For Technical Careers: Interpersonal communication rules the day

I often receive emails from readers asking me what technology they should learn, what certification they should attain or what type of job they should take next. A fourth question should be “How can I enhance my interpersonal communication skills?”

I often receive emails from readers asking me what technology they should learn, what certification they should attain or what type of job they should take next. A fourth question should be “How can I enhance my interpersonal communication skills?”

I often receive emails from readers asking me what technology they should learn, what certification they should attain or what type of job they should take next. While these are extremely important and worthwhile questions to ask, there is a fourth question that is almost never asked. This question is “How can I enhance my interpersonal communication skills?”

In today’s workplace, as always, technical skills are a primary entry point into the IT profession. More than ever, the movement from individual contributor to Technical Lead, IT Manager and even the senior leadership ranks is based more on your ability to communicate with other humans, rather than your ability to communicate with machines. IT Managers can’t just be the head techie anymore. They must now be strong business-oriented managers who happens to have a strong background and expertise in computer technology.

As techies, there is the tendency for us to talk with non-technical professionals using the same jargon, level of technical sophistication, and turn of phrase as we do when we speak amongst ourselves. The issue is that the majority of the business people being supported by the IT organizations have no interest in how their technology works, only that it does work and helps them meet their business objectives. As an analogy, when the power goes out in your home, you are more interested in when the power will be restored, rather than how coal is properly prepared to maximize its efficiency when burned to create energy.

This concept of technical to non-technical interpersonal communication is illustrated in a great eBook I recently read by Tom Catalini named “Leading the Conversation”. I won’t steal its thunder or give away all its secrets, other than to suggest you read it.

Let’s change the discussion from techie-to-user based communication to techie-to-techie communication. The world of IT can easily be described as a boiling cauldron of acronyms and product specific terminology. To make matters worse, most of these terms are not equally known across the IT profession. For example, people working in the data center, particularly within data communication, use vastly different terms than Java developers. As a result, even within IT, it can be very easy to turn on the technical jargon and detail and simultaneously turn off the person you are speaking to. For example, a Java programmer trying to connect to a database most likely has no interest of the hardware device that is connecting the application server to the database server. He/she just wants to know how to connect to it via Java connection string. If when asked this question, the data center employee starts talking about backplane speed and VMware, the programmer will simply find someone else to ask.

In short, when speaking with people outside of your technical expertise, whether they are techies or business users, speaking beyond the technical grasp or level of personal interest can limit your potential career growth. This is the case because those needing your help will find other ways of solving their problems. Being thought of as the person to avoid, rather than the person to ask, even if you are great technically, in the long run, can impede your professional growth.

In closing, don’t forget to read Tom Catalini’s eBook Leading the Conversation and always remember to speak to others is they wish to receive it, not how you usually like to deliver it.

If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at eric@ManagerMechanics.com or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom or @MgrMechanics or at ManagerMechanics.com.

Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to build your professional brand.

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