Communicating With Other Business Units
In recent years, when comedic actor Jimmy Fallon was a cast member on Saturday Night Live, he played a character named “Nick Burns,” a supposed computer expert and IT fix-it man working at some generic cubicle farm of a company. Burns, presumably the quintessential IT professional, was an insufferable nerd, who would react indignantly if one of the technically disadvantaged employees didn’t know what the definition of a browser was (even if they were looking right at it). He always seemed very put out by having to do his job, and although he invariably fixed any IT problems that arose, Burns’ impatient, self-aggrandizing, know-it-all style of communication negated any help he might have provided.
Unfortunately, Burns is symbolic of how many outside—and some within—the information technology field view IT professionals’ manner of interacting with employees in other parts of the business. Those in IT often are characterized, rightly or wrongly, as a socially inept crowd who, when they’re not conversing about RAM or LAN or some other acronym in the IT alphabet soup, are blogging about which Star Trek captain was the best (Kirk, by the way—no contest).
Here are a few simple tips for IT professionals looking to upgrade their communication skills in the workplace:
- Don’t talk down to co-workers: All right, so you know more than anyone in your company about IT. That doesn’t mean you should lord it over your fellow employees by acting haughty and condescending. Let’s face it: If everyone who operates in a specialized field within a given business—whether it be IT, human resources, sales or marketing—communicates in an petulant manner, that business will not operate effectively.
- Keep instructions and advice concise and simple: Although you should never be patronizing in your exchanges with non-IT professionals, you might have to dumb down recommendations and directions you give them. Try to communicate in generalities and avoid using highly specialized lingo. Keep your messages with non-experts brief, straightforward and to-the-point. As Thoreau once said, “Our lives are frittered away by detail…Simplify, simplify, simplify!” A good many instructions from the IT department also have been frittered away by detail.
- Patience is a virtue: Always make your best effort to be patient and considerate with non-IT co-workers when they make mistakes, even when they make the same ones over and over again. This can be difficult, but keep in mind that they’re not necessarily slow and incompetent just because they don’t have a thorough grasp of information technology. Also, remember that you weren’t always an IT expert, and, most likely, you had to make many mistakes before mastering the necessary skills and knowledge.
- Smile!: ‘Nuff said.
On a related note, Web-based training provider Net Intent LLC and The TRACOM Group, a soft-skills training organization, have partnered to provide an interpersonal skills solution for IT and telecommunications professionals. The program, based on TRACOM’s Social Style Model, teaches learners how to identify and interact with individuals belonging to four general behavioral categories.
For more information, see http://www.nintent.com.