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Better Report, Better Manager - Reiterate and Reflect for Better Communication

Published 4/11/2022

Communication is hard. Like most things, we try to oversimplify it by turning "understanding" into a black and white, binary state. Communication and understanding is, however, a spectrum. Singular messages are low resolution, and it's our job when communicating with each other to increase the resolution of our communication. We talk about a simple framework for doing just that in today's episode.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Are you speaking the same language? In today's episode, we're going to talk about speaking the same language as your manager. This doesn't just apply to your manager and report relationships. We're continuing our series on better report, better manager. But this certainly goes beyond that. Any communication that you have with another person, you should ask this question. Are you speaking the same language? When you think about translation, you probably think about the same thing that most other people think about translating from one language to another. But the truth is that even if you have the same words, even if you have a same rough language as another person, you may not be communicating well. In fact, the vast majority of our interpersonal problems are likely easily chalked up to miscommunication. The errors of our messages and the way they are sent and received and all of the noise that happens in the middle, the lack of feedback that we provide in that communication loop, these are all concerns. And the fundamental concerns that we have about communication are likely solved if we pay more attention to these loops. We've talked about this basic communication loop on the show in the past. The idea of the most essential communication loop concept is that you have a sender, you have a message, you have a medium, you have a receiver, you have noise, and then you have feedback. You can draw this diagram out fairly simply. Imagine two people, for example, one is the sender, one is the receiver, the sender, formulates some kind of message, sends it via some medium. Typically for example, you might have a medium of audio. And then there's noise that occurs, there's both literal noise. You can imagine not being able to hear somebody because there's actual noise in the room. And then there's perhaps the most important thing to think about, cognitive noise. And then there's the receiver. The receiver takes the message they have and tries to, in some way, make sense of it. Now that message in its purest form, if you could communicate the thoughts and all of the feelings or the intention of that message directly from the sender's kind of point of origin, their brain, it wouldn't even be formulated in language. Think about this for a second. Our language communicates a compressed form of the raw information that we're actually intending to communicate. In other words, the words that we have don't always encapsulate every single bit of nuance, every single bit of meaning, all of the context that comes with those words. One of that can actually be communicated in its raw form. And so our language is the first layer of compression. But the interesting thing about language is that language is inextricably connected to personal experience. In other words, your experiences or your connotations that you connect with particular words or concepts are going to be different than another person's. So instead of thinking about language in terms of binary compatibility that we're speaking the same language, we could think about it in terms of a sliding scale of resolution. Our language becomes more and more clear to another person. For example, the more shared experiences we have, the more shared background that we have. So this communication model, the noise involved is the cognitive noise. This might be, for example, distraction, etc. And then feedback is a message that is in some way triggered or connected to the previous message. The receiver becomes the sender. Now, often our feedback is sent back in a different form than the original message was formatted. For example, we might not our head. We might send an emoji in response to a message that is text. So often feedback is delineated from an original message in some way. We're going to talk more about communication and this communication loop in future episodes. But I wanted to give you a very simple, heuristic, very simple rule for you to follow in your communication with your manager. The simple rule is actually a two-part rule. When you are the sender, reiterate with different words. When you're the sender, reiterate. The idea is very simple. You have a message that you want to get across, but it might need multiple framings. It might need multiple slightly different variations to get the actual message across. When you are the receiver, reflect. When you're the receiver, reflect. Now here's the critical thing about reflection. When your manager is telling you something, for example, let's say your manager says that they would like to hear your voice more often during stand-up. This is a really simple little bit of feedback you might receive. In reflection, back to them, you want to reframe what they're saying in your own words. So whatever you are hearing from that feedback, you might say, so what I'm hearing you say is that you want me to talk more often during stand-up. Your manager has an opportunity to revise. This is, you can see the eliteration that's happening here. You are reiterating, reflecting, and then revising. When you are the receiver of a reflection, the goal is to revise the language so that you get closer to an accurate representation that you both agree on. Your manager says, I wish I heard your voice more often. You say, so you want me to talk more often. Your manager might say, well, actually, no. I feel like you talk often enough, but I feel like you're not sharing your opinions. This is a slightly different take. This is a revision on the original message. Your takeaway had you not reflected back to your manager what you thought they meant, then you wouldn't necessarily have gotten this revised version of what they mean. Those of you who are sharp and listening very closely can see that revision and reiteration are kind of the same thing. You are preemptively revising your message into multiple forms so you can get a little bit more kind of resolution on the intention. Remember, our language compresses our intention. When we have to form things into words, we often are losing some kind of resolution. So if we form things into words multiple times, we say what we mean in a couple of different ways using different words with the same intention. We provide more resolution to that intention by adding extra information in the form of our language. Now, it should also be noted that language is not the only medium, right? The words that we have are not the only medium. In fact, the inflection in our voices is another form of information. The message that we have is moderated by these different forms of information. So as we begin to reiterate, we add new inflection that maybe wasn't picked up before. The whole idea here is that our language is often imprecise. And our language, even though we both speak the kind of macro language, we have similar vocabulary, the sounds that come out of our mouths are similar. We have some background that might have enough overlap that we can share some common definitions. Our language is a spectrum. And in order to communicate well, we have to treat language for what it is. It's a tool that compresses information. And we want to communicate information accurately. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. If you enjoyed this episode, I encourage you to, first of all, subscribe to this show. That's number one. Number two, if you want to help this show continue doing what we do, help other engineers find Developer Tea. The best way to help us to leave a review in whatever platform you're using. The most important one, the most impactful one is iTunes, but certainly the other platforms are also important. And then the third and final thing is you can get involved with the Developer Tea community on Discord. To join this, totally free, head over to developer.com slash Discord to join today. Thanks so much for listening. Until next time, enjoy your tea.