Last week I took my car to the dealership for some routine maintenance. A conversation started with one of the technicians about particulars, when he suddenly paused mid-sentence while explaining a fairly complicated process, and asked,

“Wait. Are you a ‘car guy’?” It wasn’t a pointed inquiry. His tone was the same as if he was asking if I preferred mayo or mustard. Obviously, either choice was fine with him.

I admitted readily that I am not. I know how to drive one somewhat effectively (though it really depends on who you ask), but when it comes to repairing or understanding how they work, I am pretty lost after the part about the windshield wipers.

The technician didn’t miss a beat. He continued with his explanation, but I could tell he had made an adjustment in the details. His descriptions were simple and straightforward. There was no jargon or shorthand.

I didn’t feel stupid. I felt respected.

This dude knew to assess who was in the audience so that he could most efficiently and effectively communicate.

I left with a lesson. Sometimes I get so caught up in the things I know and find interesting, I forget to consider to whom I am trying to communicate.

The default reaction when we find out a friend isn’t familiar with something we know intimately is to act shocked and to – somewhat inexplicably – repeat the part about their ignorance loudly as a false question. I have been guilty of this many times.

“YOU HAVE NEVER SEEN STAR WARS?”

“YOU DON’T LIKE CHOCOLATE?”

“YOU HAVE NEVER HEARD KAJAGOOGOO?”

(I might be the only one who finds that last one shocking.)

The point is this: another person’s lack of knowledge is not a personal insult. It is an opportunity.

You can adjust your message or you can delicately educate.

You can showcase your own enthusiasm or put into practice the expertise you have stored up.

But don’t use it as a cheap way to feel superior.

Use it as an excuse to roll the windows down, put the pedal to the metal and show him what that car can do.

(And don’t forget to blare the Kajagoogoo.)

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