In an information technology (IT) organization, effective communication is a core competency that is often overlooked. As leaders build technology teams, we focus on employees that have strong technical aptitude, problem-solving skills and how a person’s demeanor and attitude will fit into the team. However, we can take communication skills for granted. Why do we do this? Communication is critical to a successful IT career and organization and can be quite detrimental if it goes unaddressed.
Communication integrates the business with IT. The more they know, the more they feel part of it.
Communication fosters efficiency. If it’s clear what needs to be done, there won’t be wasted resource time used to redo work or do things that weren’t necessary.
Communication eliminates confusion and builds trust. It’s human nature to want to know what is going on, and communicating news (good or bad) keeps people informed and builds a trust that you will keep them informed.
Just understanding communication is important is only part of it. Being a skilled communicator is a completely different challenge. For these purposes, let’s focus on written communication and one common area where IT runs into issues with the end user -- email. In person, IT engineers are fine with end users. They can look them in the eyes, explain the issue, answer some questions to clarify, and generally, with a good demeanor, the experience is positive for both sides.
Written communication is a whole different story. Writing skills for IT employees are generally not as refined as they are within other corporate disciplines (marketing, human resources, etc). Obviously, writing eloquently is not part of the job description or a skill set that generally makes a successful IT employee, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved with a little care and thought. Before you even start typing that email, it’s important to consider the following as you compose your message:
• Know why you are communicating. Have a clear goal.
• Be concise. Make sure each sentence has a purpose.
• This should not be a novel, but it also needs to be more than one word. Make sure your email gets across clearly the what, the why, the who, the need and the action to be taken.
• Be factual
• Be positive
• Remove any negative emotion
• Avoid accusations or assumptions
Now that you have the right mindset, you can start writing.
1. Know the history. Make sure your audience knows the background of the communication. In one or two sentences, explain how we got here. For example, "Susan -- I am following up on your latest revision of the proposal to conduct an Exchange mailbox migration for us."
2. State what you want. In one to two sentences, make your request. As an example, "We are prepared to move forward with the project if you can give us the same scope and price as your kickstart package with an additional 500 mailbox migrations."
3. State your reasons. In one or two sentences state your why. For example, "We value your partnership and the previous work you have done for our company, but your current price exceeds your competition at a cost we cannot justify."
4. Action statement: In one sentence state the action requested. For example, "Please let me know your decision on the revised offer by the end of the week."
5. Thank your audience for their time, effort, commitment, etc. For example, "Thank you for your time, efforts and partnership. We look forward to hearing back from you."
Put it all together and you end up with a very clear and concise communication.
It seems basic, right? But how many of us practice that or think through this process every time we send an email? We should, but we don’t.
Communication is one of the greatest challenges that we face. We can under-communicate. We can over-communicate. However, I think the greatest challenge is communicating clearly without any misunderstanding -- it can be challenging to avoid meaning one thing and conveying another. Your audience may not have the same information you have and therefore can’t properly translate your message. Take extra time and thought to ensure you are clearing conveying your message in a way that the people receiving it understand it the way you intended.
In our hectic work day, we blast out an email and move on to the next thing we are working on. Slowing down and spending a couple extra minutes on how we communicate can make a huge difference in our effectiveness and success individually and as an IT organization.