Hey there, Reader! Caught in a big, sticky pickle with a certain someone or someones? Is it a frustrating client? Arch nemesis? Are you in the middle of a bank robber right at this very moment?! Well if you’re thinking about resorting to hurling objects of devastation (or similar), consider meditating on the following short list of communication principles. Mind you, I will be speaking from the perspective of a game composer, sound designer, and programmer, but whatever your discipline is, communication is always, always, always the most effective tool in the box.
In contrast to the title of this article, generally speaking ‘simplicity’ is the name of the game. Before you write a seven-thousand-page dissertation on a given instruction or subject, you should first consider that absolutely nobody wants to read that sh…...stuff.
If you want to explain further underneath, that’s more-or-less fine, but the recipient should nearly always have something to the effect of a simple checklist they can refer back to in order to stay on track. The simpler it is for them to know what you need, the more likely it is you will get it.
IMPORTANT : Forwarding an email chain with the words “see below” DOES NOT count as a simple instruction. If somebody does that to you, please send them to me. I’ll take care of it.
People are not psychic. If you need something, say the thing or things that you need.
Be thorough. You might think that contradicts the previous principle. And you’d be a damned fool to think so. For it is possible, and it should be the aspiration of us all, to be both elegant AND complete. For beating a dead horse is decidedly not the same thing as gently swatting all seven of your horses.
Think about this: A good villain never forgets to demand that the bills be unconsecutive, and frankly you should be no different.
We’ve all been there...saddled with someone at some point along the mortal coil who has failed to inform us of a critical objective until halfway through the development process. You’re tired. Ostensibly sweaty. Bleary eyed. Kinda have to tinkle, but you don’t even have strength enough to walk down the hall to the bathroom. And then you get the email: “Oh. Um, it’s supposed to be a chiptune. Like Mega Man, you know?” But their original email had said they wanted something that sounds “sorta like Beethoven”. Why didn’t they tell you it should be a chiptune before you spent 80 frickin’ hours on a string concerto? I’ll tell you why—they are an ineffective communicator. Don’t be like them, Reader. Be better. And, as kindly as you can, help them be better too.
It can also do you well to “read the room” and anticipate communication shortcomings. If you feel there is some ambiguity floating about, perhaps a few short, simple follow-up questions might clear things up nicely and help both of you achieve satisfaction in the end.
There are a few crucial points to understand here, so I’ll begin with those.
Before you lambast anyone for anything, consider asking them why that thing is the way it is. Is it possible that the perpetrator is an ignoramus or a malicious arch bastard? Well, sure. But it is more likely that the person has a reason for why they did what they did. Especially so if you and this person belong to two different disciplines. So ask why before you bark. Then work it out together. And consider that maybe you too are lacking in perspective. Each of us has plenty to teach, and plenty to learn. Whether someone is twice your age, or half your age, I promise that you can learn something from them if you look and listen. Otherwise, it might be you who is indeed beyond help.
Humility is the most overlooked component of communication. We each like to foolishly believe that we are the intellectual elite and an expert in every discipline. And it is always surprising to count the number of people who readily admit to feeling the savage bite of ‘Impostor Syndrome’, yet will so quickly turn around and profess boldly to know and understand exactly how the universe works/should work.
I say that so that when you find yourself thinking somebody is a big ol’ dumb dumb, you might consider that it’s just as likely they think you’re the big ol’ dumb dumb.
Only the incompetent like to be micro-managed. Whether you are hiring a contractor, or an entire development team, or hell, maybe you’re getting married, it does well to trust the people in your life to do whatever it is that they do. If the work is truly disappointing, have a conversation about it. Likely, the task list that you supplied failed to comply with the Elegance and/or Completeness principles discussed above.
It is good and fine to tell somebody what needs to be done. But it is downright wretched in most cases to tell them how each procedural step should be completed (presuming it is an area in which they are an expert).
If somebody is ignoring your needs on the regular, make an honest attempt to look inward and examine whether or not you are consistently meeting theirs. Once in a while, you may find a person who really is simply a bad fit. God knows there have been a few people I’ve had to remove from my life. But there are many hundreds more that I’ve happily kept around.
Look, you. Stop asking for things that obviously definitely directly contradict each other. Sure, everyone has done it. But that’s not to say that it’s OK. It’s not. We must do better. There is a video out there on the YouTube which discusses (in great detail) requesting a pen with blue ink that writes red. And that sentiment cannot be stressed enough.
If somebody is trying to inform you that your request is what we in the biz call “a gosh darn paradox”, be at least somewhat receptive to the idea. Open your eyes. Reflect. And adjust. It happens all too often, and you may be perpetrating it right now (you fiend!).
Telling your boo that she doesn’t pay enough attention to you, and then telling her you need more ‘alone time’...that is a contradiction. Telling a sound designer that you want beeps and boops, and then telling them they need to sound “more realistic”...that is a contradiction. Telling your contract developer that you want 800 features, and then telling them that you want the product released by the end of the week...also a contradiction. Is a fully featured product more important? Or is quick turn-around? You need to understand that they are not usually compatible desires and you need to set your expectations accordingly.
Well that’s all, Reader. If you can’t go out and communicate more effectively now, kindly try reading this again. Otherwise, I’ll see you in the sequel.
Oh, P.S., don’t ghost people. Contractors. Colleagues. Potential hires. Some hot piece of good-lookin’ness from the Tindr. Anyone, really. Everyone’s time is valuable. Be direct and intentional, or it’s your own reputation you will end up trashing.