Immediately Improve Communication: The Buzzword Technique

I recently did an experiment in which I asked over a dozen designers for their definition of the term “web design”.  They fell into 3 groups.  Here they are (amalgamated and paraphrased):

The Purists: Web design is the visual aesthetics of a website; the layout, the colour scheme and the look and feel.

The Hybrids: Web design is not only the visual design, but also how the user interacts with it.  Good web designers must have some coding ability.

The Visionaries: Design is holistic.  It transcends the medium, and therefore is part of every aspect of a user’s experience.  This includes visual design, interaction design, development, deployment, maintenance and marketing.

All of these people are doing the SAME JOB in the SAME INDUSTRY (actually they even live in the SAME CITY), but when you say “web design” to them, they all think of something different.

It’s tempting to think that all developers speak a common language, all designers speak a common language, etc.  This experiment proves that every individual has their own language.  Just because you’re a designer doesn’t mean every other designer will understand what you have to say.

Okay…So what?

If you were to work with one of these designers, how would you know what you were going to get back when you asked them to do “web design” for you?  You could expect a functioning website and end up with a few mockups.

The fact is, everyone takes simple definitions like this for granted.  We all assume the world knows what we mean when we say “web design”, and then get frustrated when the results are different from what we expected.

Instead of getting frustrated, learn the language.  You’ll get a better result, and you’ll have more fun doing it.

Level Up: the Buzzword Technique

Here’s a quick way (only 5 minutes) to start learning how to speak the same language as ANYONE: the Buzzword Technique.

It’s common to hear people use an overused term like “agile development” (developers) or “experience design” (designers) or “innovation” (entrepreneurs).  A lot of people’s first inclination is to discount what the person has to say, or make fun of them behind their back.  These people are missing an amazing opportunity to gain some understanding about their co-worker.

When people use a cliche or buzzword, they usually aren’t trying to be impressive or fancy – they are trying to be understood.  They are using the word because they think you know what it means.  However, since we’ve already established above that you probably don’t know what they mean, you should ASK.  This will accomplish 2 things:

  1. It will force your co-worker to think about what they actually mean
  2. It will get the two of you using the same word for the same meaning – basically it’s building your shared vocabulary

The next time either of your mention this term in the future, you’ll both know exactly what you mean.

Are you shy because you don’t know how to ask?  Don’t worry, just follow this easy script (it helps to be sincere):

Bob: … and that’s why we use agile development.

You: Honest question: what do you mean by “agile development”? I just want to make sure we’re on the same page.

Bob: Oh, well…that could take some time to explain.

You: No problem, I’m listening!

Bob: Awesome! No one has ever asked for my opinion before, I think I love you!

…okay, maybe it won’t go that well.  However, people do love being asked for advice.  Asking Bob for his definition and speaking the same language as him will strengthen your relationship, and good relationships are how you succeed.  Follow this script a few more times with Bob and you’ll be speaking the same language.

Everyone Wants to be Understood

In the survey of designers I mentioned earlier, the top complaint about people in different disciplines is the lack of understanding of what design entails.  I repeated the experiment with developers and got much the same feedback: they wanted managers and creatives to understand more about what they do.

Misunderstandings can cost a lot: time, money and your sanity.  Avoid misunderstandings, and spend your resources on more important things.

Take 5 minutes and use the buzzword technique on any co-worker.  Not only will you gain some understanding, but also a potential ally for the future.