Have you ever talked to someone at work, maybe a customer, or at a networking event, and you suddenly realize that they have switched to speaking a foreign language?

You might hear “Suboptimal loss of Level 3 Routed Packets,” or it could be “Agonal FX in Patient’s Greater Trochanter.” Maybe it’s “I’m Avionics AFCS at the 436 MAW at DAFB.” Whatever it is, you have no idea what they’re talking about!


Sound Familiar?

More than likely, this has happened to you, and probably more than once. No matter what level of expertise you may possess in your career field or the degree of education you’ve achieved, the sad fact remains: One just can’t know everything. [Even though I know a few people who believe they do, and I bet you know some also!]

People buy from, and promote, those they like and trust. And if they can’t understand you, the odds are pretty good they’re not going to like you either.

Have you ever met someone that you just wished would talk like a human and not Sheldon on Big Bang Theory? When the two of you parted ways, did you ask them to grab coffee or a drink after work? Probably not. And if people don’t like you, they may not be inclined to trust you, either.


Here’s an Example:

You’re an Engineer, and you directly report to a Senior Principal Engineer. You think, “I can be technical when I speak, because the boss knows exactly what I’m saying.” All very true.

Later that day you’re stopped in the cafeteria by an employee that you’ve seen around, but you’re not really sure what they do, who asks, “Hey – you’re working on the ABC project, right? How’s that coming along?”

You answer, telling them about all the issues you’re overcoming and the workarounds you’ve employed to keep the project on track. You even tell them how the TBS Voltages just don’t want to descend below OVP thresholds, but you have a good idea how to resolve the issue. You finished by telling them how great it is going to be when it’s working!

Mission Accomplished! Back to the lab with your lunch tray…

Meanwhile… The employee you just spoke to (the Senior VP of Marketing) walks back to his office and tells the Marketing group, “I just finished talking to the Engineer who’s actually working on the ABC hardware, and it sounds like things aren’t going well at all – there is some problem with the voltage which they haven’t resolved, and a whole bunch of other stuff that didn’t sound good. He was really upbeat, but you know how those people are – they always believe they can get something to work – right up until they can’t. Then it’s full crisis mode. I think we should delay ordering the marketing materials for a few weeks until they get things figured out more conclusively.”

They call the Engineering boss who tells them everything’s OK, but they talked to the guy who was actually doing the work! They decide to play safe and delay ordering the materials by 2 weeks. In the meantime, their main competitor beats them to the punch by placing advertisements in Industry Magazines announcing their identical product a full month early, causing serious sales losses.

All because the Engineer tried to tell the VP, in the best way he knew, that things were progressing along like they thought they would. And you know what? The project was completed on time, they didn’t need the 2 weeks.


This isn’t Only Hypothetical.

I’ve sat in a sales meeting where the customer (who I knew) fully intended on purchasing a 3rd Party multi-location solution. He walked out after the Sales Engineer arrived and started talking pure tech gibberish, killing the deal. All trust was gone – the customer felt they were going to be ripped off, because they couldn’t understand a word. It would have been the right solution for them, too.

Whether your customer is the person who actually buys your products, an influencer, or people you casually meet in the hallway, you must be able to communicate clearly so they know what the heck you mean.  In one of my presentations, the most important slide (and I make a big deal out of it), says “THE MESSAGE IS WHAT’S RECEIVED. The message isn’t what you meant; the message isn’t what you said. The message is what they received.

If they didn’t get it, it’s not their fault – it’s yours. If you want someone to come away with a certain impression (Dale Carnegie called it “Influence”), it’s up to you to make sure they got your message. Many of us have sat up at night with a child and their schoolwork, saying, “But I’ve told you TWENTY TIMES!” Trust me; the kid doesn’t want to NOT know the answer. Life would be so much better if they only did – but they just don’t know the answer! Approaching the problem from a different viewpoint helps them understand. We’re no different.


In Conclusion…

I’m not saying to treat people as if they’re children (no matter how much you may want to), but understand that if they didn’t get it the first time, you need to try again, in a different manner. If you keep thinking, “It’s their fault, not mine”, they will go onward, blissfully unaware, making mistakes and not doing what you need them to do – all because they didn’t understand what you were saying.

Over my next several blog posts, I will delve deeper into this communications divide, and look at various ways to avoid these communication pitfalls in a world that is becoming more and more technical with each passing day.

Here’s to great communications!
– Carson

Carson Shaffer
Technology Communicator
Professional Speaker and Coach
Distinguished Toastmaster
Over 50 Speaking Awards
Certified NLP Practitioner