I have a newly-minted fifth-grader on my hands. As he’s brought home writing, science, and math assignments, teaching him has shown me gaps in my own understanding of things. You see, teaching is bi-directional. You can’t teach without learning something.
If You Can’t Explain It Simply
I’ll admit, I’ve had moments of frustration when my son didn’t get something the first time through. But, the person to blame should have been me. As the old saying goes: “If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough yourself.”
We run into this gap in IT all the time. The internal teams we engage with don’t have the same baseline understanding we do– and we take that for granted. Worse, we talk over their heads and accomplish nothing. We walk away frustrated that they didn’t get it…and, sadly, sometimes chuckle about the fact they can’t even grasp the basics of the technology we were talking about.
Newsflash: that person left the meeting frustrated as well, and likely turned to Google to find someone else to help them.
You Aren’t the Customer
Maybe it’s that we don’t understand our role in IT. We aren’t the customer; we’re the provider. That person who walked away frustrated? They are taking their budget somewhere else. If that happens enough times, the only thing you’ll be tasked with is changing passwords. Still feel like laughing?
We spend our money with people we know, like, and trust. The fastest (add cheapest and easiest to this list, too) way to get people to know/like/trust us? By helping them! Imagine instead of talking over a person’s head, we walked them through the technology. At their pace. Allowed for questions, and took time to meet them where they were in terms of understanding. They don’t need to walk away an expert, but if you can create parallels and stories they can relate to? You’ve built a bridge, and you’re now a real resource.
You Can Still Learn
If you’ve lasted in IT more than a few years, chances are you have a high level of expertise. But until you can explain it simply, to an outsider, you aren’t an expert. Think about your primary care doctor. When you go in for an illness or ailment, the doctor doesn’t explain the issue using complex medical terminology you don’t understand. They use layman terms and examples to guide you. They answer your questions, and make sure you grasp the next steps in order to move through treatment. You don’t walk out with your medical degree, but at least you understand the basics of what is going on with you.
This isn’t something that comes naturally. It’s a learned skill! You see, by teaching someone– especially someone with a different frame of reference– we learn, too. Being able to describe problems and solutions in multiple ways allows us to view problems and solutions from multiple angles. And? Sometimes we walk away with new ideas to approaching old problems.
Teaching is powerful for both the student and teacher. Each walks away with something. And, as is often the case, the teacher tends to walk away having learned far more.