Communicating with coworkers and other audiences outside the IT department puts many sysadmins in uncharted waters. With different terminology and limited technical knowledge, employees from other departments may struggle to grasp key concepts. This can lead to difficult conversations, poor customer service, and strained relationships.
According to CIO, nearly 60% of IT leaders surveyed say they spend 8 hours or less per month on IT communication. Yet clear communication can help the IT team build trust, educate users, and increase collaboration. It can also help attract talent and prove the department’s value to the company. In short, IT communication is one of the best things many IT departments aren’t doing.
These 9 IT communication tips can help you turn the tide and improve your communication skills.
1. Consider working with an IT communications manager
An IT communication manager prepares strategies and crafts messaging for communicating with internal and external audiences. If your organization is large or has significant IT communication needs, it may be worth hiring an IT communications manager.
If your budget doesn’t allow for a dedicated IT communications manager, you might also assign related tasks to someone already on your team who is an effective communicator with high emotional intelligence. They should have skills in verbal communication (including public speaking), written communication, and nonverbal communication (such as body language and nonverbal cues).
If the person responsible for your IT department’s communication does not have previous experience in the role, you might encourage them to take a communication skills class.
2. Solicit feedback
Strong communication skills are not one sided. In addition to being able to clarify your points verbally and in writing, you also should be prepared to listen to others. One way to do this is by soliciting feedback from internal or external stakeholders.
The easiest way to collect feedback at scale is through a survey. Carefully craft questions to help you analyze your existing approach, timeliness, clarity, tone, channel usage, and other critical factors. You might also seek insights on user communication preferences. For a more personal touch, consider scheduling one-on-ones with stakeholders. Be attentive and engage in active listening to gather as much information as possible. Not only can this help you gain valuable insight, but it may also help you forge stronger personal bonds with people outside of the IT department.
Some questions to consider:
What does the IT department communicate well?
How would you prefer to receive messages?
What else would they like to hear from the IT team?
3. Use terminology wisely
Choose your vocabulary carefully, avoiding unnecessary jargon. A word that seems simple and straightforward to you may confuse someone with less technical knowledge. At the same time, try not to talk down to people. It can make them tune out or, worse still, jeopardize your working relationship. Striking the right balance requires knowing your audience and developing a clear understanding of their technical know-how.
Also, don't overlook the importance of inclusive language. Avoiding terms with biased or discriminatory overtones can help cultivate a friendlier atmosphere that's ripe for teamwork.
Sometimes, jargon is unavoidable. In those instances, consider sharing our sysadmin glossary so that users can look up unfamiliar terms.
4. Assess communication channels
How you communicate with your audience can be just as important as your message. After all, the message is meaningless if no one pays attention to it. Ideally, you should use the communication channel most comfortable for your audience. Whether it’s Slack, email, a newsletter, an internal podcast, a video call, or Morse code tapped on the office wall, consider the best medium for each occasion.
5. Involve other departments
Collaboration is beneficial for some IT projects. Beyond that, it can also improve interdepartmental communication and trust for years to come. If your project is likely to impact other teams within the organization, think of ways that you can incorporate them into the process.
Any opportunity to work together can enhance communication. Whether that means discussing how they use technology, working together towards company-wide objectives, or collaborating on user training, look for ways to collaborate.
6. Be transparent
Information silos often cause interpersonal conflicts, redundancies, conflicting priorities, and other problems. Transparency may make it easier for other internal stakeholders to trust the IT department. It can also boost morale and improve performance.
7. Aim for focused messaging
Any unnecessary details could take the focus away from your main point, so keep it simple. Focusing on “why” can help you share the relevant information without bogging down your audience with potentially confusing technical information.
8. Hold training sessions
Whether you’re rolling out new technology or sharing tips to get the most out of an existing solution, hosting training sessions can help your IT team connect with users and share valuable information.
Bonus: Answering questions during a group session saves you the hassle of each individual coming to you separately with the same handful of questions.
9. Define a strategy
IT teams often focus on reactive communication, only sharing messages when something goes wrong. Developing a communication strategy can help you provide a clear roadmap for reactive communication while enhancing your proactive communication. In addition to laying out overarching strategies, incorporate communication plans in your project plans.
An internal communication plan should include the following:
What to communicate
A lot happens in the IT department. Sharing everything would just overwhelm users, diluting important messages. Decide what information is worth communicating. For instance, you might establish that you’ll communicate about technology rollouts, policy changes, and outages.
Understanding your audience is the secret sauce to effective communication. Your IT department may have multiple audiences with different levels of technical knowledge. Provide an overview of these audiences in your communication plans so that you can cater your methods and message accordingly.
Get to know the tools at your disposal. These often include communication channels, policies, and software. Determine which tools you may utilize.
Who is responsible
All too often, IT communication falls to the wayside for one simple reason: Everyone assumes someone else is doing it. Assigning responsibility for communication tasks helps ensure nothing is inadvertently overlooked.
For ongoing communication efforts, sync with other departments in your organization to set a schedule that avoids overlap. If users receive messages from multiple departments at the same time, it may reduce the impact. For ongoing projects, also establish a calendar that sets deadlines for communication tasks.
While effective communication skills are critical to the success of your IT department, they won’t necessarily come naturally. Following these tips can help you develop your abilities and cultivate strong interdepartmental relationships.
If you need to free up more time to fine-tune those people skills, check out PDQ Deploy and Inventory. These powerful solutions streamline software deployment and systems management so your team can focus more on workplace communication. The PDQ blog and YouTube channel are also here to help you explore the depths of IT.
Part writer, part sysadmin fangirl, Meredith gets her kicks diving into the depths of IT lore. When she's not spending quality time behind a computer screen, she's probably curled up under a blanket, silently contemplating the efficacy of napping.