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More and more business experts emphasize the importance of effective communication for IT professionals. Information technology employees often feel isolated from the rest of the company—the IT department has its own specialized language, tools, and goals. If you can’t communicate those tools or goals effectively to other departments, you may feel frustrated.
But simply being told “communicate more” or “just communicate better” doesn’t help. You want to know steps you can take now so that you can communicate well in your next meeting with the marketing department or in your next email to your boss.
Fortunately, your freshman English teacher can help.
Maybe you don’t remember your freshman English class. In this blog, we’ll give you a quick refresher course on some effective writing tips you might have learned (and forgotten) in English 101.
Don’t worry. We won’t include any nitty gritty grammar rules here—only broad communication principles and how they apply to you, an IT professional.
1. Know Your Audience
You might groan when you hear the oft-repeated mantra “know your audience.” Perhaps that advice seems too vague. However, no other principle will help you communicate more, especially when dealing with interdepartmental interactions.
Try to avoid jargon, since these specialized terms can quickly drown a conversation with a non-techie. While the abbreviated lingo helps you express ideas faster to other IT people, it will only slow down or halt communication with others. You might think jargon helps your credibility, but you will lose the confidence of coworkers if you repeatedly use words they don’t understand.
You might have to learn to operate on three distinct language levels in the office. First, the jargon-heavy language when you speak to your own department. Second, simplistic speech for the non-tech crowd. Last, a language for employees who are tech-savvy, but don’t work in information technology. If you simplify too much for the last group, you might offend or annoy them.
Think about the basic goals of your audience. What does the operations manager need to know about your new data storage system? What basic points from your new security protocols will help the CEO feel at ease? After you ask yourself these basic questions, adjust your communication to help the audience meet those goals.
2. Organize Your Ideas
You might remember the basic organization of an academic paper: introduction, evidence, conclusion. When you demonstrate a clear direction for your thoughts, you immediately gain trust from the reader or listener. Introduce your idea, back it up with any evidence necessary, and then summarize and finish your thoughts.
Try not to overload the audience with too much info at once. Think about paragraphs—deliver information in small chunks, and try and keep each chunk focused on one topic. When you communicate verbally, give the listener time to respond before moving to a new topic.
3. Use Metaphor
Some English teachers spend too much time explaining the difference between a metaphor and a simile, but not enough time showing effective uses of metaphor. When used correctly, metaphor helps build bridges that close the gap between you and your audience.
Make sure that the audience understands the metaphor you use. For example, excessive sports metaphors in the workplace sometimes alienate those who don’t watch or play sports.
Also, don’t mix metaphors. When you switch between multiple metaphors, they stop acting like bridges and start seeming more like choppy waves, sending the listener or reader in multiple or undesired directions.
4. Be Concise and Direct
Many English professors love Hemingway. His distinct style breaks many modern grammar rules, but the directness and clarity of his sentences captivates the reader. Try to mimic that clarity in your own workplace communication.
Conciseness doesn’t mean you can’t be conversational. But when you have to explain an IT concept to a coworker, explain it as quickly and directly as possible. Leave out unnecessary details and get to the point.
5. Use Acronyms and Tech Terms Smartly
Your freshman writing professor probably encouraged you to write out the full name of a person or acronym the first time you mention it. You can do the same with workplace conversations and meetings. Spell out and explain the acronym or tech term the first time you use it, and then you can switch to the abbreviated form.
When you introduce words and concepts this way, two things will happen. First, your listeners will follow the conversation better and not waste time trying to guess what the term means. Second, those same listeners will feel accomplished because they learned a new term.
Reading helps the reader build trust and empathy. An English teacher recommends books from different time periods and cultures to help you understand different viewpoints. Try to read blogs or books that cater to other departments in your workplace. For example, a detailed blog post about social media might help you understand why the marketing director wants all that social data.
Once you understand your audience better, you can make better communication decisions (see tip #1). And when your coworkers sees that you care enough about their work to read about it, you gain a great deal of trust from them.
Effective communication comes down to empathy, knowledge, and strategy. Once you understand your audience and your topic, plan out your conversations and remember these six tips.