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Articulate == Lying Loser?
February 5, 2003 2:31 PM   Subscribe

Why articulate people make bad colleagues Nick Denton, proprietor of various websites, sometime columnist for Management Today, and supposed intelligent person has come up with this gem in his weblog: "But I've been interviewing software engineers, and find myself prejudiced against those that talk fluently. . . . Either they were born persuasive, and so they've always been able to get away with it; or else they've always broken promises, so they've had to learn how to explain away their failures." For the most part, I think he's wrong, but I can see where he's coming from. Should articulate people be banned from time-sensitive positions?
posted by gkostolny (41 comments total)

 
Should articulate people be banned from time-sensitive positions?

*moves onto next link*
posted by oog at 2:41 PM on February 5, 2003


I can't see where he's coming from. It's one of the most ludicrous generalizations I've run across in recent memory.

Add to the list of reasons why I am to be mistrusted: Anglo, male, middle-class, suburban, and eloquent?
posted by vraxoin at 2:41 PM on February 5, 2003


Yes. Absolutely yes. Let's start with the presidency.
posted by 4easypayments at 2:49 PM on February 5, 2003


I don't hire articulate people because they might be smart enough to see through my bullshit. And we can't have that.
posted by jjg at 2:51 PM on February 5, 2003


As an articulate software engineer, who prides himself on the accuracy of his spoken word, and his professional work, I find this statement to be highly untrue. I think that there is a definite need for both of these types of people.
posted by woil at 2:53 PM on February 5, 2003


ha! he doesn't want to hire articulate people, but then they can be so persuasive...
posted by mokey at 3:04 PM on February 5, 2003


No. Just no.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 3:06 PM on February 5, 2003


Oh, I see--this is one of those faux Golden Days of Metafilter posts.

A weblog entry.

No links.

Cri-yi.
posted by y2karl at 3:15 PM on February 5, 2003


Sorry, y2karl - from reading MeFi over the past few months I got the impression that what passed for a reasonable post was something interesting. I think that Denton makes an interesting, if rather nutty, point.

I was trying to spur a little discussion.
posted by gkostolny at 3:21 PM on February 5, 2003


I don't recall it exactly, but I think it was Edward Said who observed that Balzac's short stories and Wagner's libretti (whoa, that's articulate!) were very detailed because both were always owing money, and spent part of their lives explaining and excusing themselves so much that this type of discourse crept into their writing style.
The specific case linked above is simply someone's attempt to articulate and rationalize his own quirks (which could be rooted in some kind of inferiority complex).
His statement is a contradiction in terms, since he's guilty of the same sin he denounces; to be coherent with his views on persuasion, he must quit his job ASAP, since he'd lack the skills to be an impartial interviewer.
posted by 111 at 3:22 PM on February 5, 2003


I personally like hiring software engineers who speak in a incoherent system of grunts and mumbles. Who cares if I can't communicate with them?
posted by pjdoland at 3:23 PM on February 5, 2003


This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard.

I learned, when hiring engineers, that the best software engineers are the individuals who are well-rounded; these people can see the big picture and the little one all at once.

The grunters, are often grunting to cover up.
posted by goneill at 3:31 PM on February 5, 2003


I find myself prejudiced against those that wear 3 days worth of stubble. Why? Well, in part, the best engineers I know tend to be either clean shaven, or have a full beard - there's a correlation. But I wonder whether there's a broader lesson. Stubbled people are typically bad at deadlines. Either they were born with the stubble, which is unlikely; or else they keep forgetting to shave, so they obviously can't be trusted to remember deadlines either.

Does any of this make sense? No, of course not.
posted by pitchblende at 3:37 PM on February 5, 2003


There's a difference between articulate and slick.
posted by avdi at 3:42 PM on February 5, 2003


Ick. Maybe he's afraid of employees who can actually speak to clients or decision makers without going through him.
posted by blissbat at 3:48 PM on February 5, 2003


God bless simple folk. Mainly because they're not smart enough to con you out of things. Lawyers and grifters and other fast talkers, why they're the tool of the devil.
posted by destro at 4:03 PM on February 5, 2003


I hesitate to post this in public, but hey. As an articulate person who constantly struggles to stay on-deadline, I thought he was right on. I can recall many a time in the foolish days of my youth when I managed to wriggle out a deadline simply by talking my way out.

This is mainly high school I'm thinking of here, really, when I did it constantly and always got away with it. But I'm ashamed to admit that my working life has not been entirely free of such situations.

Note to Googling future employers: I have cleaned up my act altogether, and will never attempt to fast talk my way out of any of your deadlines. Our professional relationship is far too important to me for any of that kind of thing. I've learned my lesson.
posted by rusty at 4:21 PM on February 5, 2003


Only Idiot Savants need apply.
posted by Opus Dark at 4:29 PM on February 5, 2003


I don't know. This strikes me as a conclusion so far removed from rational thinking that I can only draw a similarly strange inference: Denton wants no one but dribbling sycophants for his hapless Napoleonic pursuits.

On film shoots, I've found that those who are the most articulate and who possess the most variegated interests are the best to work with. Because they sometimes bring with them entirely new perspectives that other crew members haven't considered because of diverse backgrounds and an effective way to communicate it. (And often the best heads are those who listen to the talented people they've assembled on their staff; e.g., the Bush administation.) This kind of talent can be counted upon to offer an ideas in a creative and collaborative environment that often needs to find a unique way to make a lack of lights or a deadline that Denton couldn't even fathom (shooting 25 pages in two days, which I've helped to make happen on more than a few occasions) into something as magical as possible in a no or low-budget environment.
posted by ed at 4:42 PM on February 5, 2003


Smarter people are more articulate, and smarter people make worse employees from the point of view of your typical head-up-ass bureaucrat. We don't let the system (be it deadlines, leave form requests, parking regulations, whatever) manipulate us, we manipulate the system.

So, we do more and better actual work, as well as getting a whole lot more out of our employment (in terms of benefits, client satisfaction, and to an extent salary) but we frustrate the rigid non-lateral thinkers a great deal in the process. Which is fair enough, because they frustrate the hell out of us.

For example, there are smart HR people, and dumb HR people. Smart HR people hire useful employees and try their best to keep them happy and loyal. Means to this end include salary, benefits, and genuinely morale-building exercises like team lunches. Dumb HR people hire other dumb people who pose no threat and will follow their rules, enforce the rules of the HR department regardless of their effect, and generally see themselves as under siege and their interests as opposed to those of other employees.

Smart people ask "What is it we are trying to achieve? How can I make this work so we all are happier and the best results are achieved, with minimal imposition onto myself and others?" Dumb people ask "Exactly what am I supposed to do? Good, I'll do exactly that." Remember the story of the two bricklayers? The dumb one is laying bricks. The smart one is working to build a building.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:46 PM on February 5, 2003


Never trust an articulate internet entrepreneur, or an inarticulate one, but only one who can feign inarticularcy to a convincing degree. Then distrust yourself.

(I agree with Nick Denton to some extent).
posted by liam at 5:00 PM on February 5, 2003


Smarter people are more articulate, and smarter people make worse employees from the point of view of your typical head-up-ass bureaucrat.

I think this misses the point. There are different kinds of intelligence. Technical proficiency is one thing; verbal proficiency another; and social awareness and intelligence is probably yet a third. I don't particularly agree with Denton's generalization (though I doubt he meant it as an earnest scientific conclusion meant for rigorous discussion -- and nor do I, mine, for that matter), but it seems to be true that a given person is more likely to have but one sort of intelligence than both (or all three).

Would that it were otherwise.
posted by mattpfeff at 5:20 PM on February 5, 2003


I don't know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.

-Bilbo Baggins
posted by stbalbach at 6:38 PM on February 5, 2003


i always thought being articulate isn't the same as being eloquent or persuasive.

from what i understand, being articulate is more about making yourself understood than about making people agree with you.

i know this because i can be pretty articulate when i want to be, but i'm neither eloquent nor persuasive at all.
posted by juv3nal at 6:48 PM on February 5, 2003


Denton writes: "Well, in part, the best engineers I know tend to be socially awkward; there's a correlation. "

He's generalizing from his limited exposure to software engineers. Perhaps the best ones he knows are awkward, but that's hardly a general truth.
posted by dws at 6:59 PM on February 5, 2003


ARRRRGGHHHHHH

-Smeagol
posted by clavdivs at 6:59 PM on February 5, 2003


Persuasive people are typically bad at deadlines. Either they were born persuasive, and so they've always been able to get away with it; or else they've always broken promises, so they've had to learn how to explain away their failures.


What a fucker. I hope I never have to meet an ass like that guy in person. I knew a guy like him once - when he was losing an argument, he'd suddenly suddenly turn the argument personal: you always contradict me or you're just arguing to win. To which, of course, there is no response; the act of responding proves his point. Same situation here. Quite manipulative when you think about it.

Management Strategy: Surround self with good workers who are also incapable of succesfully explaining or defending themselves when accused. Such people will do what they're told and never have the wherewithal to ask for a raise.
posted by eustacescrubb at 7:35 PM on February 5, 2003


This strikes me as a conclusion so far removed from rational thinking that I can only draw a similarly strange inference: Denton wants no one but dribbling sycophants for his hapless Napoleonic pursuits.

Hmmmm. Why wouldn't Nick Denton want to hire *you*?

Seriously, though. Lately I've been pondering something that's sort of the other half of the arc that Denton seems to be working on: being articulate rarely does you any good outside of certain circles. Really. I can think of a half-dozen situations in recent memory where I've tossed off what I considered a well-articulated and possibly insightful assesment of an issue, and been completely blown off.

I'm beginning to cope with the idea that most folks conserve focus and thought, and a well-articulated and insightful viewpoint that doesn't mesh with their agenda rarely earns you a changed mind. And maybe that even smart people don't necessarily think things through, but rather feel them out. And maybe that articulation may well become a crutch for some people who are good at it...

On the other hand, to not want people around who can actually communicate what they're thinking seems really a bit unhealthy to me.
posted by namespan at 10:57 PM on February 5, 2003


Nucular, make no mistake, Nucular ! Evildoer shall visit Nasa, I did..ehm..I didn't..Oh well, Nucular !
posted by elpapacito at 5:12 AM on February 6, 2003


There are so many problems with this type of reasoning
posted by lilboo at 8:57 AM on February 6, 2003


This is the flip side of an argument I have heard from blockheads who hire newspaper reporters. When I was in journalism school, a top editor for the Dallas Morning News visited our class. He said, "How many of you are bad at math? Raise your hand." My hand stayed in my lap. Many hands shot up. "Good," he said. "I find that the best writers tend to be lousy at math."

What an idiotic thing to say. Show me a good, clear writer and I'll show you someone who excelled at writing proofs in geometry.

Our interlocutor in college is now chairman of the Associated Press, the largest newsgathering organization in the world. I hope the AP isn't discriminating against people who were good at math in high school and college.

Whereas Burl Osborne said the most articulate people tend to be bad at math, Nick Denton is saying that the best engineers tend to be inarticulate. Both statements are stupidly overbroad generalizations that simply aren't true.
posted by Holden at 9:43 AM on February 6, 2003


ed, theres nothing worse than somebody who constantly intellectualises whats going on in a scene and i will pull out the uta hagen quote if neccessary.
posted by sgt.serenity at 10:01 AM on February 6, 2003


when he was losing an argument, he'd suddenly suddenly turn the argument personal: you always contradict me or you're just arguing to win. To which, of course, there is no response;

I've run into this a few times, and my favourite response is some sort of variation of;

"You're on crack aren't you?"

Which has a habit of ending the conversation (and not always in a good way), but does highlight the wrong turn it's taken.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 11:24 AM on February 6, 2003


Dear Mr. Denton,

You are not Joel Spolsky and probably never will be.
posted by straight at 11:34 AM on February 6, 2003


clavdivs: HA HA HA! Thanks.
posted by jennyb at 11:58 AM on February 6, 2003


What an idiotic thing to say. Show me a good, clear writer and I'll show you someone who excelled at writing proofs in geometry.

Heh. Alas, lots of people love empty, flowery writing. And it's especially valuable in the news industry, where actual facts are much harder to come by than pretty phrases and most readers don't know any better anyway....

(NB: I, personally, agree -- mathematics was one of my concentrations in undergrad. But on the other hand, I can't even get much freelance writing work at the present time, so maybe -- maybe -- I'm not to judge.)
posted by mattpfeff at 12:36 PM on February 6, 2003


I'd also argue Nick's premise: So many jobs require articulate personalities, if only to successfully navigate bureaucracies. I'd say it's an asset to be able to force your priorities on others, to encourage others to work on your behalf, and to sweet-talk your way into better deals and more favorable contracts. In the non-selfish practice of the prisoner's dilemma, these methods are acted against agents outside of the group (company, enterprise, office, department). In the selfish practice, they are acted against members of one's own group. Either way there are benefits, if the goal set is sound and the product clearly defined.

I'd also agree with Nick's premise: In my experience, articulation also correlates with reluctance to participate in consensus particularly if the individual is at odds with a higher authority, reluctance to put up a unified front for the sake of appearances to other groups or individuals not of the same group, higher levels of ambition (thus, more job hunting, more turnover and more intense office politics and gossip), and more time spent in non-work socializing (in person, via phone or via the Internet). In some jobs these are assets (sales, for example) and some they are less so (soldiering, for example).
posted by Mo Nickels at 1:06 PM on February 6, 2003


I don't think Nick was attempting to frame an all-purpose aphorism here - I think he was merely making a wee, casual, situation-specific observation which, when liberally spritzed with his own overreaching articularitiness (sometimes known as glibness), spilled over the top of its original container.

[Opus Dark: *REJECTED*]
posted by Opus Dark at 2:37 PM on February 6, 2003


Alternatively, articulate programmers are just so goddamned rare, that when one does turn up, it's highly likely that there's something fishy.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 4:03 PM on February 6, 2003


This thread reminded me of this passage from Frederick Douglass's Narrative of the Life of a Slave:

Very soon after I went to live with Mr. and Mrs.
Auld, she very kindly commenced to teach me the
A, B, C. After I had learned this, she assisted me in
learning to spell words of three or four letters. Just
at this point of my progress, Mr. Auld found out
what was going on, and at once forbade Mrs. Auld
to instruct me further, telling her, among other
things, that it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to
teach a slave to read. To use his own words, further,
he said, "If you give a nigger an inch, he will take
an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey
his master -- to do as he is told to do. Learning would
SPOIL the best nigger in the world. Now," said he, "if
you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to
read, there would be no keeping him. It would for-
ever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once be-
come unmanageable, and of no value to his master.
As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great
deal of harm. It would make him discontented and
unhappy."

posted by eustacescrubb at 5:17 AM on February 7, 2003


it's highly likely that there's something fishy

Thank you. I've come back to this thread a few times because I'm wondering where Denton is running into wild packs of communicative engineers on the loose. If glib, literate, overly-hygenic engineers really are the biggest problem in your life, take a moment and thank someone for how easy you have it.
posted by yerfatma at 1:48 PM on February 8, 2003


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