I first started working with digital technology in a live production setting almost 15 years ago. Since then, I’ve worked in the digital world for my jobs, school, hobbies, and church.
Being a member of the millennial generation, I possess the label of “digital native,” meaning I am a part of the first generation to grow up in the high-tech age. Most devices and software, even ones I’ve never used, rarely feel unfamiliar. I am pretty comfortable navigating in the digital world.
But I am not often completely around by people of my generation and with a similar background. In other words, I am surrounded by non-tech people. This is especially true in my job, where I oversee all production, communications, IT, and media work. Having to oversee pretty much everything tech related means that I often have to answer questions and explain changes to the non-tech crowd.
Many others in similar situations may take one of the following approaches to communicating with the non-tech crowd:
1) Use the technical jargon because that’s the easiest thing to do.
2) Mock those who don’t understand the terms.
3) Work hard to use simple terms that make people feel comfortable.
I work really hard to do #3. Just this week, we changed a software program from being run on a server at the office to being run on an online server. This is not the place to list the benefits of the change, but I had to walk a number of people through the transition. There were many steps involved, and some of them were fairly technical in nature. Yet I had a choice: which of the 3 above approaches would I take?
As I said, #3 is my desired method. It’s probably better to use the word standard than the word method, because I know I don’t always achieve that standard.
Because my title includes the tech stuff, people already assume I know more than they do (this is not always true). So when I explain something to them, I don’t need to make them feel inferior because they don’t know as much. They don’t need to feel threatened because I use highly technical language that appears threatening.
Instead, I need to see those moments of explanation as a teaching opportunity. In that moment, I can use my explanation as a way to empower them with knowledge. They can (hopefully) better understand something that’s unfamiliar, and eventually they feel comfortable enough to talk about it easily.
What does that mean for you? If you are considered an expert on something at work or at home, set a goal to begin making experts around you. Look for ways to teach people, to make them smarter about your area of expertise.
In the end, your ability to do that well will reveal the true depth of your knowledge.