Thursday, December 8, 2011

Generalization and specialization are everywhere

(Apologies in advance to the non-Americans for the large amount of Zeds in this post.)

Each of us has specific knowledge in some areas, and lacks specific knowledge in other areas. It is not enough to say that Person A is "technical" and person B is "not technical" - in reality, person B knows a bunch of stuff that person A doesn't know. Someone who knows every Internet service port number may not know the difference between EJ and The Other EJ in the Meaty Cheesy Boys. Even a biometric expert who knows all about the Type-17 iris record in the ANSI/NIST-ITL 1-2007 standard may not know about the Type-18 DNA record in the ANSI/NIST-ITL 1-2011 standard.

In short, there are times when people know a lot more than you about a specific topic, and there are times when you know a lot more than someone else about a specific topic.

Yet you somehow have to communicate with the other person, even if the person is an imbecile who doesn't know EJ from The Other EJ. Trisha Torrey may not know about the Meaty Cheesy Boys (her loss), but she has written an article about effective patient-doctor communications. Torrey makes this point:

Good communications really boils down to two things: respect for each other, and the ability to manage expectations.

One of Torrey's suggestions is valuable for any situation in which the specialist uses strange acronyms or phrases:

Doctors are trained to use a lexicon of med-speak that baffles us patients. General medical terms are used by all doctors or many specialties. Other words and concepts are specific to body systems, conditions, diseases or treatments. In all cases, you'll walk away much more satisfied from your visit, having learned what you need to know, if you stop your doctor and ask for a definition or description when he uses a concept or term you don't understand.

Whether you're a physician or a sanitary engineer, it's helpful to remember that your audience does not have the knowledge that you do, and that some terms may need further explanation.
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