Far too many conversations are total misfires because the two sides are just talking right past each other. Not in a malicious way, but in a very human way: every person brings his or her own assumptions, preferences, and style into any communication, and these are rarely articulated, so as a result this problem is far too common. And when the stakes are high, or the two sides don’t know each other deeply, this happens even more often.
This is doubly a challenge for software developers. Developers, more often than not, tend to not focus on the style of the communication but the substance, and as a result, we often speak in styles that can be easily misunderstood and misinterpreted. So it’s useful to take into account one of the biggest stylistic differences between the communication style of the software developer and, well, everyone else. And this stylistic difference is endemic not just to software developers but all builders:
Builders tend to not speak until they’re 1000% sure of what they’re saying.
Of course there are a few footnotes and asterisks to that statement: “usually,” “everyone is different,” “this is a pattern, not a rule,” and so forth. I feel the need to say that explicitly because, well, I’m a builder!
Let’s dive into that. We have a level of confidence for every word we utter. If I say, “the sun will rise tomorrow morning,” I say that with 100% confidence. If, after reading the forecast apps and looking at the sky, I say, “it’s going to rain tomorrow,” I have an implied confidence of, oh, 75%. If I say, “the current president will not be re-elected at the next election cycle,” I don’t state the confidence I have in that interval, but it’s probably something like 55%.
Sometimes, I wish that all statements would be qualified with a confidence interval! But that would drastically slow down all human communication. But that would be a great concept for a sci-fi movie — in case any aspiring screenwriters are reading this.
When a builder builds, the top priority above all is that the building doesn’t collapse. You’ll survive almost any other case — you may be driven bankrupt if it goes over-budget, but you’ll survive — but if you’re on the bridge you’re building and it collapses because you mixed up your inches and feet (Spinal Tap allusion here!), then you’re gone like a goose! Builders, by their very nature, tend to strive for accuracy. In fact, in striving for accuracy, that’s why I wrote “builders tend to” and not “builders do” because surely it is a fact that an exception does exist to that pattern!
And non-builders? Non-builders, to varying degrees, entertain a greater flexibility to their confidence level in what they’re saying. And this isn’t bad, and has many advantages: it usually makes conversations go faster, it generally leads to fewer tangents and fewer distractions and thus keeps the conversation focused on the key points.
And those advantages are precisely the reasons why salesmen tend to be at the other extreme to the builders. The salesmen really, really, really want to close the deal, and as a result, they may need to be flexible on all the other inputs, such as their confidence in the accuracy of what they are actually saying.
In practical terms, this speaking-only-when-1000%-sure can lead to a few challenges. One is in sales, for the reasons above. Another is in any coordination work, such as management: for all coordination, we need to, for example, commit to things that we may only have 101% confidence but not 1000% confidence. The manager tends to assume a level of confidence in the accuracy of his words somewhere below that of the builder, but above that of the salesman!
This point is important and worth articulating because, as the old cartoon repeated, “knowing is half the battle.” Recognizing these different communication styles is the great first step towards communicating in different ways. As developers, realizing that this is what we do, when we’re hesitant to state our opinion (because we’re only 999% confident), we need the strength to say: “I’m waiting until I have more confidence in my opinion before I share it.” And non-builders need to remember that, when we don’t share our opinions, it doesn’t mean we don’t have them (developers tend to be a very opinionated lot!) but just that we’re waiting until we have more confidence in them before sharing them outloud.
PS: UV is one of the world’s leading Salesforce Commerce Cloud (Demandware) development teams. Contact us to see how we can work together.