The language of non-engineers

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AKA: Answer the question!

The following was submitted by a prominent radio engineer who asked that his name be withheld.

I recently posed a question to a collected group of broadcast engineers; a skilled and knowledgeable group of broadcast engineers. The question was a simple yes/no type asking about a personal preference. The answers I got simply floored me. I discovered that this was a microcosm of how we communicate and, by extension shape the way engineers are perceived. How we, as process-oriented, technical people make it difficult on ourselves to work within a goal-oriented world.

One of the biggest complaints I hear from broadcast engineers is that their non-engineering co-workers either don't understand, don't listen, don't consult them, or just don't communicate with the engineering staff at all. Hearing the answers I got to a very simple question it became evident why, as a group, we may have no choice but to expect that treatment. At least until we learn to communicate better. We often invite the bad treatment simply through the way we communicate.

The question I asked was similar to this: "Would you like it if I gave you a piece of candy?" I needed a simple yes/no answer reflecting a personal preference. Nothing else. Instead of a "Yes" or "No, thank you" here are the type of answers I got:

  • "Candy is full of sugar"
  • "Candy tastes good"
  • "I don't want candy if it means you will take away my crackers"
  • "Candy was invented by the ancient Egyptians"
  • "I once had a piece of candy that I did not like. You're insensitive for offering it to me.
  • "I don't eat it and think no one else should either"
  • "I heard that people put razor blades in candy"
  • "I used to meet my friends at the local dry goods emporium where the proprietor would give us all a piece of candy"
  • "The Guilderese word for candy is the same as their word for cow dung"
  • "By giving away candy you might get more friends."
  • "I only like one type of candy. If you don't have that kind you are not a nice person."
  • "Candy causes your teeth to fall out"
  • "Candy is made by mixing sugar with artificial sweeteners and other ingredients"
  • "I had a girlfriend once named Candy"
  • "I live on Candy Lane"
  • "I want Candy" was done by both The Strangeloves and Bow Wow Wow"
  • "Candy makes you fat. Are you saying I'm fat?"
  • "My neighborhood decorates for Christmas every year with candy canes"
  • "How did much the candy cost you?"
  • "My doctor gives me candy after she gives me a shot"
  • "I have a stash of candy in my desk drawer"
  • "Where did you buy the candy?"
  • "There is no word in Cherokee for Candy"
  • "If eat candy I WILL DIE because I'm a diabetic! Shame on YOU!"
  • "Candy used to cost a nickel"
  • "Medicine sometimes tastes like candy"
  • "Candy in literature is a metaphor for evil"
  • "The gingerbread house in Hansel and Gretel, a Grimm Brothers fairy tale from the mid 19th century and was one of several European tales in which children outwit an ogre into whose hands they have fallen, was covered with candy."
  • "Candy might be expensive, so if it will ultimately cause me to give you more money, I do not support the idea, however if on balance you can get the candy for free then I will grudgingly accept a piece."
  • "There was a song by 10,000 Maniacs called Candy Everybody Wants"
  • "A German word for candy is Suessigkeiten"

    Again; I needed a simple yes/no answer reflecting a personal preference. I either had already answered the issues of cost, supply, distribution or would address the issues in turn. I simply wanted to know if everyone wanted candy.

    Notice that in all these responses, not one really answered the question? No one told me what HE answering a simple YES or NO. Those few answers that might have exhibited a preference required interpretation to derive the answer: You said "Candy Tastes Good" I guess that means "Yes, thank you."

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