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Cody Potter - Posted on March 25, 2024

Get to the point: Decode complexity for your teammates

If you've ever found yourself repeatedly explaining technical concepts during standup, you're in the right place. Effective communication is vital for successful collaboration, but its hard in technical contexts. It can especially become a pain point when working with non-technical team members. In this article, we'll delve into the art of decoding technical jargon for your teammates. I'll cover a few strategies to streamline communication to make your day-to-day easier for yourself and your audience.

Understand your audience's scope

First off, let's talk about scope. It's what people actually give a damn about. If you start jabbering about stuff outside their scope, you've lost 'em. Worse yet, you've wasted their time and eroded your relationship with them.

Now, before we dive into strategy, you gotta know your audience. Take a quick look around the room/zoom and suss out everyone's role in this project. Understanding their scope—what really matters to them—is key. And if you've got a mix of folks with different interests, focus your message on catering to the least common denominator. If someone needs more technical details, call out that not everyone in the call needs that info, and set up a follow-up meeting. That way, nobody's sitting there thinking:

This is a waste of my time. content image

KISS -- Keep it simple, stupid

When it comes to meetings, simplicity is key. The purpose of any meeting should be crystal clear from the outset. Ideally, there's an agenda you can glance at beforehand to understand what's on the table. Remember, a stand-up meeting serves a different purpose than a technical deep-dive session.

Project Manager Example

Let's break it down further. If you're in a meeting to update your project manager on the project's status, focus on the essentials. Your project manager primarily needs to know:

  • Timing and Responsibility: Is your task progressing as planned? Provide a clear update on whether it's on track to be completed on time.

  • Estimations: If there's a delay, just say that. What's your new estimated completion time? Your project manager isn't the one who is going to help you. They don't need to know exactly what is slowing you down.

  • Resource Needs: If you're facing roadblocks or need assistance, identify who can lend a hand. Your project manager needs to know where to allocate resources effectively.

Product Visionary Example

I'm using the word "visionary" here to capture that this team member is focused on the big picture—the product's vision and its strategic direction. Here's how you can keep it simple when communicating with them:

  • Strategic Impact: Highlight how your work aligns with the overarching vision of the product. What value does your task provide to the product?

  • Market Relevance: Discuss how your project contributes to the product's competitiveness in the market. What unique value does it offer to customers?

Remember, keep it straightforward. Avoid delving into the intricate details unless they're directly relevant to the meeting's objectives. By focusing on the when, who, and what's needed, you ensure that everyone stays on the same page and that the meeting serves its purpose efficiently.

Don't be a show-off

We've all encountered that brilliant engineer who seems to operate on an entirely different plane of understanding. Their tasks are so complex and abstract that attempting to decipher them feels like entering a labyrinth with no exit. They're working at such a "high level" that their work becomes a black box to those around them.

Avoid this Trap

Instead of isolating yourself with inaccessible complexity, strive to simplify, connect, and collaborate. Remember that effective communication isn't about showcasing your intelligence—it's about fostering understanding and collaboration. Break down complex concepts into digestible chunks, make connections with your team's expertise, and collaborate openly to achieve collective success. content image

Strategies for Clarity

You've reached the crux where technical details are unavoidable. It's time to equip your audience with the tools to grasp the complexity. Here's an approach to demystifying the intricate:

  • Provide Context: Begin by explaining the significance of the task or problem in terms your audience can relate to. Why is it important? What impact does it have on the project? Providing context helps establish relevance and primes your audience for deeper understanding. Sometimes when you dive right in without providing context, you lose them before you even start talking.

  • Visualize with Diagrams: Sometimes, words alone aren't sufficient to convey complex concepts. Utilize diagrams, flowcharts, or other visual aids to illustrate the intricacies of the topic. Visual representations can clarify relationships, processes, and hierarchies, making abstract concepts more tangible and accessible. Moving your hands around isn't good enough.

  • Invoke Metaphors: Compare the technical concept to something more familiar or tangible. This is especially helpful if you have shared interests or a rapport with your audience. Sometimes a metaphor is "good enough" for the audience. Whether it's likening software architecture to your Overwatch team comp or data storage to your Stardew chest, metaphors can simplify complex concepts and enhance comprehension.

  • Interactive Examples: Show it working (or show it broken). Use a demo to engage your audience and reinforce learning. Practical applications allow individuals to see the concept in action, facilitating deeper understanding and retention. For some people, they won't get it until they see the problem/solution.

  • Encourage Questions and Discussion: Say it out loud: "There are no stupid questions". No, literally, say it out loud in your meeting. Encourage your audience to voice any uncertainties or areas of confusion, and be prepared to address them in a clear and concise manner.

Remember, the goal isn't to showcase your expertise, but to facilitate understanding and collaboration. By employing these strategies, you can effectively navigate complex technical terrain and empower others to do the same.

EQ Skills: Active Listening and Empathy

In a collaborative environment, effective communication extends beyond technical proficiency. Active listening and empathy play pivotal roles in fostering a supportive and inclusive atmosphere, particularly when engaging with non-technical team members. Here's why they matter:

Active Listening

Active listening means understanding non-tech members' viewpoints fully. It involves giving full attention, paraphrasing for clarity, and asking probing questions. Try to create an environment where everyone feels valued and heard.


Empathy means understanding others' feelings by putting yourself in their shoes. It acknowledges differences in experiences and challenges between technical and non-tech team members. Demonstrating empathy builds trust and rapport, fostering collaboration in the workplace.

Addressing Concerns and Questions

Non-tech team members might find jargon intimidating, and they may not tell you this outright. Explain complex concepts in simpler terms, offer context or examples, and encourage open dialogue. Creating a welcoming environment for questions fosters mutual learning.

Active Listening means you are engaged with what they're saying. Know this truth: you don't know everything.

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Ok Cody, get to the point

In conclusion, effective communication is the cornerstone of successful collaboration in any technical environment. By decoding complexity for your teammates, you not only streamline day-to-day operations but also cultivate a culture of understanding and inclusivity.

Remember to tailor your communication to your audience's scope, keeping it simple and relevant to their needs. Whether you're updating a project manager or discussing a product vision, clarity and brevity are your allies.

Avoid the trap of isolating yourself with inaccessible complexity. Instead, strive to simplify, connect, and collaborate with your team. Break down complex concepts, visualize them, and encourage open dialogue to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Above all, practice active listening and empathy. Understand your teammates' perspectives, acknowledge their challenges, and address their concerns with patience and understanding. By fostering an environment where questions are welcomed and mutual learning is encouraged, you empower everyone to contribute meaningfully to the project's success.

In the end, effective communication isn't just about conveying information—it's about building relationships, fostering trust, and achieving collective goals. By honing your communication skills and embracing empathy, you pave the way for a more collaborative and harmonious work environment. content image