Communicating Ideas with Sergio Rabiela

How do you communicate high-level or complex ideas to your team?

How do you know if your ideas are getting across?

When is repeating yourself too repetitive?

In Episode 25, Sergio Rabiela (@spacechurro on Twitter) shares advice on communicating high-level ideas to your team.

Show references:


JENNIFER: Welcome to Storytime with Managers, a podcast by Cohere.

Hi, I’m Jennifer Tu and I’m here with Sergio Rabiela to talk about how to communicate high level ideas to your team. Sergio, can you tell us a little about yourself?

SERGIO: Sure thing. I’m Sergio, born and raised in the south side of Chicago. I’ve been working in the fintech space for about maybe 14 years now. Currently working for Beyond Finance, which is also in the fintech space. And I am the VP of Technology there.

JENNIFER: Awesome. Thanks so much for joining us today. Let’s go ahead and dive right in. High level goals, what does that mean? Can you give me an example of what a high level idea is like? Is that a goal or a direction or is that some other kind of idea?

SERGIO: In general, for me, it’s something like a theme. Maybe it’s flexibility or it’s observability or it could be a new process that you’re trying to communicate to your team. And figuring out how to do that to the right size of folks is tough and making sure you give them enough space to digest.

JENNIFER: This sounds hard to communicate to me. And I’m wondering, is it hard for you and what makes it hard?

SERGIO: Yeah, I think it’s tough to anticipate kind of the questions you’re going to get and how you want to form your thoughts around it. So I think what’s helped me in the past in communicating these to my team is writing it down. I wouldn’t say I mostly go to the degree of Amazon’s six-pager memo thing that they do. But I think there’s something to be said for writing down your thoughts on a particular theme or a goal or approach you’re looking to take in an actual paragraph instead of like a deck. I mean, if you take like that deck route, you still have a lot of thoughts in your head that you’re not necessarily writing down on paper. So writing it down, whether it be like in just a short paragraph is super helpful. But I think probably the hardest part to do, that process.

JENNIFER: Is that more of a something for people to reference afterwards? Or is that the primary way to communicate the idea?

SERGIO: It’s both. I think the main thing is you’re trying to give people enough notice, kind of, or just time to digest what you’re going to be talking about. So typically, what I’ll do is I will write this information down. I’ll send it in advance. Maybe I can give folks, generally I want to give them at least two days to think over what it is I’ve handed their way. And then, I’ll follow up, whether it’s an in-person conversation or something over Zoom. And that’s really where you talk through what you’ve sent in advance and just give it a little more color and context.

JENNIFER: Oh, I see. So you’re basically giving people a preview of what you intend to talk about with them. So that way, they can come prepared if they want and they are able to refer to what you said afterwards. And at the same time, for those who might not be as into reading or proactively reading, you’ve got some kind of a session where you can talk through it.

SERGIO: Exactly. And I think giving that time is important because you might read it once, think about it for a bit, go back, read it again, have different thoughts. And that gives you an opportunity to take your own notes on it, write down any questions you’re going to have, and bring them up when you have this in-person discussion.

JENNIFER: You mentioned that it’s hard to write these things down. And I’m wondering, what are you thinking about as you’re thinking about what to write down or I don’t know if you’ve got an example you could walk us through?

SERGIO: I think it’s mostly making sure that you can be brief. And mostly, it’s this editing process that you’re running through. For the most part, for me, it’s when I’m trying to get these ideas out. A lot of times it’s also not necessarily something that you have to write from scratch for yourself. An example would be maybe I’m communicating to folks. It could be to a new team member. “Hey, have you ever had a one on one?” Well, I don’t necessarily have to write the entire concept or idea or a goal of what a one on one is for. I actually cheat and I use tons of articles from other folks. So I mostly refer to an article that Marco Rogers, who was a guest on your show and his talk was great, but he has a great write up on his approach to one on ones. Or I’ll refer to Claire Lew from Know Your Team who has a great write up of what to expect from a one on one from a manager’s perspective, or also from the flip side from a direct report.

So if you don’t have to write anything about it, then don’t. If that saves you the space to say, “Hey, here’s the kind of frame of reference that I’m going for.” It could just be research. I need to research the particular goal or theme that I’m looking to communicate. Someone has said it better, great, use that. But if it’s something that you need to communicate, maybe it’s – I mentioned beforehand flexibility – for us that’s, in this Covid time, it’s just trying to be nimble and making sure we’re building the right things that we need to. So, it’s just writing down a short piece on what you think your goals are. And I think I like to write a lot and I like to cut back as much as I can. And then I think when I got to a small enough piece that I can send out, then I feel like I’m in a good spot. And I just kind of let it sit for folks for a while and we follow that up with an in-person meeting.

JENNIFER: How do you know if it’s working, if what you’re trying to communicate is getting across?

SERGIO: I think part of that is the tools that you use or listening and/or watching for cues that you’re getting from folks. So, I mentioned you’re going to be talking to these folks. I think the other part of it, too, is that you’re going to be running through complicated or complex ideas multiple times. And so, there’s a repetition aspect to it. But you got to be keen to the type of repetition you’re doing. If you’re explaining a concept and applying it to different concepts, maybe it’s a particular pattern to use in programming and you can use it in this perspective or in one of these different kinds of cases, I think that’s okay. But if you find yourself repeating the same thing over and over again, it’s not clicking. Something is wrong with your delivery or something is wrong with the way you’re communicating that it’s just not being received well.

JENNIFER: How do you find that balance? Because I know some ideas, you just have to say several times in order for it to get across. So, how do you know when you were doing the right thing and repeating yourself in a way that is helpful instead of repeating yourself in a way that isn’t coming across?

SERGIO: I think it’s in part by the questions that you get. Maybe it’s the specificity of the question that you get. Maybe they’re just exploring one particular thing. But if the questions stay general that you’re receiving, then it’s just not clicking. And I think the other part of it, too, is just if you have the opportunity to use body language, you see someone nodding their head or you kind of look at other cues, that’s helpful, too. If you kind of just not really see a whole lot of engagement from the person you’re talking to, that’s kind of a cue that you use as well.

JENNIFER: Yeah. Oh, that’s really helpful, because what you’re doing is you’re looking at the questions people ask you, and using that to figure out what they are thinking about. And that tells you how much they are understanding the idea that you want to communicate.

SERGIO: Yeah, totally. If you don’t feel like you’re getting a specific of a question as you’re looking for, or maybe it’s just staying at a very topical level, chances are you’re not delivering the message in the best way you can.

JENNIFER: What do you do when that happens? Like you have your all hands or whatever meeting it is and you get no questions afterwards. What happens next?

SERGIO: So you get no questions. I think a lot of times you have to figure out. Is it just that folks are nervous? They don’t want to chime in or ask questions? Or is it that everyone’s confused and they don’t know where to start? A lot of times I’ll just ask the obvious questions myself. Like, “Hey, as I was giving this talk, here are a couple questions I would have asked if I were in your shoes. Let me just go ahead and ask them myself and I’ll answer them as well.” And a lot of times I’ll just ask, like, “Hey, was this helpful? Did you understand what message I was trying to put across?” That’s tougher when it’s a larger crowd. If you have a smaller audience, I think just being direct is the best option you’re going to have.

JENNIFER: Let’s go into the tough case. What do you do when you have a larger audience and you’re not getting questions back? And maybe it’s because it’s a large audience. How do you know that your message is going across? How do you know it’s really working?

SERGIO: I think part of it is you might not get an answer right then and there. You might need just to wait. It might have a long feedback loop. So, if you’re a manager of managers, maybe you are so far from the folks that you’re speaking to that it’s best to have someone else ask some deeper questions on your behalf and then report back.

JENNIFER: Yeah. Or I guess one thing you can do is look for if you’re seeing the change that you’re looking for. So, if you were giving a message around flexibility, looking for signs that flexibility is being adopted.

SERGIO: Exactly right. It means your communicating goal is right. What are those goals? Are you achieving the goals that you wanted? We had a rather large initiative over just adding more metrics and observability in some of the apps we’re building. And so, “Hey, that was easy, right?” Like, “Hey, here’s the goals that we’re looking to do.” We’re looking to have better insight to KPIs for some of the systems we’re building. It’s very easy to look into those KPIs that are being built and make sure that you have metrics around it. And if you see them, you know it’s working.

JENNIFER: How can you tell when your team has adopted this mindset that you’re trying to teach them and when they are doing what was asked of them, but not adopting the mindset?

SERGIO: A lot of the telltale signs that work for me are listening for specific words that people say. If it’s like maybe a certain phrase that I use, and you hear that over and over again. Sometimes it’s not necessarily that it’s getting all the way through. You get a sense that there’s a lack of ownership. You want to communicate these goals so these folks can own them. And part of owning that is saying it in your own words. So, you listen for the message that you put forth but communicated from their own lands or from their own view. And if you don’t see that, I think that’s part of the times when I say I see that someone is really just doing what was asked and not necessarily understanding why they’re doing something.

JENNIFER: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. What do you do when you are, I guess, troubleshooting and you notice that the other person isn’t adopting this high level idea that you’ve given them and they’re parroting back what you’re saying? Do you try to give them a new perspective? Do you try to break it down smaller? What are things you can do when you find yourself in this situation?

SERGIO: I think you ask questions. Why are you doing something in this particular way? What are the benefits you see to this? If you can kind of ask questions and get a better feel for their approach, that’s helpful. And I think part of it is just walking through that exercise I said. Re-communicating the message that you had, but hopefully you can put in a different context that’ll help it click a little bit more.

JENNIFER: I really like this idea of going to the other person and finding their perspective on what is important to them. And one thing I’m wondering is what do you do after you have learned what they find important or what they’re thinking about as they approach this problem? Do you try to persuade them? Do you try to go back to your original point? How do you bring them into your side?

SERGIO: I think that feedback is super important. Yes, you’re communicating this message, but I think the other part of it is listening to what folks have to say. So, you’ve asked these questions, you’ve got information back. Just take a breather. Listen to what they have to say. Digest it. Compare it to your thoughts on your message. Does your approach, your goals, your way that you’re communicating this information have to change? Have you discovered something in the way that you were saying something that just actually wasn’t working as well as you wanted to?

I think you don’t have to rush to say, “Oh, we’re going to solve this right here and now.” No. If it’s helpful to just take that information, digest it, think about it and come back later, then by all means, do it. But I think it’s this listening component that is huge. They’ve just shared some information with you that could really change the way you’re communicating your message, your goals. Use it and then talk to the person about it. And if it clicks and kind of you reframing your goals in a way that helps them, then you’re all a lot further along now than you were beforehand.

JENNIFER: I really like that. It sounds like what you want to do is when you’re taking in new information and a new perspective from someone else, take the time to say thank you and show them and really act on reflecting on what they have said to you. So that way, you can either adapt how you approach them or adapt what it is that you want to be doing overall.

SERGIO: Yeah, I think it’s a listening game. Yes, you’re communicating this message. But if you’re not listening, then you’re just stuck in your own bubble and you’re just rehashing and basically forcing this idea on someone else when that’s not at all what you want to be doing. You want to adapt your message. You want to adapt the way you’re communicating to the folks that you’re talking to, because otherwise, what’s the point?

JENNIFER: Yeah. And I guess when you’re trying to communicate the idea of flexibility, it also becomes modeling that for everyone else.

SERGIO: Yeah, totally.

JENNIFER: Awesome. We’re kind of coming to the end of our times together. Do you have any final words of advice for our listeners?

SERGIO: It’s mostly that. It’s take your time to think about what you want to communicate. Write it down, if you can. I think writing is huge for me. So by all means, write it down. And also listen to the feedback that you get and see how you can incorporate it into your message. Because sure, you spend a lot of effort upfront, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re done. You can make your message so much stronger if you incorporate these additional feedback loops.

JENNIFER: Got it. Sergio, if people want to continue the conversation with you, what’s the best way for them to reach out?

SERGIO: Sure, you can grab me on Twitter. I am @spacechurro. Totally have that ‘90’s Twitter user handle that you can never shake anymore, but works for me.

JENNIFER: It makes me hungry.


JENNIFER: Thanks so much for being here.

SERGIO: All right, thanks.

JENNIFER: Thanks for listening to Storytime with Managers by Cohere. I’m Jennifer Tu. Our theme music is by Kevin MacLeod, and we are edited by Mandy Moore and the Dev Rep’s crew.

If you like this episode, please think about leaving us a review on your favorite podcast listening platform. This can make a really big difference in helping other people find and start listening to Storytime with Managers. Thanks so much.

Communicating Ideas with Sergio Rabiela
Older post

Burnout with Aneika and Anjuan Simmons

What is burnout? What does it look like in an individual, versus a team? What can you do to counter burnout? What do you do if your new team is already su...

Newer post

Unexpected Onboarding with Ale Paredes

In Episode 26, Ale Paredes ([@ale7714 on Twitter]( / [ale7714 on LinkedIn]( / [Latinas In Tech NYC](...

Communicating Ideas with Sergio Rabiela