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Epiphany on a plumber

I told a condensed version of this story on Twitter but it bears repeating in a more rambling format.

We replaced the reverse osmosis system on our water at home today. Old unit worked well enough I think but was crazy noisy and it was always a crap shoot to be able to get someone out to do maintenance on it. The maintenance schedule itself was up for debate depending on who answered the phone at the place where it was originally purchased.

We replaced it with a unit recommended to us by our plumber. I like our plumber a lot not because of his skill, of which I have no point of reference to judge, but because of his passion. The guy loves talking shop when he’s onsite. Whether it’s upping the water pressure in our faucets by removing the flow restrictors (I recommend it for showers, not so much for sinks) or rating the options for new fixtures on our bidet (I bet you think I’m kidding about that one), he always talks with an enthusiasm that’s infectious. Which is why I use him.

So he shows up today and is busting at the seams with excitement, waiting to show me how the system works. As soon as he stepped in the door, he started opening the box like a kid at Christmas. And I should point out that this is not a small man. He’s at least 6’4" and, shall we say, "sturdy".

At this point, his eyes gleaming, he goes into the features and how it works and whatnot. He starts talking about intake valves and de-ionization filters and membranes and sediment and parts per thingy and pressure whatsits and quarter-inch flibberygibbits. All with as much crazed energy as you can stuff into a 6’4" plumber.

As my eyes glazed over, it occurred to me: Is this what I sound like to users?

Energy, enthusiasm, and passion are awesome pre-requisites, but let’s not forget that we still have to talk to people. As easy as it is to dump "Excellent communication skillz" on your résumé, it pays off in dividends if you actually mean it.

I’m not exactly an expert at communication. But I’m anal enough about it that my daughter is going to hate me when she hits high school English class. And I do lament the gradual laxing of rules with the proliferation of IM and Twitter.

I like the power communication has. I love the way you can change perceptions by wording something differently. In my experience, choosing appropriate language is almost as much a predictor of success as the actual code. That’s in your written documentation, your formal presentations, and in our everyday interaction with users *and* developers alike.

To tie this back to my plumber, when he was done his verbal throughput on all things RO, I just looked at him like a good user and said: Whatever, man, just make it work.

Kyle the Reversed

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  • http://www.opgenorth.net Tom Opgenorth

    “As my eyes glazed over, it occurred to me: Is this what I sound like to users?”
    If your plumber was speaking in an Urkel-like voice, then the unqualified answer is “Yes”.

  • http://www.davearonson.net/ Dave Aronson

    This is a fairly common thing in any jargon-laced profession that deals with customers who aren’t so well versed in the intricacies. What can be done? Join Toastmasters! Not only do they teach lessons like “know your audience”, but specifically avoiding jargon and so forth. (Disclaimer: I’m a member of Fairfax Toastmasters (http://www.fairfaxtoastmasters.org/) and founder of BAE Lunchbreak Toasters (http://bltspecial.freetoasthost.us/).)

  • http://www.dotnettricks.com Fregas

    Its precisely what we sound like to end users. But kudos for picking the guy that has all that passion because as we know, that more often than not leads to quality and expertise.