www.geoffmitchell.com

Be Clear

In a recent conversation with a co-worker, I made a reference to having seen a mutual friend going somewhere. The statement was along the lines of “I saw Bill going for Donuts”. And then our conversation continued along other lines. A few days later, that same co-worker commented “I thought you said you saw Bill going for Donuts, but when I saw him shortly after that, he had been off-campus and had to rush back.” After sharing a little more details, we realized that my seeing him walking off-campus towards the donut shop resulted in my assumption that he was headed there, while my co-workers assumption was base on an expectation that the donuts were on campus.

I raise this point because frequently find myself struggling to ensure that statements I make are accurate, clear and concise. Yet I seldom succeed. And I also struggle with ambiguities in statements that are made to me, the specifics and details of which can dictate my actions and conclusions.

Here’s a classic example, one my wife knows all to well, and has learned to take in stride (somewhat) after many years of being married to an engineer. The question “Is it cold outside” is like nails on a chalk board to me. Why? Because ‘cold’ is relative. Cold, to me, might not be cold to you. And I’ve been on both sides of the coin in regards to answering that question or acting on it’s answer, only to find myself being told “You said it wasn’t cold… I’m freezing” or to find myself sweating in a coat because it’s not that cold to me. I find myself cringing when somebody says something like “I know we should have it 5 days after they deliver the software to QA and 10 days after they sign off in legal… do you know if they’re on track?”, when “they” is not defined, and could be legal, QA or even the team delivering the software.

I know it’s picky, and I know that people tend to generally expect or apply some sort of personal subjectivity to questions of this nature, but idiosyncrasy number #231 on my DSM4 assessment indicates an obsessive desire to be compulsively literal, while my actions and practices fail to support these needs within my daily routines, resulting in the sporadic bingeing on high-fat foods, turrets when driving, run on sentences and failure to appropriately capitalize the letter ‘i’.”

My own over-the-top perspective aside, there’s still a strong need and case for clarity in communications. Perhaps it need not be taken to the “nervous twitch” level I take it. I needn’t feel compelled to respond to opinion based questions about the weather, a movie review, or praise of a restaurant with the knee-jerk Dennis Miller disclaimer of “…that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong”, but I do try and make a conscious effort to say things like “It’s not to cold to me”, “I enjoyed that movie” or “I don’t care for the food there myself”, instead of “hell yah, it’s freezing”, “That was the best movie ever”, or “that restaurant sucks!”. When it’s subjective or an opinion, people should state it as such.

It harkens back to Ken Braly, and the two words: “Be Clear”. Ken and I worked at Apple in the early 90’s and we were in the same organization, and occasionally the same meetings, but we didn’t have daily interactions. It was not until I left Apple and joined Muze Productions that I worked closely with Ken, and was introduced to his practice, philosophy, and even his personalized license plate, of being clear. At the time, I was less obsessive about clarity, and I can recall many a discussion in which I’d ramble in circles around a point as he patiently waited for me to get to it. And today, at least once a week, I find myself remembering that license plate and the point behind it.

And there are even times I question if it’s a good thing.

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Written by gsm

02/06/2007 at 9:58 am

Posted in  Journal 

2 Responses

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  1. “Is it cold outside?”

    Hmm. I seem to recall asking that alot when you came by my house on the way to Hyde.
    I guess THAT’S when the seeds of discontent were sown.

    MC

    02/06/2007 at 10:43 am

  2. Thank God this post was about your linguistic anxieties. For a second I was afraid you’d started parroting something out of Dianetics.

    I’d have to shoot you in that event, you understand. A regrettable but necessary action.

    The Cubelodyte

    02/09/2007 at 1:08 pm


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