Don’t Hide Behind Pronouns!

September 1, 2016 | , ,

“Ya know…we send them stuff”

Let’s admit first off what none of us want to admit – that most of us have forgotten what exactly a “pronoun” is…

Its basically any use of “you”, “we”, “them”, “they”, etc. – unspecific references to people or actors in a conversation or past event being discussed.

Believe it or not – the lazy use of pronouns is a huge problem in the field of IT architecture & design, and even business analysis.

Example:

  • Bob is a project architect at a college facilitating a workshop for the design of an interface between two systems
  • In describing the current flow of information between the two systems, Bob states that “We send them a file nightly”.

Who is “we” and “them”? Bob needs to specifically state it.

Bob might then answer: “Ok, ‘the college sends the vendor a file nightly’”.

Not good enough! If one is describing a flow of data between systems, one should name the systems to remove all doubt. And while you’re at it, Bob – describe “the file” a little better, too: “Acme app server sends transaction file containing student payments to Foozball, Inc.’s datamart nightly”.

The lazy use of “we”, “them”, etc. in technical discussions is a kind of cop-out and short-hand habit of communicating, and even thinking.

The root of this communication anti-pattern may be that, in any given situation, Bob can’t really answer “what/who is ‘we’?” If so – Bob is hiding from a knowledge gap that must be filled. Or it may be that he lacks the confidence to describe systems & process correctly, so he reverts to a simpler, generic use of pronouns to avoid the (perceived) embarrassment of getting corrected by a colleague or stakeholder. Or it could simply be a bad habit that needs breaking – or all three.

Bob – and you, dear reader (if you also suffer from this problem) – should become aware of when he communicates this way, and begin practicing communicating the correct way verbally. Written communication usually forces the need to be specific – it’s the short-hand, verbal discussion that needs tuning up.

Contact us if you need a high-tech grammar coach for your team.

Ben Sommer is a Principal Consultant with Systems Flow, Inc. He currently consults in enterprise & solution architecture for large clients. He also leads training programs for Systems Flow. His career has spanned network, systems, and open source software engineering with a focus on identity management. Ben is a trained musician and composer.

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One Response to “Don’t Hide Behind Pronouns!”

  1. “Who” Creates Risk :: Systems Flow, Inc. on September 15th, 2016 7:00 am

    […] by the entry authored by my friend and colleague, Ben Sommer, reflecting on the laziness of describing architecture with pronouns. In our roles as architects, IT strategists, or just technical leaders guiding successful project […]

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