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Communication Matters, Even for Techies

June 23, 2009

I often wonder how many readers of this blog are hard-core technical people. You live and work heads-down on the raised floor, doing the "real" work. You generally don't deal with bean counters or management types because your immediate supervisor shields you from all that business-specific nonsense.

That's an easy attitude to have. Machines are the heart and soul of any business, and what you do is critical to your enterprise's survival. On top of that, you've worked hard to get where you are. You have spent many years acquiring skills and knowledge. You read Redbooks. You get continual technical education. You hammer away on test machines. Your problem solving skills are top notch. You've spent years acquiring education and gaining experience. But there is more to your job than machines. Do you ever consider your "soft" skills?

I constantly hear that knowledge is power. But the inability to effectively share knowledge saps much of that power. We need to articulate what we know. We need to write accurate documentation, compose coherent e-mail messages and communicate effectively using instant messenger programs. We need to convey ideas during staff meetings and conference calls. We need to get in front of groups and give presentations.

I heard those messages when I was going to school, but I didn't think they applied to me. I was going to be crawling around raised floors, pulling cables and physically installing servers into racks. Giving presentations? That was for management and sales and marketing.

It turns out that I was very wrong. Technical skills are valuable, but so is the ability to explain technical concepts to non-technical people. We need to inform others that, sometimes, downtime is essential, because we need that window to apply patches or do other important work. We need to articulate that the tools we need benefit the business, and aren't merely fancy toys that we want to play with. We need to be able to convince higher-ups to budget for things that will make our jobs easier.

Even for the technical, communication is part of the job. And communicating is something that even the technical can learn.

Of course for most people, technical or not, getting in front of one’s supervisor, a group of coworkers or a roomful of people can be unnerving. Jerry Seinfeld had a great bit about public speaking: "According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy."

If public speaking spooks you more than your mortality, you can conquer those fears. One option to consider is Toastmasters International. From the Web site:

"Most Toastmasters meetings are comprised of approximately 20 people who meet weekly for an hour or two. Participants practice and learn skills by filling a meeting role, ranging from giving a prepared speech or an impromptu one to serving as timer, evaluator or grammarian."

It's a given that we need to grow our technical skills, but it's just as important to develop our presentation and communication skills.

Posted June 23, 2009| Permalink

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