Author: Michael Thomas
Published: August 17th, 2020
Technology professionals speak a different language, the language of details and specifics, the language of 1’s and 0’s. For some, this language can be overwhelming to understand, especially when those who are involved in the conversation are not as technically inclined as others. These are the conversations that include types of cables, brand and model of hardware, locations, operating systems, WiFi, etc. Unfortunately, when participants do not understand the language, discussions can lead to issues that may include: resentment, intimidation, stress, professional credibility, and perhaps even impact to their future opportunities. Some may be reading this and have an understanding of exactly the message we’re outlining, while others may be asking how can focusing around details lead to resentment? It is easy to consider if the recipient believes you are intentionally speaking over their head, attempting to lose them in the science. But, what about future opportunities, I’m doing my job and I’m doing it well, right? Organizations want resources that understand how to communicate and can bridge not only consumer gaps, but inter-departmental gaps as well. Believe it or not, most marketing divisions have no clue around technology, even if they are selling it, and need resources that can bridge those gaps. This is where conversation dynamics come into play and understanding how to send the right message as the right time,with it being received loud and clear
Last week I was invited to attend a call discussing technical specifications around a project at one of my remote locations. These conversations generally include technical jargon focusing on network cabinets, their switches, routers, access points, predictive analysis, fiber cabling, etc, outlining where they are at and where they need to be to ensure success. I was requested to outline the specific plan to get from step A to Z while including their milestones. Probably within 5 minutes after leading the discussion, one of the attendees interrupted and stated that he had no idea what a network cabinet was or any of the other stuff for that matter. My initial reaction was of confusion and stress. To be fair, this was a technical discussion, not a high-level project plan, so there was an expectation of technical knowledge to be held by the participants. I took a second to breath through it, collected my thoughts and proceeded to review each step individually with a focus on using less than my usual technical vocabulary, taking breaks, and asking if the participants had questions throughout. Obviously there were questions, which were addressed by the end of the call, and all vested parties were satisfied.
So, how do we transform our high-level technical meeting to a mutually beneficial and understandable discussion? We can start by understanding our audience. Whether it is a conference call or a one-on-one, we need to understand the participants. We can accomplish this by researching the participants and understanding what drives their discussions. What are they really in pursuit of? If this is the first discussion you’ve had with that particular individual, take notes, such as if this person likes details or prefers simplistic conversations. Does technical jargon confuse them? As a safety net, try constructing every discussion as a simplistic discussion, and gauging the participants questions and reactions, then move into complexity if necessary. You may also find positive results in preparing your discussion material in advance. Schedule time 5-15 minutes before your meetings (depending on the attendants) to mark discussion points and change verbiage to suite your audience. Focus on simplifying your message, keeping the topic short and to the point. I’ve learned that if too much detail is discussed, participants will literally stop paying attention and wait for the meeting to end while not really paying attention. If your discussing a problem with leadership, leadership is generally interested in hearing three areas of focus: what is the problem, what is your plan to fix it, and cost. Cost can focus around how much will it save us and how much do we need to invest. There is also the perspective of listening.
While it is important for you, as a technical professional, to adequately convey the right message, it is equally important for you to receive the message from the opposite participant and while there is a wealth of knowledge out there around both topics and the dynamics of conversations, I’ll outline what benefited me and enabled me to step up my game. With listening, I simply stopped talking. I deliberately stopped acting like I was smarter than the consumer and actually started listening to the consumer. I ignored technical focus areas and simply concentrated around the core of their message. What were trying to achieve with their statement? A little secret, most consumers rarely know what they want or how to get it, or at least at a detailed level. After they were done outlining their needs, I would follow up, paraphrasing their message and looking for confirmation that I understood what they were after. Using this approach seems to have helped build a trusting professional relationship. Another point, I consider everyone my consumer, whether they are my manager, peer, or otherwise. As a technology professional, adopt the mindset that you are constantly selling a product, yourself.
Understanding the dynamics of conversations is an important tool for any technology professional to gain success in this modern day technological culture. Take time to focus on improving your skill-sets, and making you a desirable resource for not only your organization, but other organizations. When in doubt, seek feedback from your leadership and peers. Using the criteria above, ask a resource who is attending the same meeting with you to pay attention to how you present yourself, and provide critical feedback. Never stop seeking to become a better you.