How to Communicate Well

To communicate well, you have to recognize how hard it is. It is a skill unto itself. It is made harder by the fact that the persons with whom you have to communicate are flawed. They do not work hard at understanding you. They speak poorly and write poorly. They are often overworked or bored, and, at a minimum, somewhat focused on their own work rather than the larger issues you may be addressing. One of the advantages of taking classes and practising writing, public speaking, and listening is that if you become good at it you can more readily see where problems lie and how to correct them.

The programmer is a social animal whose survival depends on communication with her team. The advanced programmer is a social animal whose satisfaction depends on communication with people outside her team.

The programmer brings order out of chaos. One interesting way to do this is to initiate a proposal of some kind outside the team. This can be done in a strawman or white-paper format or just verbally. This leadership has the tremendous advantage of setting the terms of the debate. It also exposes you to criticism, and worse, rejection and neglect. The advanced programmer must be prepared to accept this, because she has a unique power and therefore a unique responsibility. Entrepreneurs who are not programmers need programmers to provide leadership in some ways. Programmers are the part of the bridge between ideas and reality that rests on reality.

I haven't mastered communicating well, but what I'm currently trying is what I think of as a four-pronged approach: After I have my ideas in order and am fully prepared, I try to speak verbally, hand people a white-paper (on real paper, as well as electronically) show them a demo, and then patiently repeat this process. I think a lot of times we are not patient enough in this kind of difficult communication. You should not be disheartened if your ideas are not immediately accepted. If you have invested energy in their preparation, no one will think poorly of you for it.

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