Were you the shy kid in class?
Some of us were the shy kid all the time in school, where we were anxious about making new friends, or being picked for the team. That often extends into a social anxiety, which can be a bit different.
Yet most of us at some point were the shy kid in class, especially when being called out by a teacher to answer a question.
That's because even if we did not understand what the teacher was saying, we were too afraid of looking dumb, exposed, or vulnerable.
Even though we did not understand, our fear of humiliation led us not to speak up, and not to ask questions to clarify the points that were made. Instead we learned to smile and nod, and hoped that the teacher would quickly move on.
We may not be in school anymore, but that fear of admitting that you don't understand something never goes away for most people.
There are some brave souls who will speak up openly, ask questions on behalf of everyone else in the room, and who truly don't care what everyone else may think of them.
Yet most of us would rather keep our hands down, look nervously around the room, and hope that the subject matter changes quickly.
That does not mean that we're dumb - not for a moment. We're human, and a large part of being human is that fear of being exposed and vulnerable.
Unfortunately that fear stays with us as adults as well.
If you are at a dinner party or a social event, and you find yourself in conversation with someone who's going on about something that you do not remotely understand, what is your first inclination?
While some brave souls would be happy to ask the speaker to clarify, most of us will smile and nod politely and look for any excuse to get out of the conversation.
If you're in a workplace training or seminar with your colleagues, and the speaker is talking about something that has you totally lost, are you going to be the brave one who speaks up? Or do you instantly revert back to being that shy kid in class who is afraid of looking dumb, exposed, or vulnerable?
Odds are it's the latter, and the older that we get the more important information we might be missing.
Here's a little secret for professionals
You, too, were once the shy kid in class. Whether your background is law, accounting, medicine, engineering, or any academic strength, there were certainly some lessons that left you scratching your head.
How did you respond? Were you always the one to speak up on behalf of your confused peers? Or did you take the easier option of smiling and nodding?
Now though, as a professional who's working with the public, you're in the business of passing on complicated information to your current and potential clients.
While they hire you as a professional, you're still in a position to teach them about what it is that you do so that they understand why they need to hire you.
You know that you need to explain that information simply, but that's not so easy to do. When all of your peers have the same background, it can be hard to remember that your clients don't have your education, and may not understand what you're talking about.
What's worse is that even if they don't understand, they'll likely never tell you that.
They're back to being the shy kid in class! No matter how smart your clients may be, if they don't understand what you're saying, most are probably too shy to let you know.
The answer is clear communication
The challenge for professionals is that the information they need to get out is important!
Accountants need to let clients know about mechanisms for savings, and what they'll need to prepare before getting ready to file their taxes.
Lawyers need to let clients know about important changes in the law, and the steps that they can better take to protect themselves.
Professionals need to make sure their clients understand why the work that they do is important, how they can help their clients, and when those clients need to come and see them.
Sharing this information is important, but sharing it clearly is the most important thing of all.
Cut the industry jargon, explain the complicated concepts, and offer relatable examples and imagery wherever possible.
It can be hard for professionals to break down the information that they know so well into something that any member of the public would understand.
Putting important information into a format that your clients can understand makes you a better professional. It makes your business more accessible, and it shows that you're open and ready to engage with clients and help them however they need. That alone is a competitive advantage over your peers - and a great one to have.
If writing is complicated, don't hesitate to hire a professional. A professional writer is usually not an expert in your field, and so they can provide that outside perspective to show you what clarity will be needed.
Answering questions is great, but it's even better if you can explain concepts before anyone even needs to raise their hand.
You, too, were once the shy kid in class.