The Communication Challenge

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@kubernan: The Communication Challenge | CloudExpo #API #Cloud #BigData #Cloud

The question in a recent #CIOChat tweet chat (Weekend Edition) was, “What are the hardest tech skills to find for your IT organization? Do you groom them or recruit them?” A recurring theme that quickly appeared in the responses was communication skills. This was not surprising, as it is a frequent theme and topic of discussion. The ability for technologists to be able to communicate well with the business is critical to the overall success of an organization. We all speak the same language, so what makes this such a difficult challenge? Surprisingly, I came across a great movie this weekend that helped focus on that question.

Context and perspective are key

“The Arrival,” which came out this weekend, is a science fiction movie about the sudden arrival of 12 large alien ships at different locations around the globe. One of the key plot lines revolves around the various governments efforts to communicate with said aliens. The movie does a great job portraying the challenges and nuances of communication between two groups that have no context or understanding of the other’s language. Eventually, the main characters’ start developing an understanding of the alien vocabulary. Even with that understanding, there are still challenges. The linguistics expert brought in by the U.S. government tries to articulate the challenge to the military leader of the project. She asks him a question, “Is a hammer a tool or a weapon?”

Think about that for a moment. One’s first reaction might well be, of course it’s a tool, but it could be used as a weapon. Is it that simple? If we are talking a claw hammer used in construction, yes, that’s obviously a tool. What about a war hammer, like Thor’s hammer Mjölnir from the comics and movies (yes, I am that geeky)? Suddenly, things are not so black and white. If the alien says ‘use hammer,’ are they asking you to pound in a nail, or attack someone with a weapon? Context and perspective are key to answering that question.

Technologists Are from Mars, Business Is from Venus

Language is a complex and nuanced creation. Even when people speak the same language, communication is hampered by the same challenge highlighted in the movie. Even though technologists and the business speak the same language, there are times where each side thinks the other is from another planet, that they are just not getting it. When I am training new consultants, I constantly tell them, “The business knows what they need, but they may not be able to articulate it in a way you understand. Your job is to bridge that gap in understanding.” It is important to develop good communication skills in order for all in the organization to be successful.

Developing your communication skills

Developing good communication skills is hard work, and requires lots of practice. Just look at the mass of miscommunications that happen in this world on a regular basis, to prove my point. There are a couple of key factors that can help in developing those skills.

The communication challenge is never easy

Just like in the movie ‘The Arrival’, communication, and with it, understanding is not any easy accomplishments. It is hard work. I will be the first admit, I do not always succeed at my own suggestions and recommendations above. Honing good communication skills is never a once and done, it is a constant learning process. As technologists, it is incumbent on us to work to ensure those communication channels with the business are open and clear. That way when the business says ‘use hammer’, we will know if we should be pounding in a nail, or going to war.

The Communication Challenge

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