Friday, 4 June 2010

A War Of Words

The Fine Art of Miscommunication...

Within the testing field one has to adapt their methods of communication on the job to assist with avoiding ambiguities where the tester feels or receives feedback that it should be present.

Whilst I would not have anticipated that the complexities of my language might muddle or baffle my fellow testers, my colleagues in this area, the requirement for simplicity when communicating as was observed via a recent conversation via twitter highlighted this need (care of a discussion with Michael Bolton who I thank for taking the time to discuss this subject with me further).

What was construed as a failure on my behalf with what they believed was a contradiction was not actually a contradiction at all, one of the issues at hand was that the form of communication being utilised proved itself ineffective in communicating the idea at hand, so whilst the form was at fault it did not mean the message was too. Part of this construed contradiction was also due to the fact I re-worded what I said but had not altered what I meant on several occasions in an attempt to get the idea across.

This conversation was itself born out of another subject, one also relating to communication, that being the matter of what my colleagues stated as the importance and requirement of having precise definitions for terminologies used. Whilst the discussion of this subject in itself demonstrated the potential ambiguities of the English language and did serve to show that there are relevant, appropriate and important times where distinctions are beneficial, distinctions that come from an exact / precise choice of terminology to express an idea, the point of contention came one over the necessity for such distinctions at all times, for all related matters. A necessity I viewed as a shortcoming in the ability to communicate, a statement which was taken quite harshly by the audience in question.

Let me repeat this just in case there are any who just missed it.. The point of contention became one over the necessity for such distinctions at all times, for all matters. I believed this to be a shortcoming as it diminishes the importance of context; it rides off the assumption that the terminology will be shared amongst those discussing the subject and focuses a discussion or idea more on the choice of terminology used rather than focusing on the meaning behind it. It should be noted however and this is of importance that I am not dismissing or deriding the value of shared understandings of terminology and do indeed feel it can be beneficial / valuable, I am commenting on the dependence on and pre-requisite for such terminology being present to be able to effectively communicate.

To use an anecdote here let me make a comparison to testing. Whilst one could use in their reporting specific terminology in reference to a particular issue this does not necessarily translate to the developer being aware of the context of which the issue occurred and the developer may not even be familiar with the terminology or have a different understanding of it. What is more productive in such situations is providing sufficient context and ensure one is conveying the meaning rather than going into what I had described as the 'semantics' of definitions (which represented another thought of mine that was considered offensive in this discussion). If the developer does happen to share this understanding of terminology then it could indeed be considered a benefit but it cannot be an expectation of the tester that it will be automatically understood due to the use of precise terminology either.

My discussion with Michael went on to solidify this where he expressed that the 'community' takes precision of expression very seriously, and that being dismissive of it and resorting to generalities might see repercussions out of what he cited as frustration. Confirmation of this matter provided what was in my mind a rather interesting insight into the thought processes behind those involved. Whilst the English language is indeed prone to ambiguities why there was this expectation and dependence on this precision as a necessity in all situations though is a different question that is left to be answered, especially given that even in its absence communication can still be effective and clarity can still be achieved.

1 comment:

  1. A good article, well communicated but then I am not one who is ready to split the hair of ambiguity purely for the sake of preserving the values of "our" community.

    We, the testing community are not a gated community in North America that has for the sake of homogeny standards to maintain.

    I thought watching the conversation after the fact in Twitter that it was much ado about nothing and if this is the Semantic of the Semantic web then count me out.