The language of non-engineers

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AKA: Answer the question!

This sort of communication may not seem out of the ordinary for us, but it certainly alienates those we support and work with. People learn that they cannot expect answers from us. That we more often don't answer the question and, even worse, begin delving into unrelated topics or, worse yet, intrude upon issues that are not our concern. I'm sure you've all heard "When I ask him for the time, he tells me how to build a clock." Well that's what we generally do. That's maddening.

It's also dangerous. Imagine being on trial and speaking for the defense was a broadcast engineer:

Prosecutor: Did you see the defendant, George steal a TV on January 16?

Broadcast Engineer: I was fishing in my boat on January 16, 2008 but I was home on January 16, 2007. I was parasailing in the Bahamas January 16, 2006. George took lots of televisions when he was young. My birthday is January 17 and last year he gave me a great flat-screen TV as a present.

Prosecutor: Your honor, the prosecution rests.

Picture the defense attorney with his head in his hands...His case completely lost. The chance of providing a vigorous defense? Gone. If guilty, the hope of engendering jury sympathy and getting sentenced to treatment, not prison? Out the window. All because of someone who, "in the interest of being helpful" not only didn't answer the question, provided irrelevant, ruinous information, and completely flushed the defense's case. There's not a self-respecting defense attorney who would put such a person on the stand....would you want this sort of person speaking on your behalf if you stood accused? This is often the way we communicate to colleagues.

How about this:

Radio Program Director: Can we get a remote shot from the gas station on 3rd and State?

Broadcast Engineer: That location has very bad parking and no place to set up tables or traffic flow. It's not a good place for our audience because I usually don't hear our station on radios in the area. Most of the people in the area seem to like country music which is played by the competitors. We have a hard time getting electrical power for our inflatable and there's so much traffic the cars are basically stopped there during rush hour and can't get to see us.

Radio Program Director (remembering why he hates to come back to the shop): Whooookay....But can we get a remote shot from the location?

Broadcast Engineer (annoyed): Why would you want to do a remote shot from there? I just told you all the reasons it's a bad location.

At what point did the broadcast engineer actually answer the question? Did he (she) ever? Or did he just start rendering an unsolicited opinion completely unrelated to engineering? The opinions on traffic flow, parking, electrical, etc. might be very valid...but they are completely unrelated to the question and basically outside the engineer's responsibility. Commenting on marketing, audience sampling, promotions, programming.

How about if the conversation happened this way?

Radio Program Director: Can we get a remote shot from the gas station on 3rd and State?

Broadcast Engineer: Sure. We can make that shot. That location has some technical challenges. Tell me what you've got in mind.

Radio Program Director (liking the chance to get someone else to support his idea): You know how traffic gets so snarled up there? I want to put one of the morning show there when people are stopped, give them some Dunkin Donuts coffee and get all those people to tune their stations to us... To give us a try. I want the morning show to put some of the drivers on the air and see if we can get people behind fixing that intersection, too.

Broadcast Engineer (thinking how this could be done): Hmm. It's going to be a challenge but let me see what we can do. It sounds like you need visibility. The inflatable might be a problem. Are banners OK?

Radio Program Director (beginning to think this might happen): Banners are OK....just lots of them. Thanks. Need to see if Sales can get Dunkin Donuts to help. I'll get back to you.

How do you think that exchange did? Which one presented a "customer service" perspective?

How many times, in meetings with station staff do you just see people just glaze over when you start speaking. If you've never noticed it, watch carefully during the next meeting. You might be surprised. Once you've noticed it, instead of going right to "they don't understand", try and evaluate how your communication contributes to the behavior. Do you get to the point? Do you even have a point? Does the information you are relating have a direct and easy-to-describe impact on the listeners? Does it directly apply to the questions on the table? Are you listening to the others and seeking to answer their questions or are you just trying to dispense information? Are you working to hear what your colleague is asking and then asking them questions that allow you to share related information? That's being a team player!

Once you think carefully not about what you are saying; but what others are hearing...and how it applies to them, you'll undoubtedly remain quiet much more...but rest assured that once your colleagues become accustomed to your new way of communicating; you will have people hanging on your every word...instead of glazing over. Then you can really communicate!

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