 UTC

    As someone else who has a tendency to see problems everywhere wants to fix them, it took me a long time to realize that what I see as a problem is not necessarily seen by others as a problem.

    I've had to learn what the biz (loss of money) and marketing (muddling of brand) view as a problem and recast my problem in their vocabulary - and that's easier said than done. As an example, with the cosmetic changes, I would point out reduced help desk calls to the biz or product differentiation (as compared to the competition) to marketing. Now it helps if those things are true and if they're not, well than recognizing it's not really a problem is a good skill too.

    I'm not always successful but I've learned to give away credit for successes and take the blame for failures - that may seem counter intuitive but it's the best way I know to ensure my voice is heard (or at least consulted).

    -derby
Re: Talking across great divides.
by talexb (Canon) on Dec 29, 2006 at 15:51 UTC

    Communication can be a challenge. I think back to the U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who ordered that many decisions for him be put on a single sheet of paper, with two choices at the bottom of the page. That's where he'd check off one of the boxes and initial.

    Think of how some commercials are done: a problem is presented, then the product is introduced that solves the problem. Hooray! Your pitch has to have some of the same elements.

    My friend OP describes it as SPARB:

    • Situation: Describe the existing situation;
    • Problem: Explain what the problem is;
    • Action: What needs to be done (and at what cost);
    • Result: What the result is; and
    • Benefit: How the organization benefits.
    To summarize even further, make it into a Cost/Benefit case study. Something like "Customers are finding ordering from the web site too complicated. We can simplify the process from seven steps down to three steps in two to three days time. Can we build a prototype and show you?"

    I'm guilty of long-windedness, but even I understand that when you're pitching something, it needs to be terse. You have to have half an hour boiled down into half a minute, then be able to expand on the fly. For example, if I'm talking to the CTO, I don't mind presenting a half-baked idea, because he may have some other things on the go that may change what I perceive to be the problem, and therefore my approach to the problem. If I'm talking to the Director of Development, I need to have something much more buttoned-up and ready to go. Know your audience, and tailor your presentation appropriately.

    Alex / talexb / Toronto

    "Groklaw is the open-source mentality applied to legal research" ~ Linus Torvalds

    Updates: Minor typo fix at 1807 Dec. 30, 2006..

      ++talexb on SPARB -- although in most of the orgs I've worked in, I would need to BSPAR!

      -derby

      Hrm, this approach could work better than Ranting, Raving and Carrying on, I think I'll even print myself up a SPARB sign to put up in my majestic cube of fun at $job

      @_=qw; ask f00li5h to appear and remain for a moment of pretend better than a lifetime;;s;;@_[map hex,split'',B204316D8C2A4516DE];;y/05/os/&print;
Re: Talking across great divides
by j3 (Friar) on Dec 29, 2006 at 15:53 UTC
    My wife explained to me that she thought that she was speaking a different language from her supervisor. She didn't know how to get her ideas across.

    Does she have this problem with anyone else?

    I've got a programmer friend who I have a hard time understanding. We've got a similar sense of humor, work on somewhat similar stuff, and talk regularly, but when it comes to technical discussions I often haven't the slightest idea what he's talking about.

    The problem is that some folks talk to you assuming you know various bits of context which you actually don't know. Could be that your wife is doing this.

    If that's not the case, and she's actually a clear communicator, then I don't know the best way to deal with it. You'd think that the best way would be to approach the PHB, explain the "blank stare" experience, and ask to work together on a solution. But, unfortunately due to the nature of PHB's, that might do more harm than good.

Re: Talking across great divides
by wjw (Curate) on Dec 30, 2006 at 00:03 UTC
    Assuming you wife is technical here.. . Talking to a supervisor about any change is like talking to a brick wall. Supervisors are not in charge of change, they are in charge of resisting change. Most supervisors that I have worked for were never, or have not for a long time been technical. Supervisors traditionaly supervise people, not work. So when non-scheduled improvements are suggested, a supervisor thinks 'more work = less time' for scheduled work. The blank stare response is often a crafted response with the intent of making the suggester believe that the suggestion is not understood, when if fact it is easier to feign technical ignorance than it is to explain why a good idea is too hard to justify spending time on. I would suggest going to someone in marketing with the idea.

    I am not criticizing supervisors (though, it may sound like it), just re-iterating what I have learned from those that I have worked around.

    One trick I use to communicate to someone that does not understand me, or appears to not understand me, is to find out (though observation) who they do talk to and understand(and are therefor comfortable with). I will then sell my idea to that individual and ask them to help me sell the idea. This has to be done carefully of course, as such action can be percieved as 'going over the top' or 'around' the person that needs to be sold.

    One other thought sort of related to that, a supervisor is seldom (in my experience) in charge of technical decisions, and have little vested interest in promoting technical improvements if those improvements are not directly related to reducing man hours per unit produced. So if your wife feels strongly about her suggestion, she may want to find someone with a vested interest in her idea.

    There are writing that address these issues from a professional perspecitve. Do a google search on 'Win/Win'. Here is a starter for you Win/Win :-)

    ...the majority is always wrong, and always the last to know about it...

Re: Talking across great divides
by bsdz (Friar) on Dec 30, 2006 at 15:04 UTC
    What drives a commercial entity in this capitalistic world is maximizing profit.

    There are clear advantages to making websites more concise as that may help clients return thus keeping them as valued customers. Often, for various reasons, suggestions such as these get ignored. Sometimes due to a lack of understanding but sometimes due to more emphasis being placed on an area deemed more profitable. What is most interesting is every person's different perspective on where the most benefits can be found. I personally like to keep an open ear out for suggestions since I realise not all the best ideas can come from a single person.

    I might try to get into a person's mindset then describe my suggestion in their language as best as possible. If they still aren't very receptive then there might be an issue.

Re: Talking across great divides
by lin0 (Curate) on Dec 30, 2006 at 16:21 UTC

    Hi corenth,

    How would you talk to someone when you're in very different mindsets or speaking "different languages"?

    That is a very good question that does not have an absolute right or wrong answer. One thing you could do is trying to determine your “social style” (or how you approach your interpersonal interactions) and the “social style”of the person with whom you want to communicate. Some people prefer straight talk with only the facts and details while others prefer to engage in more small talk. Some people state their opinion carefully exerting little pressure for action while others state their opinion strongly exerting more pressure for action. Some people make little eye contact as listeners while others make frequent eye contact. The list of differences go on and on. The importance of knowing the social styles is that by adapting your style to that of others you will facilitate more comfortable interactions.

    A good reference to help you in the quest of better business interactions is the book Guide to Interpersonal Communication by Joan Baney.

    I hope this helps.

    Cheers,

    lin0
Re: Talking across great divides
by corenth (Monk) on Jan 02, 2007 at 22:22 UTC
    First off, thank you for your responses!

    I think that communication problems are probably the
    biggest headaches in most any organization. But we all have
    to sally forth everyday.

    Anyway, I'm going to make sure my wife gets to read
    your responses here.

    Oh, interesting points:

       The organization is small, so communication can
       be personal and far reaching.

       Roadblocks are not placed by unfeeling
       beaurocracies. Instead, decisions are upfront
       and fairly transparent.

    :)

    -----------------------------------

    $state{tired}?sleep(40):eat($food);

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