jb… a weblog by Jonathan Buys

Dazzle Them With Science

It’s not really a science, it’s more of an art. If you are careful, and attentive, you can see when someone starts working this particular art form. In a technical discussion, bit by bit, you start getting lost in the conversation, wondering how we got on to this topic, when it doesn’t have anything to do with what needs to be accomplished. Then you realize that the same guy has been talking for the past few minutes, and he’s been working his art, casting his spell, and the whole room has fallen under it. He’s convinced everyone in the room that he knows so much more, that his knowledge on the topic is so vastly superior to anyone present that no one is on the same level. Which is exactly where he wants your mind to be, because the next step after that is agreeing with whatever he wants to do.

There are several problems with the scenario described above. First, that the culture of the organization would allow a meeting to continue when the topic has been lost, and confusion has taken over. Second, there’s a good chance that the guy throwing out acronyms and buzz-words doesn’t understand the topic, or how the acronyms he’s spewing relate to the topic. He probably has a vague concept, he looked it up on Google, maybe even read about someone else doing it on TechCrunch, but he’s missing the deep understanding of the subject to speak with real authority on the matter. Einstein said:

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough

If things are getting deep and confusing, and the guy doing all the talking is talking too fast, and you start to see the same looks around the room, it’s time to take a step back. It’s time to say “wait, stop, I don’t understand how we got on this topic, let’s get back to how we can fix X”. It is at this point you see what the guy is really made of. If he’s good, he’ll respond by saying something along the lines of “ok, no problem, let me walk through it a bit slower so everyone is one the same page”. If not, he’ll try to push back, either with intimidation or more technical jargon, or he’ll change the subject, which might be best for everyone.

The most important problem that should be addressed directly is that the guy doing the talking is behaving just like a schoolyard bully. Like any bully, the one and only way to deal with him is to call him out. Make your stand, demand an answer. Of course, making a stand means that you are going to have to prepare first. You can’t stand up to him if you don’t have a solid grasp on the situation. But, if you do, if you know your tech inside and out, by all means call him out the first time he starts throwing around terms that you know don’t belong. After a few times, he will start to acknowledge your presence a little differently. He’ll start to think a little harder, and choose his words a little more carefully. An end result that will benefit everyone involved.

work culture