Let me repeat that back to you
Two-phase commit for humans
One of the most effective communications strategies I use is repeating back, in my own words, what was just explained to me.
Take this conversation:
Person A: …explains complex technical or product concept…
Person B: “Alright, got it, I’ll go get to work on that”
If you’re an engineer reading this, you probably already see the problem. Person A has no way to know if Person B actually understands what they said. They only know that Person B thinks they understand. In practice, they’ve often misunderstood something important and find out the painful truth later.
Person B needs to confirm their understanding by detailing the point back to Person A and getting that confirmation.
Person B needs to confirm their understanding by detailing the point back to Person A and getting that confirmation. This is the second phase of the commit.
Treat it like a checkpoint, rather than a continuation of the discussion. Before you continue the discussion by introducing a new idea, or presenting an opinion, stop, repeat, and confirm. Then you can be sure you’re moving forward on the same page.
Simple, effective, immediate
This simple strategy will save you so much pain, and the effects can be immediately seen. The first time you repeat something back to someone, only to have them correct you on something you misunderstood…you know it’s working. If you’re like me, you’ll find that you catch something someone misunderstood in the vast majority of cases.
“My Aircraft” “Your Aircraft”
When airline pilots transfer control of the plane from one pilot to another, each must confirm the transfer to the other. The transfer is not complete until communication of control has happened in both directions.
In other words, this is not a novel idea, just one that we haven’t fully embraced as default in software engineering.
Isn’t that awkward?
Only if you let it be. One easy way to cut through any awkwardness is to simply let the other person know what you’re doing:
“Before we move on, let me repeat that back to you confirm that I am understanding everything”
You’ll often find that people start doing this back to you also, when you’re the one giving the initial explanation.