By Panajota Gushkova
If you think communication skills aren’t very important for the IT pro, think again. While IT professionals would gladly spend all day “talking” to computers in various languages, holding vast programs and datasets in their heads and solving interesting problems, today’s IT jobs require good communication skills in addition to the mandatory excellent tech skills.
Take a look at any job posting – excellent communication skills are likely to be among the qualifications that employers highly value. Even if the job requires limited interaction with the public, these interpersonal skills help you relate, persuade, lead, negotiate and express yourself when speaking and writing. They help you build strong collaborative relationships with your coworkers.
Regardless of whether you are working in the software development department or your interest tends more to digital marketing, here are eight tips on how to improve your communication skills beyond the level of bits and bytes:
- Learn to listen
- What about writing?
- Get up and talk
- Make it clear
- Provide feedback
- Receive feedback
- Practice, practice, practice
- Get excited to learn
Learn to Listen
If you want to give the correct answer, you have to give the correct attention to the question. Listening doesn’t just happen. Do not mix the act of listening with the act of hearing. Listening is the action that leads to understanding, while hearing is one of our senses. Listening is an active process in which you consciously make a decision to listen and understand the messages of the speaker.
There is some multitasking work here. Try to focus on listening to the speaker first, then on preparing your answer. Don’t comment or bombard the speaker with questions every time there are a few seconds of silence. While listening, ask for a moment to write down your ideas so you don’t forget them and focus back to listening. This will ensure a healthier, more fruitful discussion later on.
What about writing?
In today’s electronic age most professional communication is done via the written word. This means that people will form their opinions about you based on it, so it’s essential that your writing skills are on par.
When determining the tone of your writing, think about why you’re writing the document, who are you writing to and what do you want them to understand. Aim for a confident, kind, and sincere overall tone. Ensure that your writing contains nondiscriminatory language, stresses the “you” attitude and the benefit for the reader. Think about who is on the other side of the screen and make sure that it is written at an appropriate level of difficulty.
Get up and Talk
Are you all set talking to computers, engaging in digital conversation and would take that over the dreaded presentation any day? Instead of dreading public speaking and perceiving it as an uncomfortable experience, think of it as an opportunity to share your knowledge and engage with people.
Gather your courage, get up — and talk to people.
Think about what you want to say, and how important it will be for your audience to know it. How this information can help them in their daily programmer life, (or interaction with it.)
Make it Clear
The impact of your communication skills (verbal and written) depends on its clarity. Be concise, but specific. When doing presentations, for example, try to keep just the essential ideas in your slides. It helps both the audience and yourself to focus on the important things.
Choosing your words is especially important when it comes to communicating information to non-techies. As an IT professional, you have a solid reputation for speaking a language that is largely unfamiliar to the general public. Many non-techies don’t have a clue about most of the IT jargon you use.
Like writing code, you want the information you’re presenting to be clear and understandable. Don’t immediately assume your audience has previous knowledge of the topic at hand. What may seem obvious to you may not necessarily be obvious to them. Try to use simple language, and present your knowledge in a way that others understand and benefit from it.
Is that clear?
Historically, the IT culture is a culture that prioritizes direct communication and provides honest blunt feedback on the work. The Linux Foundation makes it clear “Your code and ideas behind it will be carefully reviewed, often resulting in critique and criticism.” Make your comments constructive, not corrosive.
Inevitably you will get upset about a performed task at work at times. In those moments check your nerves and wait until you’re calm enough to deliver measured feedback. Address the problem, not your frustrations. Be kind yet candid; say what you mean in a tactful yet straightforward way. But don’t sugarcoat it either- remember you have one end goal: to make sure that the issue at hand is promptly resolved.
You can achieve a number of things when you give quality feedback. It helps the receiver improve performance, helps motivation, boosts confidence, develops interpersonal skills and understanding, and shows people you value them. Balance giving negative feedback with praise – give positive feedback to your team members when they are performing well. This will increase their confidence to keep up at that level of performance and encourage them to do even better.
Offering kudos to your colleagues for a job well done is an excellent way to boost morale and reinforce positive behavior. A good team player is capable of giving both praise and constructive criticism.
A good team player is also capable of receiving feedback. It feels nice to be recognized by your peers, doesn’t it? Certainly. Positive feedback undoubtedly fuels you to do more, it motivates you to do better. But so does constructive criticism. It helps you improve skills, work product, and interpersonal relationships, paving the way for more positive feedback in the future.
When colleagues share feedback with you, let them share their complete thoughts. Focus on understanding their comments and standpoints. Giving feedback is difficult, thank them to acknowledge their effort. Process the feedback you received, ask questions to get to the root of the issue and think about the possible solution.
Constructive criticism gives you important insight for improvement. It is not easy to give and it’s certainly not easy to receive, but with enough time, patience, and planning, you’ll set yourself and your colleagues up for success.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Do you want to improve your interpersonal skills? No magic shortcut here, only practice. Joining a technical meetup? Attending a Soft-Skills Seminar? The more you practice, the better you become.
And it is okay to fail as long as you try. Many programmers are introverted enough to know how difficult it can be to communicate sometimes. They won’t blame you or judge you. (Most of them at least.)
Communication is an art, and like any other art form – with a welcoming attitude and enough perseverance – it can be mastered to perfection.
Get Excited to Learn
Good communication makes you more open to other people. Boosting your interpersonal skills will get you a significant competitive advantage in just about all aspects of your personal and professional lives. There is always something to learn from someone, no matter the level of expertise you possess. Show interest in the people you meet and you will be surprised by what will come out of it. There will always be a domain in which you can improve.
These eight tips for improvement will make you a better communicator, team member and (even more) skilled IT professional. Being able to give and receive efficient feedback is crucial when it comes to effective communication. What is the most important tip for improving your communication skills as an IT pro? Let us know in the comment section!