Friday, February 26, 2010


In the movie "The Fifth Element" Bruce Willis turns to another character and says, "Lady, I only speak two languages - English and Bad English."

And those are exactly the two languages we all need to speak in order to succeed, whether we're testers, developers, sales people or executives. The first is to ensure that we can communicate our ideas clearly and effectively to our audiences. The second is so we can understand and interpret what our customers, co-workers, and others are saying.

Now understand, when I say Bad English, I'm not referring to people who use dangling modifiers, end sentences with prepositions, or any of the other Grammatical Cardinal Sins that your 10th grade teacher warned you about. I'm refering to the rambling stream of consciousness email messages that some people send; the people who speak only in acronyms; the people who use obscure regional slang. In short, I'm saying you need to speak the language of the people who *can't* communicate effectively, so that you yourself *can*.

If you can read a confusing email message, interpret it correctly, clarify it, and then re-communicate it, you'll be able to help others get their messages across, and you'll be able to get your own messages across more effectively because you'll understand how these people think. How many times during a sales cycle or a development cycle have you seen other people bounce emails back and forth, never quite getting their points across, because they weren't speaking each other's languages? I've seen that more times than I can count, and it's a frustrating experience.

So how do you start becoming an interpreter of Bad English? For starters, you need to understand the context of the user's message. What feature or service are they talking about? Are there keywords in their message that might shed some light on what they're looking to do? Put the message in your own words, using the simplest possible language. Once you've done that, run it by the original sender to make sure you've understood correctly. If they say yes, great. If they say no, they'll elaborate on their situation. Don't worry about getting it right the first time; people will appreciate that you're trying to help them.

There are tons of reference materials out there on how to communicate effectively - just poke around on Amazon. If you want examples of Bad English, just ask your support team to show you the messages they receive every day. It's amazing how little detail or thought people will put into a message that's asking for help. It will show you how your users think, and that will help you communicate more effectively with them.

This same principal applies to any actual language - French and Bad French, Spanish and Bad Spanish, etc. The important thing is that you learn to understand what people are saying, and are able to respond to them. The other piece to this is that you're able to effectively communicate and convey your own ideas. Once you can do that, you're one step farther on the path to success in your field.

No comments:

Post a Comment