"Trust Me – I’m A Professional" - The Limitations of Defaulting To Your Expertise

For technical professionals, such as engineers and project managers, getting a report or recommendations accepted often means getting the customer’s head around fairly complex concepts and problems that the professional understands a lot better than the customer does. Despite this, it is often difficult to convince technical professionals that they shouldn’t be peppering their technical reports with dense and impenetrable jargon that nobody really understands but them.

Last night, I had the pleasure of presenting a webinar to a group of 120 young engineers on the topic of Customer Focused Writing. It's always great working with groups of young professionals who are open to new ideas.

Getting people to actually adopt and integrate new techniques - as opposed to just seeing and hearing them presented — is one of the great challenges of a teacher, and particularly one who only gets to interact with trainees once and for a couple of hours, as was the case for me last night. Often the best that you can hope for is that people understand enough about the need to change that they are compelled to review and practice the techniques they have been shown, and to build upon the limited exercises that they get to do in a short training session.

One of the techniques we looked at in the webinar was how to present complex technical concepts. To illustrate the idea that densely packed technical language is hard to understand, I had the group analyse a piece of medical writing that was unfamiliar to them. This piece only contained 150 words, but most people could identify more than 20 unfamiliar terms. That’s almost 15% of the document that the audience had absolutely no hope of understanding.

At the end of the webinar, I was encouraged by comment that came from Paul, who said "You know, I write reports all the time, and I usually just present my recommendations. I never really think about just how much work needs to go into making them persuasive." I’m pretty confident that Paul does now, and that his career will benefit enormously as a result.