Don’t Talk Down to Me!

Don't Talk Down to Me
Joe Burroughs

Joe Burroughs

Many people are frustrated by uncertainty and complexity in their jobs. I use Agile principles to provide clear and simple strategies so that you can win at work!

Talking down to coworkers ends badly... for you

No one likes to be talked down to. So, if you want to get your message across or your idea implemented you need to adjust your message to fit the understanding level of your audience. This means bringing content down to their level without insulting their intelligence. There are some basic ways to ensure you are considering this when you are crafting your message or presentation:

  1. Target your initial message to a new hire – If a new employee doesn’t understand your introduction, the purpose, and the value of your message then no one else will either. People will tune out if they do not quickly understand the benefit your message offers for them. 
  2. Do not use acronyms – No one at your organization knows all the acronyms. If you use one your audience doesn’t know you are building in confusion and misunderstanding within your message. If you absolutely must use acronyms make sure to spell them out and explain them before you begin using them.
  3. Avoid complex diagrams and flow charts – no one wants to admit they are confused by diagrams and charts. So, instead they will ignore your confusing message and point out how complicated you make things behind your back.
  4. Don’t require a decoder ring – Do not rely on your audience using other materials or pre work to develop their understanding of your message or presentation. Every single message you send should stand on its own, otherwise it will fail.

"If you're telling Janet that she should know what a TLA is by now since she's worked for the company for 10 years...

You have already lost." failed." missed the mark." wasted your time." burnt a bridge."

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Communicating at work can be hard

You aren’t free to say everything in the way you might want to and yet your job quite often comes down to your ability to get your point across. It helps if you begin to think of your messages from your audience’s point of view. In other words make sure your message meets your audience at their level and area of interest. 

It is important not to talk DOWN to your audience but it is just as important not to talk OVER THEIR HEADS!

"If you're speaking to leadership about the fact that the coding language Python doesn't consider assignment to be an expression.

You have already lost." failed." missed the mark." wasted your time." burnt a bridge."

You need to make sure you aren’t talking over the heads of your audience or so deep into the weeds that they aren’t able to determine why your message is important to them.

We are all bombarded by messages all day long

For your message to get through it needs to be seen as valuable and easy to grasp. If you miss the mark on either of those two points your message doesn’t stand a chance. The audience needs to immediately see why your message is valuable to them in order for them to stay tuned in.

If they get the impression that the content is targeted to someone else or to another role they will immediately start multi-tasking or daydreaming. We are simply too inundated with messages to pay attention to anything that isn’t valuable to us.

Secondly, if your message is hard to understand your audience won’t spend the calories it takes to get the point. They just won’t. We are programmed to spend our energy where it will derive the most value for us and if something is hard and complex we will find a way to ignore it or tune out. 

But you can't talk down to me

Ok, so the messages need to be valuable and simple. Got it. One more thing though… you can’t talk down to your audience either. 

You have to hit the sweet spot of delivering a valuable but simple message presented to your audience in such a way that you aren’t insulting their intelligence or inflating your own ego with your brilliance. This is like bowling: too far to one side or the other and you end up in the gutter.

Tips for Agile Teams Working Remotely

Tips for Agile Teams Working Remotely

Regain Morale • Establish Momentum • Increase Engagement

How do I do that?

Wouldn’t it be cool if I could give you a quick step-by-step process for introducing a new idea or proposal so that you share it’s value, make it seem simple, and avoid talking down to your audience? Well, this is your lucky day!

Framework for introducing a new idea or proposal

  1. Start with a Statistic – Draw attention with a big number (or a small one)
  2. Story Time – Share a quick interesting story about the topic
  3. Ask your Audience if they Want the Answer – Getting them to admit they want to know overcomes objections later
  4. Share the Success Vision – Help them visualize the successful outcome
  5. Overcome Objections – Prepare for any obvious objections in advance and address them

Building these points into your messages increases the chance that your audience will hear and accept your message. This is the first step to getting traction on your ideas!


Joe Burroughs

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