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One Key Skill We Are Never Taught
I step out into the street of sunny Buenos Aires, pretty intimidated by being in South America for the first time in my life.
As such, I didn’t fancy branching out too much on my first day, so head down the block to a little hole-in-the-wall grill spot.
“Bocadillo de pollo, por favor.”
“Ey?”, came the response.
“Bocadillo de pollo.”
blank stare *
I look to my friend next to me. We’d both been in the same Spanish class for two years. Both of us share a look: is this guy stupid?
We may not be the best at Spanish, but we are pretty confident about this one. Bocadillo de pollo. Chicken sandwich.
“Po-yo”, I repeat slowly, as if to a child.
“Ahhh, po-sch-oh”, comes the heavily accented Argentine back at me. “Sándwich de po-sch-oh entonces.”
Realising our 7 years of Spanish is not going to help us too much in this land of Italian-ised Spanish, we get our chicken sandwiches (which unfortunately lays my friend out with terrible food poisoning for the whole first week of traveling) & beat a hasty retreat .
What’s my point?
What struck me that day was this:
How we communicate is far more important than what we communicate.
You could have the best idea on the planet, but if you are unable to communicate it clearly to others, then that idea will never be realised.
It will lie, discarded, tied up in a mass of confusion & miscommunication.
Despite the importance of communication, we still tend to overlook or ignore the need for clear communication.
Generally, iff someone doesn’t understand what we are trying to communicate to them, we say:
“Well, it’s not my fault. This guy is too stupid. He just doesn’t get it. I can’t spend hours trying to explain everything. Nothing would ever get done.”
We pass off responsibility.
We blame others.
We hold up our hands as if it were all out of our control.
This arrogance, this detachment from reality, this absolute belief in the clarity of our communicatio, is to our own chagrin.
It means we entirely miss the point, the one I experienced in Buenos Aires:
That everyone has different experiences, different norms, different systems of belief that determine how they perceive & interpret the world.
People are really, really diverse.
The Cost of Poor Communication
Say you are a product designer & you’re trying to explain some really exciting idea to your team.
You frantically talk about the benefits of this new feature & how it’s going to change everything & how we should all just go & build it already. Now.
And, when you finish, they all look back at you with a blank stare.
Because you, like myself in Buenos Aires, failed to empathise with them & to recognise that they are people different to you, with different experiences & therefore a different of the world.
Getting annoyed at them would be unfair.
They don’t share your knowledge built up from 4 years at design school. Of 10 years’ in your trade. Of reading 100+ books on design.
They haven’t sat thinking about this problem. Testing out hypotheses. Mapping out logical user flows. Interviewing users to deeply understand them.
It’s just not realistic that a frantic, incomplete explanation is going to effectively communicate what you want to communicate accurately.
So you end up with a pile of projects never realised.
Design ideas that never come to fruition.
Opportunities to educate others wasted.
Time. Ideas. Motivation. Lost in the intrepid waters of miscommunication.
Lost in translation.
How to Communicate Better
So you can either throw your hands up & repeat your excuses. That it’s their fault. That they should just “get” it. That they are too stupid to understand your brilliant insights.
Or you can push yourself to improve how you communicate.
And what’s the best way to do that?
Through creating a small 5–10 minute window every morning to journal, on paper or on a note-taking app, to give yourself the time & focus to write about whatever is on your mind.
It’s a powerful habit, writing. Because writing creates a space with an absolute focus on a single subject matter.
It allows you to calmly, logically connect the dots on paper in order to present a clear, coherent argument on that subject matter.
It allows you to think through the arguments. Through the counter-arguments. To refine your ideas as best you can.
Write each day on a specific subject, in whatever manner works for you. You can free flow, write in essay form, in bullet points, in disconnected points.
The style doesn’t matter. The outcome does.
And that outcome will be that, next time you present an idea, you will be clear, you will be concise, you will have substance.
And, most importantly, everyone in the room will understand you. And put their support behind you.