Tag Archives: empathy

Addressing the Digital Divide WITHIN Your Organization

October 21, 2010

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Try teaching social media to someone who still looks at this day after day

If it wasn’t for my brother and I, my mother would still have a VCR that blinks 12:00 because she couldn’t figure out to change the time on it and never saw any desire too.  Despite fixing it every time I was there, she never saw a problem with it. About five years ago, I finally bought her a DVD player and upon opening the box, I was greeted not with a “thanks!” but a “why do I need this? Our VCR works fine.” Merry Christmas Mom!

Five years and hundreds of presentations later, I’ve realized that my mom, while frustratingly not interested in technology, wasn’t the anomaly – I was. I work at one of the largest technology consulting firms in the world and a vast majority of my clients work for the U.S. Federal Government, yet every day, I’m reminded of the fact that while I may think of them as Luddites, they think of me as a huge nerd.  While using Twitter may seem almost passe to me and the other social media “evangelists” out there, it’s important to remember that the not only does the vast majority of America not use Twitter – the vast majority of your colleagues don’t either.  And like my mom, they probably don’t care or see why they should.

Everyone talks about the digital divide that exists in America between those with access to information technology and those who don’t, but the digital divide that gets talked about far less is the one that exists right in your office. Look around you – there are many people in your office who:

  • Have no idea what a browser is
  • Print out their emails and schedule each day
  • Carry pounds of binders and notebooks with them every day
  • Think you know everything when, in reality, you just know how to use Google
  • Still use a flip phone
  • Ask you what a URL is

Realizing this fact (that I’m a nerd) and accepting that most people don’t share my passion for technology (because I’m a nerd) has helped me as I create presentations, write proposals, talk with my clients, and mentor my colleagues. You see, I used to get frustrated when I’d give presentations, and upon telling people to open their browsers, I’d hear, “what’s a browser?” Because, as my frustration would mount – “how can people still not have a basic understanding of the Internet???!!” – their frustration would escalate as well – “I can’t stand when people tell me I should be using some new tool when my way of doing things works just fine!” Instead of an opportunity to learn about technology that can help them, our mutual frustration led to an almost adversarial relationship. Not good. Now, I’m focused on empathizing rather than converting and explaining rather than criticizing. This means that people are focused on the information I have to give, not on defending their position. And, I’m able to actually listen to their concerns and frustrations without feeling the need to defend my position.

When you read this and go back to your office today, consider empathizing instead of criticizing.

When You Hear

Don’t Say This

Say This

“What’s a Browser?”

“Seriously?”

“The browser is your window into the Internet – there are many different browers, including Safari, Internet Explorer, Opera, Firefox. Let’s see which one you have.”

“What’s a Tweeter?”

“Haven’t you watched ANY news in the last two years?”

“The site is called Twitter and it’s an Internet site where people can share 140 character messages, links, status updates, and locations with other people”

“Why would I bother with sending you a text when I can just call you?”

“Because if you call me, I’m not going to answer”

“Texting is great way to communicate with someone in short bursts, often when talking on the phone is not feasible.”

“I don’t know how you have time to tell people what you ate or where you are at all hours of the day!”

“I wouldn’t be talking about time management when you’re the one who prints out every single one of your emails”

“I don’t.  That’s why I only use Facebook (or Twitter) to share interesting links, talk with my family/friends, and/or ask questions of my network.”

“When was Company X founded?”

Send them a link for Let Me Google That For You

“This is a great example of where we can use Google to find the answer really quickly – let me show you.”

Use these opportunities to teach more and more importantly, to learn more. Rather than writing these people off as lost causes, we should be doing our best to bridge this digital divide and understand that we too can learn from their experiences. Ask them why they still cling to their old practices to understand how you can better frame technology in terms that make sense to them, not to you. Use them as sounding boards for your next great social media or tech idea – after all, even if you have the greatest tool, it’s not going to mean anything if the nerds like you and me are the only ones using it.

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