Explain It Simply…Please

January 25, 2010

Why?

When people are asking you to explain things to them, they are either testing you because they already know or they need to be taught.  If it’s the first case, they probably aren’t really listening to what you’re saying, but are just waiting for you to say something wrong so they can go on the attack.  If it’s the second case however, they legitimately want to learn from you.

Now I’m going to work on the assumption that you as the teacher and they as the teachee (Did I just create a new word?) are probably only going to want to run through things once if possible.  I know this personally bugs me.

So I suppose then it’s important to understand one of the most important things when teaching someone something new.

Obviously this guy knew what he was doing.

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Albert Einstein

So ask yourself, do you really understand what is going on?  Before launching into an educating session, perhaps it’s best to re-evalute what you actually know and understand about the topic.  It will probably save you hopelessly confusing your poor victim.  But it’s tricky.  It’s what one blogger refers to as the ‘Curse of Knowledge‘.

So know your topic from the ground up, then teach in that direction.

It’s pretty well documented how important feedback is.  It’s also pretty obvious that it involves at least two people.  And besides the rare occasions when someone may ask for feedback, generally it’s the one giving it that will initiate it.

But how do you effectively give feedback?  I suppose it depends on what kind of feedback you’re giving and whether you’re even actively thinking about the type or not.  Check out this blog that shows some simple but detailed types of feedback.

I’d like to break it down even further.  Let’s go for two types.

  • Affirming – For letting people know that what they did was good.
  • Adjusting – When you need to get someone to do something differently.

Then the simple, structured way to give both.

Detail the exact situation.  People have poor memories generally in remembering their own actions.  Rather than say “You always send the reports late”, try saying “This morning the finance report was late by half an hour.”

Explain to them how it personally affected you.  Don’t make it general.  Continuing with my example, rather than “And it’s really annoying”, use “And so it impacts on me on delivering reports that I use your data for”.

Suggest a way to improve it.  “If you could let me know if they are going to be late, I’ll be able to then let the people receiving my deliverables know.”

The important points are to make it personal and to deliver it in a way that the person can take it or leave it.  It’s not an order or instruction.  It’s a suggestion.