November 19, 2018
Workers who choose Information Technology as their career are almost without exception bright, logical, and great problem solvers. Great communicators – not so much. Communication skills can be as critical to a worker’s success as coding skills; it’s something the CSI Tech team sees often.
Some workers speak English well, but cultural differences can make things complicated. People from high context cultures (many Asian countries fall into this category) communicate more subtly than low context cultures (and the U.S. is a classic low context culture). Communication is often non-verbal; body language is as important as what’s being said. The people of India have, for example, a side-to-side head nod that can be confusing, since it’s a combination of the yes and no signals. In fact, it implies neither consent nor dissent, but a sort of “I hear you” or “I’m listening” placeholder.
In the U.S., we say what we mean and we mean what we say. Direct and to the point – that’s what we consider clear communication. It can be challenging for a worker from a high context culture where there is more deference to authority and seniority, to tell you bad news or tell you “no” outright. They may also have a different concept of time than their U.S. counterparts, thinking of it as a renewable, flowing commodity instead of a scarce resource that must be tightly managed. Someone from a high context culture may not see what’s the big deal about missed deadlines.
It’s not uncommon for technical workers to have trouble talking to end users without driving them crazy. IT terms can sound like a foreign language unless you know what they mean. If you’re concerned about this, ask a candidate to describe IT terms (think Cloud based computing or machine learning) in non-technical terms during the interview process. Can they make it understandable for your 60-something accounting manager?
CSI’s Mike Israel, VP of Sales, has been working with IT clients for seven years, and he’s seen great candidates derailed by communication. “It’s challenging to find the right balance of complexity and clarity.” He says. “I think everyone would benefit from learning to ask good questions. When an end user asks you for information, you need to clarify first. ‘What are you trying to accomplish?’ is maybe the most important question you can ask. Chances are I don’t need to know how to build a watch; I just need to know what time it is.”
Sometimes the biggest problem is a reluctance to engage. IT is rife with introverts who’d rather stay in their offices behind screens than get out and talk to staff. They communicate less willingly and less often, which might make training and support for new systems a dreaded task to be avoided. Mike Israel says the classic response from a technical guy is ‘I sent an email.’ “That’s not always the right approach; in fact, it’s almost never enough to build relationships and trust with management. Clients and their end users need to know they can depend on you to tell them what they need to know in a way they can understand. Your communication skills are as important as your coding skills – maybe even more so.”