How to avoid getting lost in translation

Taking the time to speak to your stakeholders and colleagues in a language that they understand is vital for building relationships in the workplace. As a psychologist, who assesses many people from different professions, one of the most impressive observable skills people can have is the ability to communicate in an interesting and when necessary, simplified way so that you do not need to be an expert in their field to understand what they are saying.

 In the working world, we all speak different languages and this is something which can lead to confusion, mistakes, frustration and damaged working relationships. Finance, science, marketing and engineering, for example may all have to work together and by taking the time to understand that different disciplines may use very different language is vital in creating a cohesive working environment. Understanding what somebody needs to know and what they do not is the difference between engaging your audience and losing them completely. Taking the time to think about what your audience needs to know can be the difference between winning a pitch and losing it.

This is the case both within organisations as well as with external stakeholders. Make it easy for your audience, don’t bore them with unnecessary technical details, even if you find them fascinating, if it is not ultimately going to bring value or increase your audiences understanding. If it is going to add value, find a way of communicating that they will understand, without losing patience, or showing signs of frustration.

Leaving out key information because you think it too technical for your audience is also a mistake. Ensure that you are providing adequate information so that your audience knows that they can trust you and to show that you do know what you are talking about. Glaring gaps will be obvious and will not engender a trusting relationship.

If you are in doubt, try explaining your concept to a friend, or family member – somebody who has no technical knowledge of your field and see if they understand. If they don’t tweak your message until they do.

If your message is a written one, shorten and simplify, read and edit again.

Many professions use acronyms, if you are going to use them when speaking to someone outside your domain, take the time to explain what they mean. This is something which is particularly helpful for new recruits to an organisation as it can be daunting getting to grips with a language which is specific to that company.

Take on the burden of responsibility for your audiences understanding. It is not their fault if they do not understand what you are saying. It is yours. Check in with them – not in a patronising way, if what you are saying is particularly technical, acknowledge that and check that you are explaining it clearly, rather than asking whether they understand – taking the responsibility for ensuring your audiences understanding, rather than placing it upon them. This will help create an environment in which people are more likely to say if they are not clear on something.

Spend time with people who do not work in your field. Engage with other departments if you can and take the time to build your relationships across the organisation, not just within your own domain, this will be beneficial in terms of practicing your communication style with individuals from other areas of the business.

The more you practice, the easier it will become, until one day, hopefully, it will become second nature.

Published in The Sunday Business Post 26th August 2018