Discuss or Instruct

A colleague asked me to review a presentation he was preparing for a conference. Let’s say it was about optimizing the performance of Car Brand engines. I Googled the conference. It looked like it was for mechanics who worked at performance tuning shops. His presentation opened like this:

Engines have fuel injection systems that regulate the flow of fuel into cylinders. Car Brand engines have an unusually customizable system that enables you to…

At a conference of professional mechanics, the first sentence isn’t necessary. They already know what fuel injection is.

I had basically two options to give this feedback: discuss it as a potential change, or instruct him to make the change.

To discuss the change, I’d say: “Will your audience need the first sentence? Seems like mechanics would already know what fuel injection is.”

To direct him to make the change, I’d say: “Remove the first sentence. Mechanics will already know what fuel injection is.”

I used the discussion approach. I try to do that most of the time. There are two reasons.


First, it leaves room for me to be wrong. What if my search took me to the website for the wrong conference and I misunderstood the audience? If it was an introduction to automotive technology for high school students, maybe even more information about fuel injection was needed (not less).

Second, I’ve found that people tend to experience conversations positively and instructions negatively. The discussion approach makes things positive for the person I’m helping.

There’s a tiny difference in wording between discussing and instructing, but it has had a big positive impact on my work. It leaves me room to make the mistakes that everyone eventually will. It makes it easier for others to receive my feedback.

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