Communication tips for tech people

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

Hello hello!

I want to talk about communication, mostly focusing on what we, geek souls, do as common mistakes and what we can do to improve it.

Personally, I’ve always tried to make an extra effort to communicate as clearly as possible. And that is a rule I live by, specially when I talk to non-tech people. What I mean by that are managers, scrum masters, project stakeholders and clients for example. We need to know that when we’re talking to someone, and that person is not from an IT area (or maybe even is!), they may simply not know the terms we are used to.

When you try to sound fancy talking about your job, about how you solved or stopped something from happening the other day, you may feel a need to drop-in some technical terms…perhaps you should ignore that need.

Truth is that you will sound like someone who has no empathy to their listener.

Eventually, your colleague may even ignore talking to you because they just don’t get what you say. Ouch.

Imagine you know nothing about cooking, and then you go ask a chef for a recipe, and they talk about all different kinds of kitchen utensils and cooking techniques, using all kinds of French names and other stuff you have no idea about. Would you like that kind of approach? Wouldn’t it be better, if the chef explained it to you in an easier way? Gosh, you just wanted to have dinner.

So whenever you feel like taking a shortcut and use all the terms you do on your job, take simpler steps. Describe them, explain what they are, use common terms, and most importantly – show examples.

Once you remember this rules, your communication should flow more naturally, and people will want to talk to you because now they get it!

Where can you apply all this?

Everywhere. In person/online meetings, emails, blog posts, events. There’s no limit, go for it.

Take a few extra moments to actually explain the process. Always give the person the context behind what you’re talking and they’ll most likely understand it. Don’t get too attached to some terms. You may be even repeating the same thing without realizing it, because you’re not listening to yourself.

For example, let’s say you’re running out of space on your server’s disk drive, due to the size of your backup files. You need to bring in your manager to discuss your options, which may include budget wise decisions.

Start by giving them context. Explain what are the backups. Explain WHY you need to take backups. And win they heart by scaring them off with “here’s what happens if we lose the files for a week”. Show them a screenshot of how much disk space you’ve used vs how much you’ve got left. Bring them the info of how often you clean the folders and zip files, and approximately how much time you spend on that. Once you lay the ground, they will see how relevant that is, and why you need their money support.

That’s what works for me. Looking at if from a slightly different communication tool, I love it when someone is having an issue and they send me an email with all the information I need upfront. A beautiful email would contain things like:

  • what happened
  • when it happened
  • what’s the suspected root cause
  • what happens if this is not fixed within x hours/days/weeks
  • who uses it
  • and if they’re an angel they may even give me a suggested fix (mostly within IT teams)
  • they avoid using really specific terms and describe things instead
  • they avoid using internal terms that others from outside the team may not know

That makes my life easier. I don’t need to be going back and forth about the issue, because just with that one email, I have enough to *at least* start investigating. Honestly, by being proactive about that email, the person just saved ourselves a chunk of time and our inboxes some space. There is nothing more frustrating than going back and forth trying to understand what happened and the other person is just trying to scape from your questions.

There are many other tips about this topic, so I’ll bring it again. In the meantime, what’s something you do that makes your life easier when communicating with non-techs? Share it on the comments below 🙂

Would you like to read this post in Portuguese? Click here.

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