For various reasons I have abandoned a series of posts I had been planning about my daily work hence all has been quiet here of late. However a story line this week on Dilbert (http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2010-06-23/ and http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2010-06-24/) has got me thinking again about communication in the workplace.
Clearly Wally does understand what is being asked of him but he pretends to have misinterpreted what was said. It got me thinking again about testers reporting defects to programmers and/or the business – are we being as clear as we need to be in the ways we express ourselves? Conversely do we, testers, listen and properly understand the feedback we are being given?
Very often testers form the middle ground between development and the business and it is crucial that we are able to deliver our message appropriately. Rob Lambert blogged last year about three of the crucial things to be aware of when we are communicating: Purpose, Audience and Context (see http://pac-testing.blogspot.com/2009/01/what-is-purpose.html) and their relationship to testing. I believe it is worth revisiting this topic because changing communications media – and attitudes towards them – open up new possibilities and challenges that we need to be aware of. In this post I take a brief look at ‘Purpose’ before focussing on ‘Audience’. ‘Context’, I believe is so vital it deserves a post of its own.
As testers we often have to inform different stakeholders about issues so they can made decisions based on that information. We also need to learn about the System under Test (interestingly we can also summarise some of the things we are trying to learn as the system’s Purpose, its Audience and the Context in which it will be used).
Our audience can be diverse: ranging from programmers and systems analysts through to the end users of the system. Each group in the audience has different needs. If we use the same language in talking to the end users as we do the programmers, we may find that misunderstandings arise and we may also alienate a valuable source of information for our own education.
We must also be aware when we are being spoken to by highly technical people that they will use terminology that an end user might not. Thus when the same word is used by two different groups of people it might just mean something different. A typical example of this is when a new or emerging piece of technology is being used. There is tremendous scope for confusion as people become familiar with the new technology. Do we really understand the message we are being given?
When talking to people face-to-face we need to be on the watch out for body language and other visual and audible clues as to how our message is being received. If our audience looks bored – they probably are! Albert Mehrabian did a study on this and found that only 7% of the impact of our face-to-face communication is the words we use: http://www.businessballs.com/mehrabiancommunications.htm. With e-mail – and this blog – the words used are the only means we have to express our meaning.
Our audience can also give us valuable clues as to whether or not they are the right audience to receive our message by their body language. We can avoid wasting a lot of time if we get the appropriate audience right at the beginning.
Next time, I will post some thoughts on Context… In the meantime, your thoughts and comments would be most welcome.