From the Marketing Department

On the Art of Communicating about Architecture

CRSA Charette

Jim Nielson and Mehrdad Samie, CRSA Charette

Fran Pruyn is the Marketing Director at CRSA and has over 20 years of experience in theatre and performing arts.

Let’s face it: under the best of circumstances, two-way communication ain’t easy.

How often have I asked myself, “Now what was he saying, what did he mean?”  There are so many nuances communicated through body language, phrasing, and intonation.  Was he speaking from his heart, or trying to be funny?  Was he just exaggerating, or deceiving me with his wicked charm?

And, that assumes that I was really listening, let alone hearing.   It is so difficult to remember what a person actually said.  I know that even if I am trying really hard to be polite, I am already formulating what I am going to say to the other person before he has stopped talking.

Now, complicate that process by having one of the communicators speaking another language.  It doesn’t have to be French or Chinese.  In tenth grade, Chemistry was a foreign language that I tuned out long before Summer.  Like everybody in a specific industry, folks in the architecture business speak using many terms that are hitherto unknown to normal English-speaking people.  Archispeak is its own idiom.

Therefore, I think it is fair to say that at any point, your client, your CADD Tech, the designer, might be clueless about what you are really saying.  Just because you are sure you made yourself clear does not make it so.

Take, for instance, the esteemed University Dean that I was speaking with about his umpty-ump million-dollar project.  He said, “I thought I knew what net-to-gross meant.  Six months into the project,” he said, “it dawned on me ‘oh, that is what net-to-gross means, and I don’t like what I am getting.'”  Well, that was an unfortunate miscommunication that cost the project time and money.

Communicating in this technical and techno-savvy industry is a tricky business.  People don’t want to seem stupid and therefore don’t ask questions.  Those of you who are fluent in Archispeak use the words that best describe the design, the drawings, or the materials, or the site, or the vegetation, or the period in history from which this concept was derived.  If you are talking about net-to-gross and the Dean thinks he gets it but is actually clueless, you have a problem. (On the other hand, there are many architecture-savvy clients, and too many architects who are intentionally mysterious for all wrong reasons. But I digress.)

In the architect-biz, time is literally money.  The clearer the communication between all parties involved, the fewer times you will have to draw the same lines, and the more money we can make on the job.  The iterative process is least frustrating and most profitable when it continually moves forward, not backward and then forward.

So, assuming that most of us have the best of intentions, and many of us have the attention span of a gnat, what can we do?  Here are some tricks.  I got some from social workers, some from professional communication coaches, and some from acting teachers:

  • Everything someone says is for someone else’s reaction.  Don’t deprive them of that.  Respond to what they said, not what you are thinking about.
  • Wait to speak until the other person has stopped talking.  Don’t interrupt them, don’t think about what you are going to say, think about how you would paraphrase what they said.
  • Then paraphrase what the other person said, to clarify.  You’d be surprised how often you are way off.
  • Take everything at face value.  There are no hidden meanings.  (There are, of course, but if you start thinking about that then you stop listening and miss the really important stuff.)
  • You can only do one thing at a time.  If you are multi-tasking (looking at your phone, texting your mom, Facebooking) then you really are just doing one thing at a time faster.  Try concentrating on just one thing: what the other person is saying.
  • Write everything down, and share it.  Written communication is better, but not fool-proof.  Even if I am trying to be oh-so-very responsible, I often start writing a response to an email before I’ve finished reading it (after all,  I knew where they were going with this …right?)  But, at least there is record.

The goal of this is to improve the dialogue, ease the tension, enjoy our jobs more, make more money and get bigger Christmas bonuses.