So stop saying it is.
I was talking with my friend Nathan Bowers (total WordPress consultant to the stars) the other day about how frustrating tech stuff can be for people.
Nathan’s pretty awesome in general but it was especially great the way he — as someone who lives in the tech world — agreed, instead of saying what most tech people say: “But it’s easy”.
Because he’s smart enough to know it isn’t. And I quote:
I wouldn’t dream of saying anybody is dumb for not being immersed in this stuff. Unlike many geeks, I know that technology is hard and most people are barely muddling through. It’s my job (and yours, and anybody who runs a web biz) to make it not hard.
Man, I love that. Because really, there’s nothing more horrible than feeling like a idiot because something is really hard and scary for you — and then having some irritating expert say “No, no, no, actually it’s super-easy”.
You know what else people say is easy? Spanish.
Keep in mind that I used to teach both languages and language-learning, so if I wanted to I could give you the whole “actually all languages are equally hard (or easy)” lecture and quote a bunch of linguists to back me up.
But forget about theory and statistics for a minute. Let’s just talk about me. Because if that isn’t why I have a blog … I don’t know how to finish this sentence but it feels like it should end in an exclamation point!
Here’s me. I’m fully bi-lingual in English and Hebrew. And I speak German well enough that I can deliver a three hour lecture in it without notes. That’s three languages I can read novels in without needing a dictionary. Three languages I can be funny in. Three languages I can insult your mother in.* Okay?
*Four, actually, with Yiddish. Not that I would. Good heavens, no. I’m just establishing credentials here.
But I spent two years trying desperately to learn Spanish while I was at university in Tel Aviv, and can’t remember a thing.
Two years of Spanish? I cannot. Put. Together. A. Sentence.
And it can’t even be blamed on the passage of time, because the truth is, I never got it. Sure, I memorized stuff for exams but did I ever actually understood what the hell was going on? Sadly, no.
Could I learn it now? Sure, but only because I’ve got badass techniques. I could probably learn anything now.
But that’s not the point. The point is: don’t freaking tell me that Spanish is easy. Spanish is not easy. And when you say it is I kinda want to smack you for implying that it must be me who’s a little slow.
Which brings me to the point of this whole mini-rant:
Nothing is easy when you’re the one who can’t do it.
And having someone tell you it’s easy does not make it easier.
No kidding. If anything, having some jerk tell you it’s easy actually makes it harder because now in addition to learning the thing, you’re annoyed that it’s taking so much effort to master something that someone else — usually someone who isn’t even that bright to begin with — is telling you is easy.
Okay, enough with the rant. Let’s talk applications.
So you know how to do things that other people don’t. That’s terrific. Love it. You want to help them. Even better. They want your help. Perfect. But they don’t want to know that you think it’s easy.
Here are three ways you can apply this information to make stuff easier.
Application #1: Talking to people you want to serve.
Yes, this is also known as “marketing”. I know, it needs a better word.
Here’s the thing — telling people that the thing they want and are struggling to get is easy to do or attain — just not smart.
You can promise those people (if it’s true) that your system or method or product or whatever will help make the process easier for them. You can tell them that you will show them short-cuts or tricks that will make the hard more bearable. You can show them how to navigate the hard.
Don’t say “it’s easy if you know how”. People won’t buy stuff when they think that the person selling just doesn’t understand how hard things really are. And if you do think it’s easy, you really aren’t getting what they’re going through.
Application #2: Relationships
If you madly care about someone, and that someone is struggling with something, it’s your job to be there with them in their time of stuckness.
Just show up. Not just because it’s the kind, compassionate golden-rule-ish stand-up thing to do, but because otherwise they won’t listen to you.
Don’t say that it’s easy to quit drinking coffee or to learn how to do taxes or to parallel park. Of course you want to share whatever it is that comes easily to you. You want to share your hard-won knowledge and mad ninja skills.
But if you tell them it’s easy, they won’t be able to receive it.
Acknowledging that it’s hard and that they’re dealing with something that’s a big challenge for them is the only way to go. This is what lets them open up to whatever you know that might make things easier.
This is frustrating and requires loads of patience. I know it’s hard. I love you for trying.
Application #3: Persuasion
Persuasion is a loaded word. I do not mean this in some gross, “convincing other people to do your evil bidding” sort of way.
Think of it as finding a way to help people understand that you have a tool that can actually help make their lives … well … easier.
The answer is the same as in the first two applications. Acknowledge their pain. Feel it. Recognize how big and uncomfortable it is. Meet them where they’re at — in the hard part.
Make sure they know that you know (or remember) how hard it is, and offer help only after you’ve empathized the hell out of their pain. Hmm, poor phrasing, but I think you know what I mean.
You aren’t doing this to be manipulative. You’re doing this to be a mensch. It’s the only way you can really help them. And in their fear and stuck and hard, it’s the only way they can really say “yes” to help from you.
Okay, rant over. Really. I’m willing to try that thing you wanted to show me now.
I don’t even care if it’s hard. Just remember to keep telling me you know it’s hard.
OK, I’ll get to the topic at hand in a moment. First I have to tackle your grievous error:
Let’s just talk about me. Because if that isn’t why I have a blog …
This is clearly wrong. Blog for the fansocks.
OK, back to the issue.
If it was easy, I wouldn’t fucking hire you, would I?
Nothing is inherently easy. Nothing is inherently hard. People have strengths and weaknesses. People have weird crap from their childhood that gets in the way. People remember hearing “you’re so clumsy” or “why can’t you be graceful like your sister?” or “you’ll never be good at math” or whatever.
God, some people suck. But YAY Nathan, who does not suck at all.
Naomi Dunfords last blog post..The One Where I Get Accused of Rape
I dunno, I find it’s pretty easy to just sleep instead of doing spiritual practice. Although, that’s not particularly technology-dependent. I just need prayer beads and a pillow…
I stand corrected. Some things are (apparently) easy: like sleeping. And
whoring yourself forgetting fansocks. Man, I want fansocks.
If only to keep on making my (favorite) “Stockings: it’s the new stalking!” joke.
Anyway, one man’s easy peasy is the next man’s please don’t make me do that. Or something.
I agree entirely. I was successful as a consultant teaching people how to use Macs (years ago) because I could remember how hard it was for me.
I would add that a similar issue is when you say something like: “I’m really tired because I stayed up until 2 finishing my work,” and someone responds, “Well, that’s okay, because I was up until 4 with my work!” No, it isn’t okay. Just because you were up later, it doesn’t mean that I’m not still really tired. This applies to all negative feelings. One-upmanship is not comforting.
Something you alluded to is the ‘It’s easy if you know how”….
I sometimes find myself saying “it’s ONLY easy if you know how” to people I KNOW are smart. Its meant to be a reminder that they’re not stupid, they’re uninformed (I was going to say ignorant, but that comes across a bit negative…). In other words, we ALL had to be shown how to do “IT”, and now its their turn to be shown “IT”.
I’m rethinking my use of that phrase now, after reading this post….
martin englishs last blog post..Getting an SAP job
I will make a deal with the universe. I’ll stop telling people computers “are actually pretty easy, they just do what you tell them to” on the same day that everyone stops telling me “I can’t do this” in place of “I don’t want to learn this.”
The second is at least more honest, and I can accept not having time and resources to learn everything a lot faster than I can accept being dishonest.
Photopoppys last blog post..A lighter SPAMtastic moment
This is great, Havi! I love Application #1. I always talk about how easy it is to create a home you love. NO MORE! You are so right… it’s easy for me, NOT FOR THE PEOPLE WHO NEED WHAT I OFFER!! Thanks for the wording suggestions.
@ Photopoppy: I’m gonna guess that what those “I can’t do this” people are actually saying is “I’m afraid I can’t do this, I’m afraid that it’s too hard”.
I have plenty of experience showing techno-neophytes the ropes, and I’m certain that there’s no deliberate dishonesty when they say they “can’t do” the thing – it’s just a form of self-defense, of pre-empting failure.
Like Havi, I’ve found that it’s vital for that kind of fear to be acknowledged before any learning can take place.
@Heidi – good point. One-upmanship is the “no, it’s easy” thing taken a few steps further. Anything that says “My problems? So much worse than yours…” is usually not comforting.
Well, you have to be very, very funny to be able to get away with that.
@Martin – Thanks for that. I actually really like your “Hey, we all were at that not-knowing place once” approach. That could be totally reassuring and could absolutely work.
I mean, if I know that this hard thing will be easy for me eventually because this hard learning curve part is just this thing we all go through … that seems much more do-able.
@Photopoppy – Love the name! And your last post. Sounds like you’re feeling annoyed when people don’t seem to know what they really want or are capable of.
I think @Richard has a point with the “they’re probably just scared” part — could also be that they don’t even know yet that they don’t want to learn it.
But yeah, that’s still no fun to deal with.
@Alison – Yay! That’s cool. I also want to know how to create a home I love … are you going to post some ideas?
@Richard – Yeah, I also don’t think that “I can’t” comes from any kind of deliberate dishonesty. People are scared of all sorts of things, and it’s so hard to remember that sometimes when you’re not in the fear yourself.
And for everyone else … this post has sparked all kinds of interesting debates within my inbox. If anyone wants to chime in here too you’re more than welcome to do so. You guys rock.
@ Heidi — Yeah, what is that? The whole “that’s ok” thing? I mean, where is the etymology here? That’s OK, you say? Well, Mr. Oneupmanship Man, I BEG TO DIFFER! It is NOT okay.
I have one friend who constantly does that when telling other people’s stories. She’s not even bragging about how much HER day sucked. She’s bragging about how much OTHER people’s days were.
Me: Boo hoo. My dog died.
Her: THAT’S okay, my one friend? The one with small pox? HER dog was hit by a car and then eaten by vultures while she watched, helplessly.
…and this is precisely why the Havi&Naomi SPfW project is so RIGHT ON. Because you know it’s not easy. You understand exactly what’s not easy and why. You know that even when you get it, it’s not necessarily easy. That’s perfect. That really reaches people. It reaches me.
I’m not looking for easy. I’m looking for know-how. And when what I know gets hard, I’m looking for understanding, not someone to tell me something’s wrong with me because I’m seeing a challenge. I abhor it when people look at me blankly and say, “Well, I don’t have a problem with it.”
Great. Then let me find someone who did or does, who understands how to talk to me. If you don’t understand how hard it can be, then you can’t help me. Chances are, you’re not going to be able to explain it on my level.
stephs last blog post..Is It Okay for Me to be Selfish Yet?
@steph – Love it. And you’re so right. Why would you possibly care that someone else doesn’t have a problem with the thing that’s hard for you?
If anything, after you smack them for being annoying, you’ll turn around to look for someone else who actually gets it.
There’s this weird but completely understandable thing that a lot of people do when they start out with their own itty biz which is to try and be all “hi, I’m an expert who is perfect!”
When actually what I want is someone who knows my pain intimately and gets what a big deal it is that I’m even thinking about working on it.
I’ll take the hug and the non-cheesy acknowledging over the uninvited tough love any day.
Anyway, yay. I love how Naomi always has bright, thoughtful, all around great people on her blog, and it’s always awesome when they visit!
Oh, so true about Spanish. I’ve lived in Spain for almost 7 years and couldn’t even have a conversation with four years olds for the first 4 years. I felt so stupid. Everyone thought I just needed total immersion. So, I would spend hours with people speaking Spanish, not understanding a freaking thing and feeling totally stressed and left out. I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one that thinks learning Spanish isn’t as easy as everyone says it is.
Anyway, I don’t like when people say things are easy either. We all have natural talents and some things that come with more difficultly. Sometimes we just need a little empathy!
Naomi Niless last blog post..How to Get the Best Out of Your Web Designer Guest Post
Learning Spanish AFTER German is probably what makes it hard… (to me anyway.) I don’t know a whole lot of Spanish, but I know French, and trying to learn German after learning a “romance” language sucks. I can relate French and Spanish, but German… just whoa. lol
Melissas last blog post..NaNoWriMo Excerpts
I agree with this.
I’m an engineering student and I’m around IT-oriented people a lot – and it pisses me off to no end when they regard the vast majority of people as “stupid” because they do not understand the same things (which all, of course, are “easy”).
Of course, I think it’s easy to understand that the majority of the people they call “stupid” are just putting their priorities in a different order…
One thing that really is easy, though, is labeling people as stupid rather than trying to understand them.
I never got why people insist that no one language is harder than any other. Logically, if you break it into pieces, some aspects of some languages (spelling/ writing system, variety of phonemes, tonality) are more difficult than others. How on earth could they all balance out perfectly?
The rest is cool. Thanks for the post.
Thank you for these gems! I just found you through a great friend who through acknowledgment and listening to what I was going through, sent me here!
Coincidental timing that she just read this post only a day or two before? No I don’t believe that for a second. That would be the easy explanation. Everything happens for a reason, and I appreciate your work.
The litmus test for me is putting the applications in play today, as I go out and ‘serve’ others my services, as it were. I’ll be back for more soon.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!!
As I was reading this post, my mind was having flashbacks to the time Mom was making pizza crusts from scratch. I told her I buy mine at the store, and she was saying “It’s EASY to make your own crusts.” I think she tried to explain it to me, but I was too busy feeling dumb to hear anything.
I’m sure, at times, I have lacked patience in teaching others as well. But I try to remember what it was like for me when I was new at it, and people appreciate it when I take time to show them things.