Communicating as a Leader

Better Communication Skills for Technology Professionals

Tom O\’Dea asked:



Better communication skills; not a term usually associated with technology types.  Perhaps you’ve heard the story about the man who asked the engineer what time it was, and the engineer told him how to build a watch?




Perhaps, but there is many a true story about firms meeting with clients, and the client asks the IT guy if the system will work.  The IT guy’s response goes something like this: “It certainly should.   We did all our design reviews, held code walk thrus, tested it in system test, user acceptance test, load test….yeah, we’re feeling pretty good at this point.”


The right answer, of course, is “yes, we guarantee it”. 


To be fair, it’s not easy for tech pros these days.  Many of their business counterparts are relatively tech savvy.  They don’t know if the VP of Marketing that they are talking to has detailed knowledge of web technology, or if they don’t know their browser from their Bowzer (that’s for you Sha Na Na fans).


Tips for Tech Pros


Technology professionals who don’t want to be treated like mushrooms, who want direct involvement with clients and the chance to participate in decision making, need to develop better communication skills.  It’s not too hard if they focus on four key behaviors:


Adapt to your audience.  Figure out where they start from on the technical knowledge scale.  You don’t want to lose them, and you don’t want to talk down to them.  If you’re not sure, ask.   They’ll usually give you a straight answer.



Listen for intent.  If the client wants a high availability customer database solution, and the customer billing info is on a separate database, then they probably need high availability for that other database as well. 



Be tolerant and value differences.  It’s ok if the lawyer can’t turn on his laptop.   You probably don’t want to be his opposing counsel in front of a judge.



Don’t try to impress.  The tech knowledgeable members of the audience won’t be, and the tech averse already are.



Managers and Leaders


You stand to gain credibility with clients and partners when you can bring your tech pros along to answer questions and gain a stronger understanding of the business.  Of course you can suffer if they commit crimes of miscommunication.  Here’s what you need to do:


Decide which members of your staff just don’t have business communication in their DNA.  Be honest with those people, and define their roles accordingly.  You don’t have to keep them in the dark like mushrooms, just make sure you know who’s around before you let them into the daylight.



Highlight the strong communicators in your technology teams.  Give them access to clients and other business leaders.  Make it clear that they are demonstrating role model behavior.



Invite business experts (internal, external, client) to share their knowledge and feedback with your technical teams.  You’ll get a better sense of who “get’s it”, and your staff will appreciate your efforts on their behalf.



Take every opportunity to reinforce for technology professionals the reasons why they are asked to do what they do.  Help them keep perspective.  Encourage questions, and provide individual feedback about more than their technical skills.


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