Friday, March 12, 2010

Dealing with Specialists

A theme for me is how poor specialists are in discussing their specialty with "lay" people. Even when those lay people are their customers! I'm in IT, an area notorious for this problem. But it is pervasive. I've had a plumber or electrician do work, and when they try to explain the problem to me, I feel like answering "if I understood that, I wouldn't have to hire an electrician, I would already be one!" Now, because I have a moderately technical background, and because I am a generalist, I can usually back them up, do some paraphrasing, and coax a comprehensible explanation out of them. But not everyone can or will do that.

The other extreme is when the specialist goes for the absolute lowest common denominator. They read right from the rulebook, speaking slowly and loudly, to make sure their dimwitted audience follows along. This, too, is very trying. So I think there are two sides to the coin:
  1. How can specialists get better at interacting with lay people? This would involve developing a good "bedside manner", learning to read body language and custom-calibrating, in real-time, their explanation to to their audience's exhibited level of understanding.
  2. How can lay people get better interacting with specailists? Lay people will aid their cause by accumulating a good base of general knowledge, and trying to engage in more structured thinking and posing of questions.

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