To communicate is to meet people where they are

I fix WordPress sites for a living. This is obviously not the case for people who reach out to me for help.

In theory, I’m well aware that our customers don’t dedicate as much of their time and energy to troubleshooting their websites as I do, and that a new WooCommerce version coming out is not a major event in their lives. They use it as a tool to achieve their own business goals, that hardly ever have anything to do with software. In practice, however, the most natural assumption is that whatever I know is or should be common knowledge.

When people reach out to me with a problem, the way they perceive it might be very different than mine. I have a background in computer science and understand how all the different pieces of software connect together and create this or another result. To someone coming from a different background, all these different pieces fall into the same black box called WooCommerce but which could be as well be labelled ‘magic’, which takes what you give it and creates something else by very mysterious ways.

This is normal, natural, and unavoidable. I shouldn’t expect our customers to know all the intricacies of how their online shops work any more that a doctor should expect of me all the chemical reactions that happen in my body when I take medicine. Specialization is what allows humanity to thrive. The total sum of our knowledge is much more vast than what any single person can ever know.

When communicating with others, especially within our own area of expertise, it’s good to remember that the world they perceive might be vastly different. They’ve had other experiences. They specialize in other things. The building blocks they use to make sense of their world might be vastly different.

Not only people with different experiences perceive the world differently, they’ll also describe it in different words. Your industry jargon might be entirely alien to them. They might use one word for what are several completely different things in your world.

How do you make sure you understand what they’re saying and what you said has been understood? Rephrase what you just heard in your own words and see if the other person confirms this is true. You’ll be surprised how many times you’ll hear “Hahah, no. That’s entirely not what I meant”.

Whatever you do for a living, your job is not to educate people who come from a different background on all the things you believe should be common knowledge. It’s to meet them where they are, and guide them through whatever is happening in words they can understand.

One response to “To communicate is to meet people where they are”

  1. > Rephrase what you just heard in your own words and see if the other person confirms this is true.

    I was just reading a parenting book about toddler communication that gave the very same advice, and I was thinking this works just as well for adults 😉

Leave a Reply