No Hablo Engineer


I live and breathe (not to mention teach) under the presumption that I communicate well:  a theory tested twice per week between 11:15 am and Noon.  It is during that time on Mondays and Wednesdays that I attempt to direct a  dozen or so engineers through a basic Bootcamp workout.  The only problem?  With engineers nothing is ever direct, let alone basic.

I learned quickly to choose my words carefully.  I never use “THE” in a sentence — too abstract.  Instead, I say “THAT” followed by appropriate hand gestures and head bobbing to avoid any confusion.  I emphasize  the rule  “less is more.”  The more I say, the more there is to analyze.  Less is always better.  Most importantly, I have mastered the art of not breathing.  Where there is breath, there is room for questions.

Even with all these rules, I still make constant errors in communication.

Like the day I told them to make three lines of four, facing the building.  It was complete chaos.  No one could agree on which building to face, or if the delivery depot counted as  building.  The whole issue of straight line or curved came up, bouncing somewhere around the notion that true lines have no beginning nor end.  By the time they started arguing about the lines being 3×4 or 4×3, I had lost all control.  I now use words like “column” and “row,” and  I am the only landmark they are ever asked to face. 

I made the mistake once of telling them to run a hill backwards.  Did that mean down first and then up?  Should they turn around at the top and the bottom?  Should the higher velocity then be up instead of down? Wouldn’t it just be easier to run around the hill?  Now I just say follow me.

My biggest missteps come when I try to give a series of exercises in one directive (i.e.  sprint to the picnic table, 20 reps up and down, sprint back, and five burpees.)  Such a series usually elicits a row or column of blank stares.  To which I respond with, “sprint to the table and we’ll go from there.”  We are still working on our trust issues.

I probably do communicate well . . .under the assumption that everyone is like me.  But they are not. 

My engineers might even be good listeners . . . under the assumption that everyone is like them.  But I am not.

We somehow have to find a middle ground.  A mutual understanding.   An understanding that comes most easily when I quit talking and tell them to just “follow me.” 

Maybe I am alone in this, but I really like to feel understood.  I hate it when my words are mistaken and misquoted.  I try too hard at times to defend who I am and what I do.  When I ought, instead, to allow my actions to speak for themselves.  If I want to communicate who I am and what I represent, then I should live out what it is I am trying to say.  Like Paul the apostle who wrote “follow me as I follow Christ.”  Jesus even said that Christians should be known by how they love and live, not by how loudly they sing the hymns or how quickly they quote the scriptures.

My engineers give me a hard time about not explaining well, and I give them a hard time about being engineers.    A banter I look forward to every day.  Because I know when the teasing ends and the workout begins, there is nothing left to say — the doing says it all.

Speaking less and living more equals a well-engineered life.

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Last week, one of my favorites wore a burgundy t-shirt that read “MATH ROCKS.”  I teased him a bit about the shirt between intervals.  He responded to my pokes with a smirk, adding that he won the shirt in a math limerick writing contest.  He, of course, still remembers the winning poem and recited it with a perfect Irish accent.  I listened carefully to his words . . . I nodded and laughed, completely pretending I understood what it meant . . . the rest of the class responded with their own math riddles . . . I again pretended to get the joke.  Maybe next time, I will have to follow them for a bit.

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