The Client Whisperer

Excuse the overdone play on “Whisperer,” please. :-)

When I am presented with a programming task, I find it helpful to first think of the domain of the problem as parts of speech: nouns, verbs, and adjectives, in particular. IIRC, I first heard this suggestion in a talk by Steven Black at a FoxPro Devcon in the late ’90’s. It was the first time I’d heard of design patterns, and I still feel like his talk should have ended with a fireworks spectacular.

Anyway, grammar helps me focus my attention on the task and helps me to immediately begin teasing out design details while avoiding the common–common to me, anyway–problem of paralysis that can result from too many details and no clear direction. It also avoids the common mistake programmers, me included, have of committing too early to code.

So, I was demonstrating this trick last week in a discussion with a programmer who I coach (I prefer “coach” to “mentor”), when I realized that a wall was going up between us. He confirmed this, telling me he felt that I was too abstract and esoteric, thus diverging too far from his immediate need for progress.

I was interested in his reaction since I intended to help him speed up his process. Indeed, thinking of a programming problem in terms of language helps me get further faster, without being distracted. I’ll demonstrate this idea in a subsequent post.

Neither of us were right or wrong, it just goes to show how differently two people can see the same set of facts or events.

This is also a good example of when a consultant has to be adaptable. My concern is the noun-verb-adjective model is so vivid for me, I may have trouble letting go of it long enough to bridge the communication gap with my client.

Do you find it difficult to shift your communication patterns when you find that you’re at loggerheads with a customer, colleague, family member, or friend?

By the way, my middle and high school English teachers would be amused by this. Grammar has never been my best subject. While I still can’t diagram a sentence (and why would one want to?) I can at least identify the simpler language elements, especially since I’ve been tutoring kids in grades school and middle school. Parts of speech aren’t so bad, after all, Miss Fisk. Oh, and thanks for making me stay in from recess and work on my penmanship.


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