As much as we love the technologies we use and how they work, most of our business users don’t. Business users are, generally speaking, looking for solutions to their problems and not necessarily the behind-the-scenes technologies that make it work.
That said, you will know you are talking too technically to your business users when: • Their eyes glaze over and don’t seem to understand what you are talking about • When they don’t ask you any follow-up questions regarding your articulately stated technical explanations • When the users say “That sounds great, but what does this mean for me?” • When the users just say “Great, thanks” with no added comment and then change the subject.
Additional ways to know you’re talking too technically to your users is to:
• Watch the body language of the person you are talking to for visual cues that they are bored, uninterested, or totally lost • Listen to their tone of voice to see if it sounds dismissive and they are trying to end the conversation
The habit of speaking to business people too technically can be very career limiting. From an IT management perspective, it’s great when the people in your group can communicate effectively with those outside of IT. It
• Reduces the chance of miscommunications on an array of topics, including business requirements, resource planning, user expectations, and other similar IT/User interactions • Helps facilitate IT transparency, which from a user perspective helps to maximize internal client service and user satisfaction • Reduces the chance of ill feelings being created toward IT due to a lack of sensitivity of business user needs, processes, and/or unwritten interpersonal protocols
From a job hunting/hiring perspective, when I interview techies for jobs within my group, I always ask the candidates to tell me about their last project. When asked, I typically get one of the following two responses:
• A very technical response, such as “I built a system using C# and SQL Server to develop reports for some type of business application.” • A business related response, such as “I’m developing a marketing related system that analyzed income social media data about our company using Java and placing our results in Oracle database.”
As you may expect, all else being equal, I have always tended to hire the person that gave the business oriented answer because having an understanding of the system you are developing and having empathy for the people who will ultimately be using the software you develop, the better job you can do designing, developing, testing, and maintaining the applications you are creating.
All that said, here are some tips you can use to assure that you are speaking appropriately with your business users:
1. Don’t try to be interesting, try to be interested in them 2. Spend a little time studying what the business group you support does and how they do it 3. When designing and/or developing software, try to look and understand the business reason why the software is being created 4. When speaking with business users talk to them using their language and slang, not yours 5. Before describing technology related topics, ask the user if they are interested in hearing them 6. Try to ascertain your user’s technical level and talk at that level, not above it or below it 7. Have the mindset that you provide solutions, not technologies, this will help you think about the bigger business picture, not just your component of the solution
My next challenge to you is to expand on this list of questions based on your job, your technical profession, your job level, your areas of ability, and your areas of interest. Then ask yourself this combined set of questions on an ongoing basis. With a little luck and a great idea, you can make an incredible contribution to your company, and in turn, in your own professional future.
If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at eric@ManagerMechanics.com or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom.
Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to grow.
Read more of Eric Bloom's Your IT Career blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricPBloom. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.