Why are they doing this? The best way to deal with it is so obvious! - did you ever think something along those lines? The chance is, the more experienced you are, the more often a similar phrase crosses your mind over the course of any day.
Once, in a conversation with my peers, I used the term “bus factor” multiple times and noticed my colleague didn’t quite get what it references. I assumed that the “bus factor” idiom is so common in the industry that everyone knows it. It took just 20 seconds to clarify, as my colleague certainly did know the concept itself, they just didn’t know it’s also named in this particular way.
Another time, I was doing one of my favorite coaching sessions about difficult conversations. A manager I was coaching was senior and certainly did know the majority (if not all) of the main points of the topic. He still opted to hear and discuss it, and the feedback was along the lines of “it’s great to have knowledge shared systemically, while I did know those things, but thinking in this particular way was far from obvious.”
All of this made me think: am I considering too many things to be just too obvious, so I skip it? Use some expressions in a potentially cryptic way? Alienate some colleagues by staying silent when they need help or just a confirmation?
I find a character trait of often repeating yourself a little bit annoying. So I avoid that myself as much as possible, not to annoy others the same way. But the challenge with this is that our minds are not really great at remembering everything that was told to everybody. After several repetitions, it all starts blending, and the certainty this is something I have to explain slowly fades away. The doubt that I might be repeating myself increases. Little by little, I stop explaining and assume context is known for the entire group I work with. Unless I missed somebody. Oops.
The issue here is that our inner selves are pretty bad at registering occurrences and detecting echoes. It all feels way too familiar, way too fast.
It must be a conscious choice to allow yourself to be repetitive sometimes. And take on the role of the intent radiator (a term used in The Staff Engineer’s Path by Tanya Reilly) to share your knowledge and context accumulated over your career. And, if people around are comfortable interrupting early with a nod they’re aware already, it starts to be really easy to jump right into the essence. If the communication structure is somewhat rigid, a good idea is to make this right to interrupt explicit.
The typical helpers to organize this are notes and communication plans - as always! The latter can help tremendously in planning the right audience, timing, and order of the message that needs explaining. TODO list, in this case, is your superpower.
The opposite danger, of course, is becoming the top leader of repetition. If notes are not taken and checked carefully, signals from peers are ignored, and the annoying cycle of repetitiveness takes over. It’s a fast way to become the least likable person, guaranteed :) So listen to the feedback carefully, and make sure to read the room at all times. Step up one abstraction level or fast-forward and see how that works.
The final thought on the problem of the obvious is that we sometimes don’t have the luxury of time. We sometimes have different teams around different sets of projects, and the landscape is usually changing fast. The usual way to deal with this pressure is to assume the knowledge level is similar and go with it. However, there’s nothing wrong with spending just a few minutes to very quickly check if anybody needs a hand with going-to-be-used terminology or concepts and only then launch forward. Those few minutes can save a lot of headaches due to misunderstandings later.
Photo by Vansh Sharma