One professional skill that I both value and work hard at improving is effectively communicating with others. Effective communication skills is one of the most important attributes one must have in order to be an effective manager and leader. And it is absolutely required should one have ambitions about moving upward through an organization, in my opinion. Not that being a good communicator is easy, of course.
I work in a tech field, heading up a tech department, but one of my responsibilities, explicitly, is to develop a strategy about providing the tools to help my overall organization do its job more effectively while not overwhelming others with jargon, too much information, or causing general confusion.
This is not an easy task – many times the benefits of some new technology or equipment are the direct result of what that stuff does, yet what it does is complicated or perhaps out of the ordinary for many folks. I’m not by any means saying that people aren’t able to comprehend these things, it’s just that they aren’t part of their everyday vocabulary.
Sometimes it’s conceptual, too. For instance, I remember a conversation with my mother quite a few years ago where I talked about how we used a server to do something at work. Now, technically, any computer running a service of any kind is a server. So if you take the computer with which you are reading this post right now – desktop, laptop, whatever – and install the right thing on there, it could be a server. This might be something that turns the computer into an e-mail gateway (what actually sends out e-mails, and to which your client, like Outlook or Thunderbird, connects to get mail), or perhaps something that tracks the statistics for this or that. If it’s a service, the box is a server.
To my mother, however, a server was a big, loud, heavy duty machine with lots of blinking lights that the “IT people” kept in a secret, separate room. Of course, there is a reason why she had that perception – services should be run on enterprise-grade hardware, the kind of stuff my mother was accustomed to seeing. But the point is that she could not separate the two. It was a paradigm that was already cemented in place.
Well, it’s my job to help translate that. To find a way to explain the difference to, in this example, my mother, so that she could understand the benefit she received.
At work, that means that I tell others that we’re looking at getting a “big storage system” instead of a SAN or that we’re working on “a way for all of us to take our Word documents, share them, keep them up to date, and get them off of our personal desktops which might break down” rather than “a collaboration suite with document management tools that is network-based for greater and more effective central management.” The latter example is far less extreme than the first, but there is still a difference.
I like to think that I do a pretty good job at this, but I have run into a couple of recent surprises.