How to Translate Tech-Speak Into Everyday Speech (So You Don’t Confuse Your Non-Technical Co-Workers)

How to Translate Tech-Speak Into Everyday Speech (So You Don’t Confuse Your Non-Technical Co-Workers)

Roy Moore is the Senior Salesforce Developer at a nonprofit in Colorado Springs.

He came into his role through the back door, asking questions for which he didn’t know the answers. He remembers the confusion of those conversations, and how so much of their “tech-speak” was lost in translation.

It has given Roy a perspective that now allows him to help end-users understand hard topics. As a result, he considers himself more of a teacher than a techie, and anyone dealing with departmental communication issues would do well to learn from him.

Here are three of the most valuable lessons he’s learned in communicating and understanding tech-speak in everyday speech.

1) The Power of a Good Analogy

“I’m more of a teacher than a techie.”
– Roy Moore

Before Roy was at his current company, he was at a Salesforce consultancy, where he would have kickoff meetings with clients. He would often start off the call explaining that he was going to ask many questions, possibly to the point where they’d be uncomfortable.

One of the things he did was tell the story of hypothetical clients asking him for “chickens, pigs, and cows.”

“Why?” he said to the clients in the story.

“Because we need them to do our job,” they said. “We can’t do our work if we don’t have chickens, pigs, and cows.”

“OK, let me ask this a different way. Are you going to be a farmer?”

“No.”

“Are you creating a petting zoo?”

“No.”

“Then why do you need these animals?”

“Well,” they said, “We like breakfast. To do our work, we need breakfast. Without these animals, we can’t have breakfast.”

“Oh! You want eggs, bacon, and milk.”

“Exactly!”

“What if I just give you eggs, bacon, and milk?”

At this point, there might be some chuckling or some eye-rolling. Despite the light tone, the exchange was all meant to help the two sides get on the same page.

Also, if at some point on a later call they said something that didn’t make sense to Roy, he’d say, “You know, this smells like a chicken/pig/cow issue . . . I need to ask you a question here to get clarity on that.” Because of the kickoff call, they always knew what he meant.

The power of the perfect analogy is that it loosens things up, gives a framework, and steps beyond the detail and minutiae. The value of the perfect analogy is hard to overstate.

If you start dropping acronyms on end-users, there’s little chance your communication is going to be helpful. However, if you use silly analogies like chickens, pigs, and cows, you’ll provide a mental picture that will stick with them for a long time.

2) The Value of Reflective Listening

You’ve probably had conversations with a spouse, co-worker, or others where one or both of you repeat your same point multiple times. You’re bound to get frustrated because you don’t feel heard.

The power of reflective listening is not just good for conflict resolution with your spouse or kids: it’s also helpful in discovery calls or working with end-users.

The power of reflective listening is not just good for conflict resolution with your spouse or kids: it’s also great in discovery calls or working with end-users.”
– Roy Moore

Speaking the words, “What I hear you saying is ___” gives the other person a chance to let you know if you got it right. If you do, they’ll feel relief. If you didn’t, they have the opportunity to clarify what they are, in fact, looking to accomplish.

If you fail to do this, the other person may feel anxious. They may be suspicious you did not actually hear what they were trying to say to you.

An important point here, too, is that you don’t have to agree with what they’re sharing to do reflective listening. When you say, “What I hear you saying is XYZ,” XYZ may be ridiculous. However, by repeating back to them that your understanding of what they’re asking for, you can accurately share a better solution.

3) The Concept of “Curse of Knowledge”

The “curse of knowledge” is the idea that we forget what it’s like to not know what we currently know.

An excellent illustration: If you ever give instructions to someone about how to drive from point A to point B, you can see a very clear play-by-play of each of the turns and landmarks. However, when you receive those instructions, it can seem like a vague hodgepodge of nonsense.

The same thing happens when you know a lot about tech. You’re trying to articulate to others, and without even thinking about it, you use abbreviations and tech talk that your audience has no clue how to interpret. It goes right over their head and works as a mental speed bump for them.

To know that the curse of knowledge exists can go a long way toward helping you communicate with others.

Understanding Tech-Speak Doesn’t Need to be Rocket Science

Instead of digging in your heels and blaming the other person for not understanding what you understand, embrace these three concepts:

  • The power of a good analogy
  • The value of reflective listening
  • The idea of “curse of knowledge”

These concepts are the keys to ending exasperation in your communication. They help you to stop missing each other, and encourage understanding instead of impeding it.

These ideas were taken from an interview with Roy Moore. Hear more from other Digital Transformation Pioneers.

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