Techies aren’t known for their outstanding communication skills – we are much better at design, code, machines in general than in communication with other humans. However, no matter if we like it or not, life makes us communicate with other humans, especially coworkers and clients, and because of this we just don’t have a choice but to learn how to do it. Here are some basic communication tips to help you improve:
Always Respond to Questions and Inquiries
One of the biggest communication mistake is to ignore questions and inquiries. This is not only rude and can really irritate the other party but it also interferes with the work process. Just imagine how it feels, when you need an answer and you aren’t getting it.
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Additionally, when you don’t respond to questions and inquiries, this could be interpreted that there is something fishy to hide and this is why you are not responding. So, if you want to be a good communicator, always take the time to respond when somebody is asking.
Go For Email Communication When Possible
My observations are that marketing people (no offense, guys) prefer face-to-face meetings or in the worst case – (lengthy) phone calls. These grounds aren’t the top choice for techies because we usually don’t excel in live communication. This is one of the reasons why you’d better stick to email and go for face-to-face meetings and phone calls when you really must.
Additionally, all equal, email communication takes less time than in-person visits and is more accurate than the phone. With email, you have your conversation in writing and when in doubt, you can check later what you discussed. Anyway, if you have to use phone calls, always make sure you have confirmed in writing what you agreed upon because if there are arguments later, everybody can claim they did or didn’t say a particular thing and dispute resolution becomes quite tricky.
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Email is great for communication but you also need to be aware of its downsides. First, you need to make sure that your emails are as clear as possible because it is so easy to be misunderstood when you use written text – you don’t have gestures, facial expressions, even vocal exclamations at your disposal, so you need to make your text easy to understand, while at the same time avoid ambiguity.
I believe most techies know this but it won’t hurt to remind again. Email isn’t lost frequently but it does happen for legitimate messages to be wrongfully classified as spam. This is why, always check your Spam folder for messages that don’t belong there. I myself frequently dig nonspam messages out of my Spam folder. Even though I mark them as Not Spam, messages from the same recipient continue to be classified as spam. You can imagine how frustrating is not to get an answer because your message ended in the Spam folder, so just develop the habit to check this folder at least once a week.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Stupid Questions
There are many cases when miscommunication occurs because the parties involved make the wrong assumptions. In order to make everything absolutely clear and leave no room for uncertainty, when in slightest doubt, always ask to clarify. Even if the question sounds stupid, you’d better ask it. It is much worse when you assume rather than know and when you or the other parties take the “It Is So Obvious” approach that can lead to real misunderstanding.
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Limit the Use of Technical Lingo
For a non-technical person, technical jargon is one of the things that makes it the hardest to understand a techie. This is why your only option is to avoid technical jargon when communicating with non-technical people. Of course, sometimes you just can’t avoid a tech term but in these cases, you might have to explain in layman’s terms what the technical term means, so that the other party can understand.
If you don’t get an answer, don’t be shy but follow up. The reasons for not getting an answer can be numerous – starting from the other party not getting your email at all, to forgetting to answer it, to needing more time to prepare their answer, to not answering it on deliberately. You are not a pest, when you follow up – you just need to do it in order to know the answers that you have to know. You should do it politely but do follow up, if after a reasonable time (i.e. one or two business days, for example), you have no answer.
State Your Availability
While there are some reasonable times when you are supposed to be available for communication (i.e. workdays 9 to 5 in general), this doesn’t mean you must be available at these times. For instance, if you start work at 10, or finish at 4, or work in shifts or at weekends, make the other parties aware of this.
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If you are on vacation, a business trip, or you are absent for whatsoever reason, set an autorespondent. It is best, if you inform about your absence in advance, when this is possible, of course, so that the other party can plan what to do while you are not available. If you work at weekends but take days off from Monday to Friday, you also need to state this.
Sometimes we tend to make ourselves available to clients at all times. This is wrong because we do have a personal life and nobody expects you to be available 24×7. However, if clients get used to the fact you are always available, they will start to expect you to answer emails anytime.
Don’t Allow Others to Manipulate You about How Poor Your Communication Skills Are
Finally, while very often techies aren’t the perfect communicators, there are also cases when we are good enough but somebody is just trying to make us believe we are not. For instance, in one of my jobs before I became a freelancer, I had a co-worker who had such an acute attention deficit disorder and who wanted everybody’s life to revolve around her that I joked I needed a restraining order against her. She was constantly demanding my attention on all possible counts – starting from what clothes to wear, to how to clean viruses from her computer, to how to make friends, etc.
She was not only a pest but she was also very malicious and when after a couple of weeks of being terrorized by her constant presence around me, coupled with some dirty tricks, I just stopped paying attention to her and simply ignored her, unless work was involved. She complained about this to the owner of the company and I had a very unpleasant conversation with him about not being a team player and not being able to communicate with my peers. Since I knew this cheap trick, I didn’t fall for it – I’ve witnessed too many times how somebody is accused of all mortal sins because he or she doesn’t obey all the idiotisms a crazy boss and stupid coworkers can come with.
So, if you do know how to communicate, don’t allow to be manipulated. In another company, a coworker of mine, who was fresh from university and this was her first job, believed she lacked communication skills and was almost suicidal. She worked on a joint project with an external company that ended in failure because the reps of the other company just didn’t give a damn and were hard to find, not to mention do some work on the project.
My coworker was flawless in her communication but when the other party is always sneaking and failure falls upon, there must be somebody to blame. So, my tip is learn how to communicate in order not to become victim of all sorts of manipulators, who want you to take the blame for their mistakes. We’ve learned much more difficult things that this, so it isn’t that hard to get some communication skills and make our lives easier at the office or when communicating with clients.