If you can’t explain it, you don’t know it

The other day I tried to explain a fiscal challenge to one of my clients. I tried my best to break down an explanation from my Finance team but it just didn’t work. The client had to call me to understand what I was trying to say; a clear indication that I sucked at the explanation. And let me tell you, the call didn’t go well, at least not to my satisfaction. The client asked all the right questions to understand what was required instead of the other way around.

Upon hanging up, I reflected on the whole episode to figure out what could I have done better. And the most obvious idea came up — never try to explain something that you truly don’t understand. Which means, I should have reached out to my team to understand what the whole thing was all about before sending my own explanation to the client. What I did was horrendous — I edited the original explanation to make it more readable (to the non-finance people) and sent it off, hoping the recipients would understand.

That’s bad customer service. At least by my standards. The biggest takeaway from the incident is this — when the intent is to communicate something clearly, never assume anything. The second most important realization was to talk only about the things that you know. And if you don’t, try either understanding the concept yourself or let the expert do the talking.

A great metric would be to get hold of someone in your team and try explaining a new concept that you’ve learned at a 7th or 8th-grade level English. If they understand it, well, congratulations, you know it. If they don’t, chances are you don’t know it better yet. Remember that the intent of all great communicators is to simplify the complex.

It’s common sense, I know, but I did a shoddy job at practicing that. Communication bloopers like this happen at the time but the sooner you realize, the better.

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