#45: How to Explain Things Clearly

Hey friend,

As you may remember that I started a new job in November. So far, it's going well. The team is full of great people, and I had a fantastic start in onboarding by having an offsite and two days of leadership training. While many things go well, there are challenging parts that I have to overcome quickly somehow.

One of them is learning a new domain and processes. In this phase, it's crucial for me to have people who can explain things in a way that I can understand.

As I am the new clueless manager on the team, I have yet no context of many things. Therefore, I rely on people explaining stuff in enough detail so things make sense and I can make an informed decision. There is particular stuff I can start doing, but as I'm missing context, learning the background of anything takes time and delays taking action.

Finding people who can explain things to me is difficult because these people are rare. I, once more, was faced with the reality that not everyone can explain things well to a person who has less knowledge or context. Not everyone can measure my knowledge level, even though their audience is just one person. Some people think that I'm already in context. Some assume that I am clueless while I have already learned a bit.

Many people—not just engineers—struggle to explain their knowledge, not because they don't know the topic but because they don't take the time to uncover their audience.

When I started my blog, podcast, and writing every day, one of the pieces of advice I received was to answer a simple question before starting, "Who are you creating this for?" This became a big question in my head in each podcast episode I recorded and in each article and Mektup I published. Repeating the question every single time got me into a habit.

It's not easy to learn the audience, though. But with a few techniques, it becomes easier.

Have you ever been in a talk where a speaker asked you to raise your hand if you're familiar with a particular topic? Well, that's one of the techniques to learn the audience. After the speaker asks this question, if the majority knows about that specific topic, the speaker often quickly moves forward; if not, explains deeply. This technique is adaptable to daily life as well. Maybe not asking to raise a hand in a two-people conversation but simply asking, "Are you familiar with X?" is more than enough.

That question helps us to continue the discussion effectively and creates engagement. As a result, the talk moves from monologue to conversation. The human attention span decreases yearly, so keeping the other side engaged is crucial.

Another strategy that helps to explain knowledge is thinking about how to explain the topic to a five-year-old kid. For example, how would you explain Continuous Delivery or Continuous Integration to a five-year-old kid who doesn't even know reading? We recently had leadership training at SumUp, and in one session, the presenters asked the audience to work in groups and explain one given technical topic to a five-year-old kid.

That was a great challenge and a brain gymnastic. So, my friend, next time you have to explain a technical topic to a non-technical audience, think about that. Find analogies. Even if your audience knows some technical knowledge and understands you to a degree, it's still valuable to use analogies to help them get on the same level as you.

These two simple strategies will help you get buy-in for working on the technical debt that's been building up for a while, explain why a feature was delayed, or successfully pitch an idea. These strategies enable your audience to feel included. Once they are part of it, they don't feel bored; they get on the same page as you more quickly.

Furthermore, these strategies make you a collaborative and well-communicator person. Your career growth fastens, and your relationships get better. So, next time, ask yourself, "who are you explaining this topic to?" and see the magic.

Until next time,
Candost

P.S. Let me ask you. Reply to this email with one sentence without your name and introduce yourself! Who are you?

P.P.S. Annual Performance Reviews are approaching for some folks!

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Newsletter Last Updated: Nov 29, 2022