Are you the designated technology buff in your organization? Like some people might crave a new smartphone, you crave a brand new CMS. Or an upgraded database. Maybe even an alternative email campaign solution.
You’ve investigated the platform. You’ve done all your research. Bright. Shiny. Want!
Except… Not everyone feels as comfortable with technology as you do. Maybe your co-workers don’t buy in to your big ideas. Even your great points about improved user experience, increased productivity, and ROI are bouncing right off.
Ack! Those people. Why are they like that? When you’re in the moment, maybe you attribute their resistance to fear, cynicism, or even cluelessness. When you calm down and turn your emotional IQ back on, maybe you also realize the reasons could range from past bad experiences (such as a migration gone terribly wrong) to basic organizational culture.
Hopefully, you do realize – it might also be you.
Communication problems and technological problems often go hand in hand. Try the following tips for talking about technology, and bridging the gaps between you and your target audience.
Seek The Need
First, shut up and listen. Take notes. Observe. All technology is trying to solve a problem, to meet specific human needs.
Trouble is, humans are complicated and contradictory creatures. What they tell you they want might differ from the shortcuts and hacks you see them actually use. What they say in front of their boss might be quite different from what they tell you in private. Etc. Clearly identifying their needs – let alone designing, building, implementing, and rolling out an adoptable solution – is a moving target.
Regardless, your goal is to provide value to people’s lives. So ask them about their hopes, fears, and requirements. Don’t try to enforce your own vision. Get them involved in your process. Develop their capacity. Encourage them to exercise some agency and take on ownership of the final product.
This is just technology, not magic. There is no silver bullet, no one miracle platform that will solve all your problems. To misquote Merle Haggard, that sounds a lot like free Bubble Up and rainbow stew – i.e., ain’t gonna happen. Any solution you create will ultimately evolve along with other changing platforms, business cases, etc. It’s normal to experience some bumps.
Here’s another reason not to oversell technology: You will sound like a goof. Once upon a time (a few short years ago), people thought technology would fix everything… And then we all lived with it for a while. Now your audience will be much more savvy.
To call it a backlash would be a bit too strong, but when it comes to technology there’s certainly second thoughts, suspicions, even resentment. We’re entangled, we can’t go back, but people certainly don’t have to like it – especially if they feel like they didn’t have any say in shaping the results.
Coach, Don’t Condescend. And Please Avoid Jargon
The backlash against technology is complicated and murky. However, the backlash against scientific and technological experts is very clear. Where you see excitement in a new opportunity, others may see risk and danger.
Guess what – this makes you potentially dangerous, too.
So spread the love a little. Bend over backwards to make the technology more accessible and transparent. Clearly define concepts, encourage questions, and lay out very specific roadmaps of development milestones. “Are you familiar with X? Let me explain.”
And when you explain X, don’t stop there. Clarify how X differs from Y and Z. Offer hypothetical scenarios based on actual situations your users might encounter. Also explore implications – such as, if they choose A they might risk precluding B; however, they might also leave room for C to happen, too.
Oh, the isolation. Sometimes it can get very lonely when no one speaks your language. Don’t let this mess with your judgment. If you do find someone who shares at least some of your technical vocabulary – in your joy and relief, try not to assume they share your knowledge base, too. While some people have no tech jargon at their command, others have just enough to make them dangerous.
Don’t take anything at face value. Verify and double-check all information. Cross-reference your sources. People tend either to tell you they know nothing, or to act like they know everything. Neither assessment is usually accurate.
Be Like Elsa. Let It Go
“That’s too confusing.” “Don’t simplify. I get this stuff.” “Okay, you’re just a project manager, an engineer needs to tell me that.” Ouch. You can say all the right things and still find that certain stakeholders get fussy.
Hang in there. Some of this is just outsider stuff, not necessarily technology at all. If you are bringing new methods and ideas into a formerly closed circle, it’s human nature for the tribe to beat up on you a bit first. The good news is that, if you survive this rite of passage and pass all their tests, you will build some lasting relationships – not to mention, you might get your way.
Repeat As Needed
Speaking as a former teacher, most people need to hear you explain new concepts anywhere from four to 10 times before the information starts to sink in. If you are telling them things they don’t want to hear, that number goes up considerably. Nothing I have witnessed in the business world has yet challenged that basic human truth.
Solutions: Be patient, don’t get cranky, and document, document, document. Because sometimes it takes an “oh dear” moment – i.e., when something breaks – for the information to become REALLY real. Before that, hey, all the stuff you warned them about, well, it was just a theory. It didn’t yet exist in their own immediate experience.
This is life. No point being a jerk and saying I told you so. However, when someone yells, “Why didn’t you warn me?” it’s also nice to have that documentation ready at hand.
Break It Down
Some people do want to know very complicated technical explanations. Others really don’t. Others just want to hear a complicated explanation once, and then they’ll trust you after that.
Stay alert to another opportunity. You may have stakeholders who want or desperately need short talking points so they can sell your technology solution up the ladder. In this context, here’s what the talking points look like: problem statement, solution statement, justification (i.e., why this solution, versus alternatives), and plan (including major actions and delivery date).
If that takes you a whole page, oh, no. Try to develop a tagline, an elevator pitch, and then a short paragraph. By short, I mean three lines. Please feel free to follow that paragraph with bullet points, but if you use more than four bullet points in a row, then I will come after you.
Have A Little Empathy
Technology has and will continue to create huge disruption throughout our economy and labor force, with major ripple effects for all aspects of how we live our lives. Change is the only given.
In this context, it’s not surprising that many people approach technology with trepidation. It’s natural for them to wonder – how will this development change my job? Will it be harder, not easier? Am I smart enough to handle this? Pretty soon, will my job even exist?
Better communication about technology can help you get that new system you want, sure. But an even more effective goal is to use these tips to create a more level playing field. That way, your coworkers and business partners can all participate more equally in technology discussions.
Better communication will make all of you – and your entire enterprise – much more flexible and adaptable in the face of ongoing technological change and disruption.