Verbal Constipation

Turns out I've got a disease. A bad disease. Well, it's not actually a disease. It's just an anti-diarrhea of the mouth. Think of as verbal constipation. As in you get into to a conversation or argument with someone, and only when it's all over do you actually realize how both of you were wrong and right. To keep running with the constipation theme, something isn't right, but you can't get it out until it's too late. Hmmm…I might have just taken that too far.

Point is, the stuff you wanted to say, you suddenly never got the chance to say. And the stuff you did say was just dumb.

Writing's a little different. Rather than being caught off guard and having conversations getting steered into directions you weren't expecting, you've got the chance to put your thoughts down. Read them over. Find the holes in your logic yourself. Fix them. Find the holes again. Leave 'em, and see whether somebody else catches them.

It's essentially common knowledge that engineers are not good communicators. I'm not sure whether that's true: I think the smartest computer scientist I know is probably the most eloquent and thoughtful communicator I know. To such an extent that not only do I have trouble arguing with him, I sometimes feel dumb just listening to him talk. In addition to his argument being completely clear and well thought out, each word is precise. The second after you've open your mouth to come up with what you thought was a flaw in his point, you realize that he actually covered that angle. Of course, when you really do find the flaws, the work day over, and you won't remember it tomorrow.

I'm pretty sure one of my teachers falls into the same category. Although he's precise in a different manner, a manner that might be more exact, but is significantly drier: his speech maps directly to an equation or mathematical definition. Dull when trying to listen to him for an hour and half lecture; great if you understand a concept and want to pursue it farther.

I'm not sure how these people got to be such effective communicators. Where they born that way? Did it just click once, and they've never turned back? Or have they honed their skills over who knows how many years? I'm also curious if they also realize what they should/shouldn't have said hours later. Or whether they said exactly what they meant, and won't lose any sleep over it. I've read some of their work, and I get the hunch it's the latter.

But I don't think engineers are bad communicators. I think, at least in my experience, we're average (if not better). I think this misconception comes from trying to explain something we don't understand to someone who does, or trying to explain something we understand to someone who doesn't. In either case we end up failing. I think a lot of this stems from a lack of practice. Even though communication is essential, our primary focus is engineering, not communication. Given the chance, I wouldn't mind spending my time juicing my papers/presentations with spices. Without the chance, I'd rather have a great design with precise technical details.

So, what's this all about? I'm not sure. But I couldn't sleep. And now I think I can now.



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