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Stop Letting Data Science Make People Feel Dumb

5 [Non-Conventional] Strategies for Effective Data Science Communication

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Working in data science I hear it all the time.

“You’re so smart, I don’t deal with all that ‘smart’ stuff.”

Allow me to let you in on a little secret…I’m no smarter than anyone else. I just spent loads of time studying, experimenting, and talking about data science stuff. And there’s a difference between knowing lots of stuff and being smart.

Do I know more data science than most in an average room at a cocktail party? Sure, but that doesn’t mean I am smarter than they are. After all, ask a monkey to climb a tree and it will look like the smartest living thing at climbing trees but put the monkey in water and ask it to swim…well, I think you can guess the moral here.

If there is a lesson here it’s that people don’t like to feel dumb and data science has a funny way of making lots of really smart people feel really dumb. Thus, being an effective data scientist also means working hard to help people feel less dumb when we develop data science solutions with them.

In order to understand how to make people feel less dumb when talking about data science, we need to understand why they feel dumb in the first place. In my experience, it boils down to two main reasons.

The first, is that they feel unqualified. Loads of psychologists refer to this as imposter syndrome. Ultimately, when we feel unqualified we feel like we lose control of our ability to effectively work.

The second, is that they feel threatened. Unfortunately, things we don’t understand have a tendency to threaten us. They threaten us because we lose a sense of predictability, which ultimately boils down to feeling as though we have lost control.

The lesson, help people to regain their perception of control.

Here are 5 [non-conventional] strategies for improving the data science conversation and helping people to feel less dumb when talking data science:

  1. Use pictures that help to simplify the concepts and, when appropriate, allow your audience to draw them with you.
  2. Be funny or at least humble by calling out the elephant in the room, that data science can feel like a complicated black box.
  3. Tell a story that explains how the solution would affect someone hypothetical but relatable.
  4. Be empathetic to the needs of your audience by giving them opportunities to ask questions
  5. Expect to make changes based on the conversation and be specific about how you intend to make them. Doing so gives people voice and helps them to feel more ownership.

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Brandon Cosley

Brandon Cosley

Data Science Transformation Specialist | Start with newsletter and get my end-to-end approach to data science here www.fastdatascience.ai