Dr Aniruddha Malpani How to talk to geeks July 10, 2017

Lots of entrepreneurs are nerds. The general belief is that they are awkward; lack social graces; can’t converse on any topic other than software, and don’t make for very good company.

To a certain extent, this criticism is true, but we need to dig deeper to realise that this is actually a strength. Many founders are engineers, who have been trained to think logically and systematically, which is why they can often anticipate what you’re going to say next – after all, the mind is faster than the tongue, and sound waves are slower than the electrical impulses which fire in your brain!

This is why they will often interrupt you in mid of a dialogue, which most of us think of as being rude. However, from their point of view, the purpose of your sentence was to communicate information, and since they have done this successfully, there’s no need for them to wait until you complete the sentence.

They think of a conversation from a purely functional perspective, and since they have already grasped the idea you want to convey, why should they get bored waiting for you to reach a full-stop? Wouldn’t it be a more efficient use of time if they interrupted you and responded to your idea with one of their own? After all, isn’t that the purpose of a conversation – to discuss ideas by bouncing them back and forth?

If they can do this at a faster speed than most of us can, then why shouldn’t they do so? They don’t think of this as being rude – they simply see it as a way of optimising a discussion. Just like they’re willing to interrupt you, they don’t consider you interrupting them as being impolite either, provided the signal to noise ratio remains equally high.

We, non-engineers, need to adapt the way we speak when we talk to them. It can be quite exhilarating to do so, because you don’t have to worry about social niceties. It’s fun to talk to someone who knows what you want to convey – someone, who gets your idea even before you’ve completed your sentence because they’re so smart. You don’t need to waste time repeating yourself, because they’re one step ahead of you.

This shouldn’t be misconstrued as a lack of manners – it’s just that this is the way their brains are wired, and we need to accept that if you want to have productive conversations with them. They’re not too worried about etiquette, and it’s not that they want to be offensive – it’s just that they don’t see the value addition in being patient.

Their worldview is very functional, which is why they don’t suffer fools gladly. They don’t care about hierarchies either, and can be quite blunt. All they care about is, “Are you right, or are you wrong? Let’s find out what the truth is, so we can move on and become better.”

They are usually frank and forthright, and will not hesitate to criticise your opinion if they feel you are mistaken. You need to be on your toes when you speak to them, as they won’t tolerate mental sloppiness.

They are willing to call a spade a spade, and will not bother about hurting your feelings or being politically correct.

They can provide very valuable feedback if you have the courage to listen to the unvarnished truth, but you do need to learn to develop a thick skin and not take offense when they tell you stuff you may not want to hear.

When you have these conversations, you need to pick up your pace of thinking, so that you can keep up with them. Don’t expect them to be deferential – and they will be happy to point out the holes in your thesis, no matter what your status, designation or your age is. This is why conversations with them can be so much fun, provided you don’t misinterpret their interruptions as rudeness.

The more highly evolved engineers learn to master their urge to interrupt, and can simulate being polite, which is they are the ones who climb up the corporate chain, while the vast majority are quite happy being left alone to commune with their machines!

 

Dr Aniruddha Malpani is a consultant IVF specialist, who runs one of India’s leading IVF clinics at www.drmalpani.com, along with his wife, Dr Anjali Malpani. They have founded HELP, the Health Education Library for People (www.healthlibrary.com), which is India’s first Patient Education Resource Center. He has authored many books, including: How to Get the Best Medical Care; Successful Medical Practise; Using Information Therapy to Put Patients First; and Patient Safety – Protect yourself from Medical Errors which are available for free at www.thebestmedicalcare.com. His passion is patient empowerment; and he believes that using Information Technology to deliver Information Therapy to patients can heal a sick healthcare system. He is also an active angel investor (www.malpaniventures.com).

(It was first published on LinkedIn).

An IVF specialist who believes in Information Therapy. Founder and Director at Malpani Ventures.

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