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Informing Others: From First Exposure to Comprehension

ascasson profile image Anthony Casson ・4 min read

Tl;dr

When informing others, you will likely have to repeat the information multiple times for it to stick and incorporate different media where/when appropriate. Plan ahead and do not put the onus solely on the consumer.

Staying Informed

Whether you are in a small, medium, or large organization, there likely exist many opportunities for improvement, many of them centered around how we inform one another. Having internal knowledge share is vitally important today. Doing it effectively is one of the simplest ways to begin or continue breaking down silos.

We learn new skills, technologies, patterns, or come to understand why a change in some system is important. Often we either want (or need) to inform others who will benefit from this knowledge. It's important to share; it's also difficult to share. We might write documentation or a blog post,  or maybe give a presentation in a guild or working group, etc. But somehow, many of us receiving the information don't remember the details or forget that something was recorded for us. That's because comprehending, or understanding, information usually takes multiple "touches". A touch might be reading a blog post, reading a sign, watching a presentation, listening to a podcast episode, and so on.

Some fortunate individuals have incredible comprehension rates after being exposed to information on the first go, which is awesome! Most of us, however, do not, and that's also awesome. What it means for us is more opportunities to share and use our great problem-solving skills to help those around us in a meaningful way: *** thoughtful communication*** .

But how do we level up? How can we help each other inform and stay informed?

The Medium is (Part of) The Message

The medium - the mechanism delivering your information - does matter a lot. Maybe this is obvious to some, or maybe it is not. Given how frequently many of us rely on Slack or Microsoft Teams to deliver long-lasting information without providing a long-lasting resource, I'm going to emphasize the medium again. We need to regularly recall when to use a certain medium and when not to use it. If you do not know the strengths/weaknesses of a certain medium, no problem! If you have information to share but are not sure how to share it, ask some people. Keep in mind that one piece of information does not have to live in one medium; this is a one-to-many relationship, in this case many media combined to strengthen the potential for comprehension overall. Information and broader knowledge sharing thrive when we create a network of connected content.

What to Know, What to Do, Why to Care

Covering all that goes into good instructional design is beyond the scope of this post. There are, however, a few elements that we can all benefit from incorporating in our communication habits. Keep in mind these apply to a single touch.

First, what do you want people to know? This means getting a handle on the information you want to share. Know it (enough) before you share it.

Second, what do you want people to do? Listeners, readers, and viewers need a point or multiple points. Action helps with comprehension and making sure your information does not die right away.

Third, why should people care? Something meaningful or relatable will help comprehension and spur motivation to take the action you presented.

New Information Can Mysteriously Vanish

When we are immersed in a technology, a pattern, or in an organization-wide initiative, the information is constantly refreshed. It gives us the feeling of "living it" because it's so readily touched. Some new or changing things, however, do not yet have the advantage of immersion, which takes time. If the information you want to share has greater future impact or likely modifies an existing habit, etc., chances are you will have to refresh the information many times for the rest of us to fully comprehend and apply it. Plan ahead; stay on top of it if you expect people to start thinking about it right away. If your intent is to share something interesting but don't anticipate it mattering until way in the future, then that takes a new kind of strategy with emphasis on revisiting what/how you share later.

Find Fellow Champions

Everything I have presented can seem like a lot of work or a bit nebulous. In some ways it is, because communicating is hard. Many of these things we do already without thinking about it; I think it's valuable to be aware of this process, however, especially when informing about particularly critical topics. That said, not all of this informing needs to rest on any one person's shoulders. Other people who know the topic or show interest can help inform the masses. Maybe one person writes a blog post and another writes detailed documentation. Maybe multiple people present on the same topic but from different angles. Overlapping and repetition is good, and these are amplified with fellow topic champions. Every organization benefits from many people making the effort. It's obvious but we can tend to not follow through with it.

Whew...The End

If what we want to share matters, we should respect how people consume information and cater to that. This means less throwing topics over the wall and expecting people - perhaps unknowingly - to know it right away, or delivering something once and thinking it's good enough. Successful communication does not often work that way. This process requires practice, awareness, and empathy - or at least an attempt to understand where others are coming from. It's easy to form blindspots when we know something very well and others don't. When we apply consistent, persistent effort into how we inform one another, we will all become better technologists and teammates.

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Anthony Casson

@ascasson

Fiery software engineer with a passion for improving teams and organizational success

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