OCD and TCP
The past fifteen years I’ve been working with firms that basically are consultants. We solve the problems that other firms have with a field of expertise they don’t have the people for: archaeology.
One of the basic requirements we have to fulfill is proper communication with our clients. This doesn’t solve any problems about the stuff that we are hired for, it only alleviates the uncertainties that live in the heads of our clients. Archaeology is a big unknown for them and that causes some sort of anxiety.
So even if things are going well, It’s a good idea to inform your client once in a while. It’ll keep him quiet and assured. And when things are going the wrong way: you better communicate as if your life depends on it. It doesn’t of course, but it works.
Estimating client anxiety usually isn’t the forte of academics like us. Because it’s about things we aren’t acquainted with: planning, budgets, organisation, not about archaeology. I’ve only managed to learn proper communication by observing the few people I know with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
I’ve noticed an interesting similarity between project managers and people with OCD: they are both anxious and they both tend to communicate excessively compared to the average person. Lots of information exchange can in fact alleviate anxiety: the more you know, the more assured you can feel.
One example is the triple handshake protocol. A thing used by modems to ensure proper communication. It basically consists of three messages before actual communication begins. Modem 1 introduces itself to modem 2 and asks for communications to begin, modem 2 acknowledges having received the request, introduces itself to modem 1 and declares it’s ready, modem 1 then affirms that they’re now talking to each other.
I use that same protocol with clients. When I send them a request and they answer, or deliver the requested items, I always let them know whether I received their answer and whether the items arrived in good order. This way they always know the outcome.
I’ve noticed that the other way round usually ends me up waiting for their ‘3rd message’ which never comes and that causes wonder. I wouldn’t call it anxiety, but still: once I’d gotten used to the triple handshake protocol, I started feeling the urge to call them and check.
It’s good proof of a rule I’ve blogged about earlier: behaviour determines emotions. It’s also a good indication that at least part of obsessive behaviour patterns is learned.