How to tell non-specialists why what you do matters

Have you ever worked in a cross-functional team? If you haven’t, the odds are that you’ll be asked to do it really soon.

Companies everywhere are having to become more agile. And at the rate the world is changing, being able to work in quickly-formed, per-project teams is going to be the norm.

It will mean collaborating with people with diverse specialisms and sharing knowledge with them. And to do it successfully, you need to be able to explain what you do and why it’s important to people outside your area of expertise.

But communicating what you do to non-specialists can be challenging. When you’re expert in something, it’s easy to forget that other people don’t have the same level of knowledge. And when you’re passionate about something, it can be hard to accept that other people don’t share your enthusiasm for the fine detail.

We’ve worked with experts in pharma, bioscience, energy, technology and finance to help them convey what their work is, how it integrates with the overall offer, their particular approaches, regulations they work within – and how valuable it is.

So if you’re about to talk to or work with people who aren’t expert in your field, this is what we’d recommend…

Learn to work without jargon

Every sector, industry and organisation has its own language – words and phrases that act as shorthand for conversations with colleagues. It’s specialist terminology that’s only relevant to specific areas of the business.

The trouble with jargon is, while it might save time when you’re talking with your team, it’s probably meaningless – or has a completely different meaning – for anyone who isn’t familiar with what you do.

Jargon can confuse people. If someone doesn’t feel comfortable admitting they don’t understand something, you risk alienating them. At worst, a word, phrase or acronym that means one thing in your world might mean something completely different in someone else’s – and this could lead to bigger problems than a confused colleague.

We’re not saying that you should ban jargon. There’s definitely a time and place for it – usually when you’re talking with peers who know exactly what you mean. But if you want to convey your ideas quickly and easily, you need to learn to work without it.

Instead of using jargon, use clear, simple, everyday language. Try using examples to illustrate how something works – and if a specialist term is indispensable, always give a definition. If you’re struggling to explain something complex clearly, check out our post: “Would your mum understand it?”.

Think in terms of benefits

You’ve spent months building a new algorithm and it’s finally ready. Your team knows about it in detail – and they’re really excited. Now you need to let everyone else in your organisation know about it. These could include the people who’ll be selling your technology and the people who’ll have to answer customer service calls about it. But it should really include everyone – so that all your colleagues can take pride in your work and talk about it easily.

There’s just one thing to bear in mind. People outside of your team probably don’t want to hear about the intricate features you’ve developed. In fact, they probably won’t get excited about your new algorithm until you tell them what it will help them or your customers achieve.

So when you’re explaining something you’ve created or an idea you’ve developed, start with the benefits. Focus on what your new thing will do for them – rather than explaining how it works. Instead of telling Tom from marketing about your new programme’s next-level code, explain how it will make his job quicker and easier. Rather than tell the C-suite about the blood, sweat and tears that went into developing a new IT system, tell them how much money it will save.

People – whether they’re customers or colleagues – always want to know what’s in it for them. And this is especially true when you ask people to buy into something they won’t easily understand. This is when they need even more persuading. So always focus on what the thing does, rather than how it works.

Help to cultivate a culture of listening and understanding

Part of being an agile organisation means not being afraid to share thoughts, ask questions and challenge ideas. Be curious about the roles other specialists play. Ask questions, show interest – and start making connections between the work they do and what you do.

If you’re open and interested in other people’s work, they’ll become more interested in yours. And when they begin to understand what you do, they’ll ask more questions and become more knowledgeable about how you contribute to the organisation.

This helps your work to become more integrated – and helps make your organisation more agile. It also helps you raise your profile within your workplace. When you can explain why what you do matters, you do three things. You open doors for yourself, you initiate collaborative, cross-discipline working, and you pave the way for personal progression and career success.

If you’d like some help communicating what you do and why it matters, give us a call.