Flat People, Resumes and Coded Language

People often speak in coded language - some more than others. The problem with coded language is that it requires a secret decoder ring to figure out what they mean.

I'm not talking about jargon and vocabulary which are used in exclusionary ways. That particularly insidious form of manipulation - taking commonly used and understood terminology and morphing it to have a different, specific, and subtly different meaning - is often used as a two-pronged way in unfair, point-scoring debate:

1) To give people a retreat-spot in the debate, so that they can disavow their manipulation by saying "clearly you don't understand technical term A, which I'm using, rather than common-term B".

2) To allow the person to shut down their opponent in the debate. "Clearly you need to go educate yourself so that you know what A means, and it's not my job to do that for you - I don't owe you anything."

That's particularly lame, because no, sorry, it's everyone's job to teach - that's how we advance as a species, and it's matter of good-will and good-faith interaction with your fellow human.

There are cases where it's valid as a shorthand for saying "I'm not interested in debating stuff where I'm an expert and you're ignorant" - but you don't get to exercise it if you're arguing in public with random people; if you want to argue as an expert, it's your duty to "stoop to their level" and make sure you're understood.

No, I'm talking about simple "read between the lines" discourse. With many people, you have to infer what they really mean, who they're really talking about, what the subject is, what's really going on, what the underlying motivation is, and what the politics of the situation are.

This is so common that it's weird when you meet people who don't behave like this. I've found a few people over the years who just give it to you completely straight, flat, and don't hide their intent behind mountains of chaff and flak... (although everyone will hide a little for safety).

Unless you know those people really really well, you'll spend a lot of time trying to decode them, and in the process invent motivations and meanings that don't actually exist. Eventually a lightbulb will click on, and you'll realize that no, just take exactly what they said as baseline truth, and read no more into it and no less into it than what they specifically said.

These people choose their words carefully, and think before they speak.

Even when you know this is in operation, you're going to have a weird time of it, simply because everyone else is doing the chaff and flak maneuver... so by now, it has become automatic for you to fill in the gaps and blanks. For people who give it to you flat, straight and unadorned, you'll need to actively remember not to infer.

But once you do, it's magic.

How To Stay Competitive If You're Flat

There are disadvantages to this approach for those "flat" people though. And that's the résumé problem.

Most people, when they send off a CV or résumé, embellish. The inflation rate of the average CV is probably 30%. You present your best foot forward, and maybe a little white lie here and there. The same goes for reports, business interactions, so on and so on.

The problem comes in if you're a "flat" person. You'll give a perfectly honest, reasoned and detailed appraisal of what you did. Unfortunately, because everyone else is inflating their appraisals by 30%, you are now 30% worse-off than you should be, simply because you didn't puff up your chest and inflate your report as well.

You can't rely on others to remember not to infer when dealing with you, particularly if they're a recruiter (who deal with hundreds of résumés), or in a large business. Instead, you have to play the game as it's presented to you.

All you can do is be honest and truthful, but also focus on the wins, de-emphasize the losses, and join the rest of the people who are inflating. Present the information which is the most wow-worthy.

It'll feel wrong, or boastful... but when everyone else is playing a different game than you are, you can only lose.

About the author

Simon Cooke is an occasional video game developer, ex-freelance journalist, screenwriter, film-maker, musician, and software engineer in Seattle, WA.

The views posted on this blog are his and his alone, and have no relation to anything he's working on, his employer, or anything else and are not an official statement of any kind by them (and barely even one by him most of the time).

facebook comments