Articles and posts about communication, especially as it relates to communication between technology groups and business sponsors

When your boss overloads you, blame yourself

Posted by on Aug 21, 2014 in Communication, Computerworld Columns, Managing self | 2 comments

At work, do you ever feel like one of those circus performers spinning plates on the top of poles? With a dozen different projects going at once, you spend your time frantically running from one to another, attending to each just enough to keep them all spinning. You’re exhausted from the relentless pace but know that the best you’re going to do is avoid the crashing disaster of letting them drop. And it feels like none of the projects will ever end. You’re caught up in what’s commonly known as thrashing, spending a disproportionate amount of your time switching...

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The hazards of literal listening

Posted by on Mar 13, 2013 in Communication, Computerworld Columns | 0 comments

I was describing the data sources for each field in my colleague’s report, when I saw her expression transform from interest to upset. “Is something the matter?” I asked. “You did ask why the report is showing the wrong information. Right?” She replied, obviously annoyed, “You know that’s not what I meant. Please don’t be so literal.” After a moment of confusion, I realized that she really wanted to know what we needed to do to fix her report, not a detailed explanation of the failure mode. At some point, everyone in IT has this sort of...

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We techies can put users on edge

Posted by on May 24, 2012 in Communication, Computerworld Columns | 0 comments

We techies need to take the edge off once in a while. As I’ve sought to improve the way we communicate with nontechies, I’ve recognized that we often resort to a surefire way to confound, if not irritate, them: We talk about what I call edge cases. I do it all the time. Say a colleague makes a suggestion. If the idea sounds good, I start mentally wandering its edges, testing its validity. When I find an edge case where the idea wouldn’t work, I blurt it out, wanting to show that I am giving the suggestion my full attention. To me, the edge case could indicate that there...

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‘Nothing but the facts’ approach just won’t work with business people

Posted by on Dec 12, 2011 in Communication | 0 comments

I’ve been talking lately about how IT and business people have trouble communicating. It goes beyond speaking different languages. The two groups really think differently. If you believe I’m overstating my case, then try this experiment. The next time you give a presentation to business people, do a follow-up a day or two later. You will likely find that nearly everyone in your audience completely missed your point. The reason we often bomb when it comes to presenting to business people is that we misunderstand how they tend to process presentations and information. We make the...

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When techies speak, the devil’s in the details

Posted by on Oct 10, 2011 in Communication | 0 comments

Every IT professional has been here: A business person asks you a question, and your thorough answer just isn’t good enough. You try to give more specific information in an attempt to break through the communication barrier. But the more you try, the worse things seem to get. In the end, the business person is seething with impatience, so you start to get confused and angry. Both parties walk away from such encounters convinced that it’s hopeless to communicate with “those types” of people. They both say of the other, “They don’t get it.” And as a...

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Collaboration’s fragility

Posted by on Sep 19, 2011 in Blog, Communication | 0 comments

We all know that collaborating with other departments is hard. We all have visceral memories of failed projects, outrageous behavior and painful betrayals. When my colleagues talk about these experiences, I can see the sadness and anger in their eyes. Even decades later, the wounds remain raw, the lessons learned fresh, and the resentments intact. But most of us have had great cross-functional collaborations as well. Ask about those magical projects when everyone pulled in one direction, unified, synchronized and coordinated, and eyes twinkle with excitement. When groups face tough problems...

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The Dangers of Too Much Information

Posted by on Sep 9, 2010 in Communication | 0 comments

Technical people have a bad reputation for being poor communicators. And unfortunately, it’s not entirely undeserved. If you ask managers in the finance department about why they think that the IT people they deal with are bad communicators, they point to all the common complaints. “They speak in impenetrable jargon.” “They don’t listen well.” “They don’t understand what I’m trying to accomplish.” While these are sometimes valid critiques, the problem often lies elsewhere. Frequently, we do listen well and we do understand what the...

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