Use Your Words (Even When You Can’t)
Even in a profession where we quite literally draw pictures to communicate, words are incredibly important, too. Use them carefully, and precisely to get the job done right, and don’t forget that words can communicate very differently if they are said out loud versus written down, and there’s a time and place for both.
July 9, 2018
Whether you say them out loud, or write them down, it matters.
Do you ever wish you could just upload your thoughts into someone else’s brain and just skip the whole speaking words part?
Okay, that may be a super creepy sentiment best left to science fiction, but it is something I’ve thought about. I’m a painfully fast talker. I have to consciously try and slow… My. Speech. Down. My mom always joked that my brain was a few minutes faster than my mouth and that they were constantly fighting. She was right. I also have this rather odd affliction (Speech impediment? Brain freeze?) where there are certain words that I just cannot get out of my mouth. Like, I have to either sing it or blurt it out in a forceful way. I don’t talk about it much, as I’ve just dealt with it and danced around it, but it is one of those quirks in life.
And, without fail, there are still just certain words or phrases that I just can’t say. Words like: radiator, custom residential, and I’m wrong. Just kidding on that last one (although my husband might disagree). But I think because I can barely get out the words “radiator” and “custom residential” (and there are more, but those are the most applicable to, you know, being an architect), that I’m extra aware of the power of words.
I don’t have to tell you — words mean a lot, and there is precision to what they mean. Trust me, trying to describe what a radiator is without being able to force out the stupid word makes it a little cumbersome and not that clear. Try telling the contractor to relocate the “network of pipes with hot water in them that heat the room,” and not have them look at you a little confused. Clarity matters, especially when you are trying to describe something that will be physically constructed.
So, I have found that carefully and precisely documenting conversations in written form is the best way to convey the words I can’t often say. It is also a reminder that spoken conversation and written conversation can go hand in hand, and they often should to properly and clearly convey a thought. Words said with emotion can have a very different meaning, and tone can be completely misread by email. There’s a time and a place for both, and using a precise word when there is one is key. It’s not like the tone you say radiator or custom residential will necessarily change that much. (Sarcastic radiators, anyone?) But I can’t stress this enough: you can’t count on tone communicating clearly over email. Sometimes, you just need to talk on the phone; and sometimes you need to ensure things are in writing. Do both, as needed.
When working with clients, I try to do my best to convey the meaning of the words we use if they’re not immediately obvious. I’ve written before about how I hate acronyms in conversation, and I also really dislike “archi-speak,” which is typically a babbled pile of fancy-sounding words used by architects to make themselves seem more important. (That’s the intent, right? It certainly isn’t to improve communication.) I try and practice the model of asking when I don’t know what a word means (or means in that context) and I encourage all my clients to do the same. Interrupt, ask, and clarify. It’s good advice.
And when the contractor asks me what the heck a “network of pipes with hot water in them that heat the room” really means, because why couldn’t I just say “radiator,” I know that at least I conveyed the intent of the word even if it sounded ridiculous. Because in the end, not only do I love being ridiculous, I also love getting my point across any damn way I can.
This post is part of the ArchiTalks series originally spearheaded by Bob Borson of Life of an Architect. Historically, he has selected a theme and a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s posts. This year, the themes have been selected by a variety of contributors. This month’s theme was selected by Jeremiah Russell of the Rogue Architecture and is: "Words." To read how others interpreted the theme, please explore the links below.
Jeff Echols - Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
Does anyone hear your words?
Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
A pictures worth
Drew Paul Bell - Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell)
Mindset for Endless Motivation and Discipline #Architalks
Jim Mehaffey - Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
Words Are Important
Leah Alissa Bayer - The Stoytelling LAB (@leahalissa)
Architects Are Storytellers