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Speak Human! Should IT Workers Learn to Speak to the Layperson?

As an IT professional, you are one of the busiest employees at any organization.  Not only do you multitask problem solving for issues that come in at unpredictable rates, but you must find time to maintain current technology while planning for the future.  There is not a lot of time to develop professional skills outside of the tech part of the job, but excellent communication skills seem to be a requirement for most IT positions.  Should IT workers be expected to develop their communication skills to accommodate users on top of all of the other tasks they face each day?

The fact is that most IT professionals have the best intentions when it comes to clear communication, but these intentions are not always applied to day-to-day interactions with users.  A great way to make sure your contact with users is professional as well as productive is to make sure you learn to speak language that a layperson can easily understand.

There are many reasons why better communication benefits not only users but also IT professionals themselves.  You may not be the stereotypical IT worker who dismisses user concerns and refuses to explain solutions in easy-to-understand language, but you still may need to work on your communication skills.  Learning to speak to the layperson can cut down on your work, improve your business relationships, help you with strategy, and contribute to professionalism in the industry.

Cut Down on Your Workload

It is easy to get irritated with users who enter tickets or call with the same issues over and over.  Dealing with repetitive requests starts a vicious cycle of resentment on your part that the client may perceive as irritation.  The client responds with frustration, and this creates the wrong environment for someone to learn how to use a technology or solve a problem on their own.

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What if some of these repeated calls are not due to the user’s inability or refusal to learn?  That may be the case on occasion, but consider the possibility that many users could handle issues on their own if they understood what you are doing and what you are trying to say to them.  Using language a layperson can understand will help many users learn to help themselves.  Fewer repeated requests will leave you time to handle the maintenance and planning portions of your work.

Note that clients who understand what steps they need to take to ensure security will result in systems better protected from threats.

Get Better Responses From End Users

End-user developers and business system analysts need to gather user requirements and translate them into tasks for development.  If users cannot fully comprehend what they are being asked, accurate requirements will not be possible.  When users clearly comprehend the software concept that will develop into a tool for them to use, they will be able to imagine all of the features the tool should have to be effective.

You can only get useful requirements from users if you are speaking their language.  This is not just true for end-user developers and analysts.  System administrators, help desk professionals, and other IT workers need to get feedback from users.  If you work in any of these capacities, communicating in a way that a layperson can understand could help users:

  • Choose the best options for software bundles
  • Share pathways that need testing and improvement
  • Report on load times and other Ethernet issues
  • Shed light on issues appearing on system logs
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There are a variety of ways that clients who understand your goals can help you achieve those goals.  You can develop users with this understanding by learning to communicate what you are trying to achieve.

Get the Resources You Need 

Your job is not isolated to end users only.  IT professionals have to work with management and financial offices to acquire new hardware or development tools.  If you want a new server, you might have to get approval from a variety of managers who know nothing about the technology side of your organization.  Budgets often are tight, and companies do not want to approve spending unless they understand how the expenditure will benefit business.  You cannot convince management that the cost is worthwhile without effectively communicating the benefits to the organization.

Good communications skills will benefit you for more than purchase approval.  Financial decision makers will need to understand your point of view regarding many costs that you control, such as:

  • Hiring new team members
  • Projects, troubleshooting, or build releases that result in overtime
  • Excessive energy costs associated with a data center
  • Outsourcing work to tech vendors

You need to be able to use language a layperson understands to explain why a series of hot fixes following last week’s sprint release caused team member overtime…without using many of those words.

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Professionalism in the Industry 

It is obvious that users who are disappointed by their experiences with you could cause you to lose clients or your job.  Professionalism, including good communication skills, affects your reviews as well as your employment status.  However, concern about loss of income should not be the only reason you strive toward better communication with your clients.  By showing users that they can trust you to communicate clearly and effectively, you are counteracting the stereotype of the difficult IT professional.

How Do IT Professionals Sharpen Communication Skills?

You don’t need to sign up for a class on how to speak to a layperson, if you could even find such a thing.  A good way to get started sharpening your communication skills is to look at instructional videos or textbooks that cover your work.  You already know how to manage updates, but you may not remember how it was communicated to you initially.  Find out how new IT professionals are learning the trade, and incorporate that beginner language into your client interactions.

Remember that you are not just benefitting users when you learn to speak their language.  You will save future work and become a better professional.  End users most likely believe that IT workers should learn to speak to the layperson.  By improving your communication skills, you benefit the end user as well as yourself.

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1 Comment

  • Avatar for Bonita Bonita says:

    Yes this is SO true! I have worked IT in a call center environment before and the FIRST thing they always teach is to not use “insider terms” It is easier for the layperson to under stand click on the start menu, then find control panel on your computer it will be here. If you just say…open the control panel some users may not know what that is. It is frustrating to YOU but don’t forget you are trained in computers!

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