Communication skills for IT professionals: Do’s and don’ts
By Doug Paulo
To advance your IT career, you need good technical abilities, but you also need good communication skills. Many accomplished IT professionals use accurate technical terminology to speak enthusiastically and in detail about a wide range of technological topics. While this is appropriate in a peer-to-peer setting or a job interview with an IT hiring manager, it can be ineffective and even counterproductive when trying to communicate with business people who do not have a technological background. They may become disinterested or even cut the conversation short—and that is not conducive to a good working relationship.
Since your work as an IT professional will undoubtedly bring you into contact with business people, it is important to take a “business first” approach to what you want to communicate. In other words, you must learn how to use terminology and examples that are relevant to business people. The following do’s and don’ts, therefore, are important to keep in mind:
- Do ask whether the person has any knowledge of the subject you want to discuss. It is advisable to establish this up front because if he or she has IT knowledge, the conversation becomes much easier. If the person is not familiar with IT, then you can adjust your language and examples accordingly.
- Don’t assume a business person knows any IT terminology. Try to avoid business jargon as much as possible. If you need to use a term, explain concisely what it means.
- Do use business examples to explain technology. When you are discussing a specific challenge or issue, illustrate the function of the technology with a real-life business example to gain traction.
- Don’t focus on complexity. Other IT professionals will undoubtedly appreciate the complexity of the technological solutions you have created or challenges you are dealing with. However, business people want to know in the simplest, clearest terms what the impact of these solutions or challenges are on the company.
- Do explain what the business benefits are. From a business point of view, it is important to know how a program, solution, update or other action will create value for the organization. Think in terms of saving money, generating revenue, reducing risk, improving quality and other metrics that may be important to the other person’s responsibilities.
- Don’t forget to learn business terminology. This may take some time, but it will remove many of the barriers to effective communication with the business stakeholders in your organization.
When you not only have outstanding IT skills, but also the ability to communicate the impact of technology on business, you will become a valuable resource to any organization. Because inevitably, those who can communicate the clearest are the ones whose insights, concerns and talking points are taken the most seriously and remembered long after conversations conclude.