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Watch that tech talk...

By Tim McCartney

Successful communication of technical concepts is a must between technicians. In fact, that's the easy part. Greater challenges a wait the technician who must communicate successfully with the non-technically minded person — often the boss!

Clear language

The use of clear language aimed squarely at one’s listener is one effective method to ensure such comprehension. Why would a technician deliberately talk over the head of the boss? Surely it's not that there has been an overestimation of the technical cunning of the supervisor. Could it be that the technician seeks to intimidate? If so, why?

The technician may feel that tech talk maintains a certain level of mystique – the fabrication of a little electronics “magic” of sorts. And, without such status, the facade may fade. Regardless of the reason, the boss expects – and has a right to - a clear explanation.

Analogies

Rather than explain in details why rewriting schematics is an effective circuit design strategy, why not compare it to the writing process in BASIC on the boss's computer? If he/she has written programs in this language, such an analogy will be effective in communicating. Rather than explain why vital equipment must be turned off and inspected routinely – even when working fine – why not compare the situation to an oil change on the boss's car? If the boss wants more information, that will become obvious.

Diversion technique

The use of technical jargon as a weapon is not exclusive to technicians. A broadcast executive often resorted to industry-specific talk with his non-broadcast oriented upper managers whenever he was in a jam. ERP, coverage patterns, EBS and “The Commission’’ were his answers to serious questions about the bottom line. These policymakers were only temporarily sidetracked before relieving this executive of his job.

Not everyone involved in technology today started in electronics. So, some have earlier been the recipients of inappropriate tech talk from applicants for a technical position. Such a situation serves as a way to learn a lot about applicants.

Frequently, any applicant talk about notch filters, IF, K1, phasing, and intermodulation points towards insecure, unstable candidates. Meanwhile, the opposite type — the ones getting hired – speak clearly, using such language as “I’ll take care of your equipment and be on-call.”

Backfiring

And, yes, this sort of thing happens even to technicians. Recently a transmitter salesman punctuated his long and hard sell with a line that went something like “. . . and I don't have to tell you how essential a double foldback, crystal-controlled, quadrature-driven, CD-operated harmonic filter is!”

It would be easy to conclude that such a salesman doesn’t know beans about this filter, or else he'd explain in an understandable way the reason why it's so important. Thus, the outcome is that neither the salesman nor the potential customer knows how it works.

Tech Writing

Another problem area for tech talk is found in equipment operating and technical manuals. While domestic manufacturers have little to brag about, they truly compare as saints next to European and Japanese-translated manuals. Frequently, the proper use of the English language alone would vastly improve the instructions. And, the trend towards hastily written “preliminary’’ manuals becoming the permanent manuals by default serves to worsen the problem.

Aside from these points, manuals: need to be clearly written in a manner which communicates to the typical technician in the field. If manufacturers took the time to pilot test just two rough drafts out in the field, a far better product would surely be the result.

Communicate

If simple, clear language is used to explain a technical matter to a nontechnical person, success results at several levels.

First of all, communication occurs. Secondly, intimidation does not. And, the technician's audience feels relaxed and even more receptive, because the use of carefully chosen non-technical language demonstrates respect. All of us need to select our language so that it effectively and efficiently communicates. Remember that others can play the tech-talk game to the technicians' disadvantage. If the business manager talks with a non-business type and starts with “encumbrance,” it's time to get out of the conversation.

Let’s make a deal

In return for not hearing the “e” word, let's pledge to watch our use of High-Z, EQ, TMD, and Dolby (both B and C). Simultaneously, we trust that the importance to the organization of qualified technicians with effective communication skills is recognized.

Cleveland Institute of Electronics

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