1 Nov 2018
with Different Types of People
Part Two in our series on Communicating Tech, focusing on strategies for responding to different types of clients’ approach to tech subjects.
Communication is not a one-way street. Even if you’ve made sure you’re communicating professionally and with empathy, there are no guarantees that the other party in the conversation will take a similar approach.
Three Different Approaches to Talking Tech
This person knows and acknowledges that they have no technical knowledge. They understand that facebook.com is probably an expensive site to build because they know it is the main product of a really big company.
However, they are unaware of how differences in technology and features can impact the time and cost of creating websites or web applications. Looking at it from their perspective, it is really confusing how a website can cost anything from 50 to 50 000 EUR because in their mind they get the same product – a website.
To make them get a general understanding of what type of website would suit their needs, and why it will cost X, I’ve found it helpful to use a car analogy.
Rephrase in Familiar Terms
I know nothing about building cars, but I know why I would need a car and what I would need it for. I don’t have to be a car expert to buy a car that suits my needs, I just need to be able to explain my needs and expectations to a professional car salesperson. In just the same way, non-tech people don’t have to be web experts to explain what type of website they really need.
Non-tech people don’t have to be web experts to explain what type of website they really need.
For anyone to comfortably part with their cash, however, there has to be enough trust in place between seller and buyer to have an honest conversation about needs and expectations.
Another useful thing with the car analogy is that not only can it make it easier for non-tech people to understand why and how to describe their needs, it can also serve as an analogy for the technology that makes up the website.
For example, if you expect to drive in challenging terrain you would probably be considering a car with 4-wheel drive. Similarly, for a website where you expect a large portion of the audience to be using outdated browsers, resources are needed to make sure the website works in those conditions as well.
Sometimes people want to seem to know more than they do because they find it awkward and embarrassing to be honest showing how little they know. They don’t want to seem outdated or stupid, so they pretend that they know more than they really do. They might even drop a buzzword or two just to make it clear they really know what’s going on.
Don’t let that fool you into escalating the situation further by thinking it’s now alright to slip into industry jargon. If you start feeding more buzzwords into the conversation, your over-confident counterpart will eventually realize that he/she is out of their depth and will probably be looking to either change the subject or end the conversation to preserve face.
Instead, assume that their knowledge is quite a bit less than they want to let on and that they could need the same kind of explanations to topics as the people who are honest about not knowing very much about tech.
A note of caution, since it is extra important to these people not to make a fool of themselves, try starting your explanations with phrases like “As you might already know” or “Maybe you’ve already heard” to acknowledge and respect that they might be familiar with the topic.
The Self-Appointed Expert
These people perceive themselves as experts in areas where they are not, and to establish themselves as such, make efforts putting others on the spot. Perhaps since they know they are not experts themselves, they want to expose others as frauds.
Self-appointed experts have little respect for others unless someone is able to produce irrefutable evidence to their skills, or is already well-known and famous in a larger community.
Typically, self-appointed experts will tell you how the job should be done, adding something like “and if it’s not done this way it’s unprofessional and bad”. To get a chance to turn this discussion into a healthy client relationship, you have to stand up for yourself without harming their ego, which is a very difficult and delicate task.
The Universal Language
If unable to gain the self-appointed expert’s respect, try speaking a language they will most certainly react to: money.
Say the price for completing their project is X. If they are to supervise (not to check in, but standing behind you to “make sure you’re doing it right”) your work, the price doubles. The price change takes into account the extra time caused by interruptions as well as time for explaining and justifying decisions and choices.
If they are to “help” you working on the project or want to direct how it should be done, the price increases tenfold. This is because being directed by someone who doesn’t know how to reach the goal will take 10 times as long to arrive at a successful project.
Inexpert != Gullible
Lack of Knowledge and Gullibility are not the Same
The reason for some people to try and come off as more knowledgeable than they are, in my opinion, stems from a fear of getting ripped off. Fear that if they reveal how little they know, they might be painting a target on themselves as being easily fooled into bad deals.
To prevent this, their strategy is to appear as knowledgeable as possible, because they think that will give them the best deal. However, when discussing highly specific topics with genuine experts the real depth of their expertise will soon shine through.
Helping them reach their goals is harder because communication gets obscured by uncertainties when self-appointed experts present contradictory demands to use technologies they do not understand themselves.
Recognizing that their style of communication will have a negative impact on the project time and budget is key for parties at both sides of the table to be able to improve both the relationship and the project outcome.
Self-appointed experts often end up in a never-ending hunt for the best deal – always convinced that they are just getting bad, rip-off offers. Considering their approach and difficulty to work with, perhaps they are right about constantly being quoted higher than their honest counterparts.
For communication to work effectively and help creating a better end product, there has to be a sufficient amount of trust and respect among the involved in the project. An honest, non-condescending and professional exchange will also create a better relationship on which further success could be built.