Like all other stereotypes, the notion that IT professionals are classic “absent-minded professors” – that is, loaded with knowledge but light on communication skills – is both unfair and unjustified.
Ironically, IT professionals are typically excellent communicators; especially when it comes to describing what they do, or what they want someone else to do. And yes, while extended conversation may not be at the top of every IT professionals list of favorite things – actually, it usually doesn’t crack the top 10 – when the subject matter is in their wheelhouse, or if the issue being discussed has anything to do with hard facts: look out. The challenge then isn’t to get IT professionals engaged and effusive. Rather, it’s usually to dial them down!
Yet as every IT professional would readily agree, continuous improvement is a smart, if not mandatory habit. And that means even those who do an adequate job in communicating with their non-IT professional colleagues – e.g. project sponsors, executives, board members, external collaborators, internal colleagues in other departments, and so on – could benefit from some helpful, respectfully-delivered advice.
With this in mind, here are 4 tips to help IT professionals like you raise your communication game:
1. Tolerate Talkative People
Not everyone has your refined ability to focus on the core issues at hand, and target each one with laser-like precision. Some people need to warm-up to a topic, or they simply have a different talk-style that is less articulate than yours, but nevertheless works for them and is part of who they are personally and professionally.
Within reason, giving other people – and especially non-IT professionals – the time and space they need to get their message across will not just help them, but it will help you better understand what they’re trying to say (even if, alas, they’re not saying it as clearly and succinctly as you would…).
2. Discuss – Don’t Debate
Your vast storehouse of knowledge and relentless commitment to competence may at times overwhelm and intimidate some non-IT professionals. No, this 100% isn’t your fault. But yes, it is a problem that is in your best interest to solve – or better yet, avoid – by monitoring the line between discussion and debate.
The former is about back-and-forth communication, which at times can certainly be passionate and edgy. The latter, however, is about winners and losers. When the context shifts too far towards the debate end of the spectrum, convincing other people of your point can be impossible; not because they don’t agree with what you’re trying to get across, but because they don’t want to (or feel they can’t afford to) lose.
3. Use Acronyms and Jargon Sparingly
When communicating with other IT professionals, acronyms and jargon aren’t just acceptable, but they’re preferred. After all, why bloat your email or conversation with needless words? You want to take the express route to your communication destination; not the long and winding scenic trail.
However, folks outside the IT world typically don’t have the acronym and jargon grip that you do, and assuming otherwise can make communication difficult and inefficient. Keep this in mind and, if required, take a ride on the scenic (i.e. acronym and jargon-free) scenic trail. While it’ll take you a bit longer than desired to get to your destination, you’ll end up in the right place – and that’s the most important thing.
4. Use Metaphors
IT professionals are natural metaphor-makers. And the clearest evidence of this is in simply looking at the ever-expanding IT vocabulary itself. Web. Cyberspace. Cloud. Mouse. Virus. These are just some of the hundreds of metaphors that IT professionals use on a regular basis – and typically without realizing that they’re employing an extremely effective and time-honored tactic.
As such, continue weaving your metaphor magic when communicating with non-IT professionals by seeking to express complex ideas or points in simpler ways, and by referring to something that your audience is more familiar with and can readily relate to.
In the same vein, and where appropriate, use scenarios, stories and examples to help illustrate your points and get your messages across.
The Bottom Line
Let’s face it: for many IT professionals, communication with non-IT professionals can be an uphill task – one characterized at times by frustration and inefficiency.
However, IT professionals who embrace the challenge of improving how they connect with their less technical colleagues, partners and customers almost always become remarkably gifted communicators; often to an extent that surprises even them!
But frankly, why should it be a shock? IT professionals have a seasoned knack of learning just about anything that captures their interest. And so when they turn their attention to raising their communication game, it’s only a matter of time before they achieve mastery – and uplift the intelligence of their teams and organizations in a way that only IT professionals can!