Human Skills: Communication

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This Series: Human Skills

How do you communicate?  This question, perhaps more than any other, dictates how successful a person will be in life. As social animals, humans rely on and prize communication skills at or above all others. We elevate great orators to positions of power, and we celebrate beautiful marketing campaigns that communicate clearly.  Despite the fact that every human everywhere uses communication with others on a daily basis, communication is still an area where many people struggle. With developers, this problem can be particularly acute, and yet the complexity of software development is a practice that requires effective communication to work properly. The famous bit, “Who’s on first?” illustrates the challenges of communication well. In this bit, Abbott & Costello discuss baseball. Costello asks Abbott, “Who is on first?” Abbott responds with, “Who is on first.” Costello becomes more and more irate as the two fail to communicate that “Who” is the name of the first baseman. This bit is probably the most famous comedy routine of all time, based on a simple miscommunication between two people, using simple, everyday language.  So, how do we communicate effectively with each other? 

Communication is about ideas

There’s very little point in communicating with someone if you’re not sharing the ideas that you have in your own mind. Communicating with another person means sharing those ideas, and expressing what you think about a particular subject. Effective communication is based on whether or not you coherently and completely express your idea so that another person can take some action based on it, from consideration to concrete steps at implementation. When we work at communicating with others, it can be helpful to repeat back what we heard to someone else, so that we can clarify any points that were not clearly expressed or understood. And practicing active listening, where we focus on what we’re actually hearing, rather than what we will say next, helps in communication. Empathy is also critical here; people express ideas and emotions almost with the same breath, so it’s essential to employ empathy to understand another person’s ideas and their origins.

Communication is about story

Humans are storytellers by nature. We remember story more effectively than we remember anything else. When you hear a story, you’re apt to relate and remember it, and that makes a difference. It’s the reason that Jesus spoke in parables and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave has stood the test of time. As storytellers, we can make points much more effectively by telling a story that relates to our point and drives it home. Good story is authentic and realistic, and connects the listener with themselves in a unique way. They relate to the story, with hope or fear or some other emotion that grounds them in the point of the story.  This is especially true in sales. Storytelling is a key aspect of selling, and making the customer the star of the story is often the key to winning the business. Storytelling is a powerful and persuasive means of communicating with others, and should not be discounted. 

Communication is in everything we produce

Who are we communicating with when we produce code? Are we writing code for the computer? The answer is yes – and no.  Code interacts with the processor and converts commands into electrical impulses that control the output of the computer. We’re communicating with the processor when we write code, to be sure. But that’s not all we’re doing. If it were, we’d all learn how to write in the 1’s and 0’s that the computer understands, and languages wouldn’t exist. When we write code, we’re communicating with other developers. We’re expressing concepts, ideas and principles that are foundational to our practice. This is why clean, clear, coherent code matters: it’s crucial to understanding each other, just as spoken and written communication is key to understanding each other. The same is true when we write. Written communication is about the expression of ideas and concepts, the same as all other forms. An old adage from Blaise Pascal says, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” Take the time to refine, express, clarify and edit your written ideas to distill them down to foundational principles and communicate clearly.

Empathy matters

We have touched on empathy as a core foundational principle in communication, but this idea deserves more consideration than a sentence or two. Empathy is foundational because it underpins communication with others in just about every aspect of what we say and express. We must understand a person’s emotions and feelings in order to effectively communicate. People don’t typically come armed with data and logical arguments when they come to a discussion; they also come with their emotions and feelings about the subject. They can feel fear, anger, joy, happiness, satisfaction, irritation, frustration, and more.  When we learn about another person’s emotions, we can see how they color the person’s expressions and ideas, and we can see the total picture surrounding that person’s intent. This is extremely helpful in persuasion – the art of bringing another person to your position – because it helps us to address both the feelings and the core considerations that they are bringing to the table. It also helps with compromise. We can take advantage of our mutual understanding to reach a shared conclusion.

Communication is key

In every endeavor, communication is key to understanding and being understood by others. Seeking to communicate with others helps us to be social, and helps us to achieve great things. All people seek to be understood. You can help them simply by seeking to understand. 


Abbott & Costello Who’s On First How to Win Friends and Influence People On Writing Well

Brandon Savage is the author of Mastering Object Oriented PHP and Practical Design Patterns in PHP

Posted on 12/14/2021 at 7:54 am
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