15 Oct 2018
Communicating Tech with Non-Tech People
Part One in our series on Communicating Tech, focusing on how to communicate tech with non-tech people, and what to avoid doing so.
Why is Communication in Tech Important?
It takes more than technical skills to create a successful product. Good communication with others from different areas of expertise is needed in order to achieve the best possible result. A more successful end result leads to happier clients and higher profits, which is the main focus of most project stakeholders.
Running a small business, the non-tech people we need to get through to are mostly our clients. If you represent a larger organization, these types of conversations will also be held with people from non-tech internal departments or non-tech people in management roles.
Communicating tech (especially to non-tech people) is however not what tech people are known to do best. The stereotypical image of the immature and socially dysfunctional tech worker is supported by real-life examples.
Recently Linus Torvalds, creator of the operating system Linux and version control management system git, left his professional life to learning how to treat others with respect and empathy.
To make sure you’re not “doing a Linus”, below is a checklist for professional communication:
- Don’t use profanities or curse. Even if it seems obvious not to use these expressions in a professional setting, apparently that is not always the case.
- Don’t shout. Remember this also applies to your written communication. Only use caps when appropriate, for example, company names (IBM).
- Avoid the use of multiple “??” and/or “!!” in your written communication. Just like overusing caps, it comes off like someone jumping up and down, flapping their arms and screaming at the top of their lungs.
- Don’t make jokes that can be perceived as offensive. If you don’t know if it’s offensive – better keep quiet.
- Don’t threaten people.
- Don’t make advances or try to hit on people. Wait until you and the person you’re interested in have finished your professional relationship and any job-related power structures are evened out.
- Don’t patronize or belittle others.
Apart from the immature bully, who lacks compassion for others and is only interested in fulfilling their own needs, there are a few other tech stereotypes who are almost equally bad at communication.
The main character Elliot from the TV show Mr. Robot, is a typical example of the brilliant introvert hacker who works best alone and have a hard time fitting in society.
Then there is the elitist nerd who uses a language filled with acronyms and modern jargon only their peers can decipher. Using a language that only some understand leads to alienating and raises barriers in communication instead of building bridges.
Alienating through Language
The weird naming of tech-related frameworks, tools and programming languages make life difficult for recruiters.
— Siobhán Grayson (@siobhan_grayson) 2 juli 2017
There is even a test to see if you can figure out what is a Pokemon and what is a tech-related: Big data or Pokémon?
How to avoid coming across like a stereotype?
Don’t use jargon
When interacting with people who are not familiar with the tech industry, avoid using acronyms and throwing around obscure names that only people working in tech would understand.
Don’t be condescending
Another more complex problem seems to be non-tech people being talked down to, ignored or belittled by technical staff. A typical example of this is the two non-tech entrepreneurs who had to invent a fictional male co-worker just to avoid getting talked down to or not taken seriously.
Communication is not just about talking, it’s equally important to be a good listener and making an effort of trying to understand what other people are actually saying. To do this – trying to put oneself in someone else’s shoes, you need a lot of empathy. But successful communication also depends on who we’re communicating with.
In the next part of this series, we’ll examine strategies for responding to different types of clients’ approach to tech subjects.