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In a recent article on Linked-In the top 10 toughest questions asked at a Harvard MBA interview are outlined and one of them is:

Explain to me something you’re working on as if I were an eight-year-old?

This question gauges your ability to distill the essence of your job into very simply language. Think of how you would explain accretion/dilution to your grandmother at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Take the question quite literally, but don’t talk down to the interviewer. The ability to communicate complex information to laymen who may not share your grasp of the subject material happens to be a very important business skill.

This is a skill that I champion regularly in my coaching and workshops and one which I sometimes receive pushback on. Particularly with highly analytical people, there is a concern that “dumbing it down” will insult the audience or that the listener will perceive them as being less intelligent. In my experience this it typically not the case. Just yesterday I was working with a group of finance managers; even though they all recognized the presenter’s language in explaining different accounting rules, they all looked glazed after their colleague tried to explain one particular nuance. It wasn’t until I urged the presenter to use simple words and some simple numbers (1% of $1000) to illustrate the principle that the audience started nodding and “getting it.”

I also had a call from a pharma client this week who revealed that he has totally changed the way he communicates his marketing strategies to both colleagues and direct reports. “Even in a meeting with my peers, I no longer say things like ‘we’re going to mobilize’ – instead I say ‘we’re going to roll-out’ or ‘begin.’ My language is much simpler since I realized I don’t have to use all this complex language to get my point across and sound credible.”

Simply put: good plan.

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