Are you Talking to the Right People?


Knowing how to relate with someone is very useful. You would not use the same information for an executive briefing as you would with your team. Yet, I've seen this mistake all too often.

It's a matter of comfort level and confidence.

If you're a very detailed person who takes pride in that level of attention, you tend to want to do deep dives on everything, regardless of the audience. It's a mental habit that transfers into practice.

When you know your audience ahead of time, you can plan what to share, when.

For example, if you're talking to an executive who's not familiar with the background on your work, you do a brief intro selecting 1-2 key points to highlight, then move quickly through the “meat” of what they'd be interested in knowing, and conclude with an action item (likely yours).

But what do you do when you don't? How do you reconcile providing a strong explanation so they understand the opportunity, without getting bogged down in the weeds? Start by thinking there are different audiences:

  • Speak to insiders and people who are passionate about a subject matter digging into the details: beyond why something is useful to dig into all its aspects. For example, technical people, scientists, experts tend to prefer this mode.
  • Speak with anyone interested by extracting just the core idea. People who know a little don't like this approach, but people who are not in the loop or new at it will appreciate it. You can simplify without betraying the idea. But you can do that only if you understand it. 

The difficulty is that we're “insiders” in our own idea and often we like it so much that we try to cast a wide net. We end up either overwhelming people, or talking to people who are likely not going to be interested with too much detail and backtracking.

For strategists, assumptions about how quickly trends move through culture distort our perception. The relationship between what you and a small group knows vs. society at large is not an automatically predictable information cascade. Yes, even social media is its own bubble.

Assuming “what most people think” distorts how the external world and the internal world of humans works and how we make educated guesses of what's likely to a happen next. Conversation is useful to find evidence we're talking to the right people, at the right level and with the right structure.  

In the video above, structural engineer Dr. Nehemiah Mabry, PE talks to Wired about different kinds of bridges. Why decide to build one bridge over another type of bridge? Bridges are the physical infrastructure equivalent of conversation. To each purpose and culture its own.


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