How effective communication can improve the IT/business relationship

Effective communication is essential to improving the relationship between the business and IT. The business/IT communication can be particularly strained. What can you do to improve communications?

Two people trying to communicate using tin can phone

Communication is a two-way effort

Credit: Thinkstock

Effective communication is essential to improving the relationship between the business and IT (and in fact the communication between any two or more individuals or groups). The business/IT communication can be particularly strained. It is analogous to two people speaking two completely different languages where one cannot understand the other.

This reminds me of the story about the man lost while traveling on an air balloon. You might have heard it but here it is:

 A man in a hot air balloon is lost. He sees a man standing on the ground and gets close enough to talk to him. “Where am I?” he asked the man. The man on the ground replies, “You are in a hot air balloon, approximately 20 feet of the ground.” The man in the balloon is frustrated. He asks the man “You must work in IT correct?” The man replies “why yes, how did you know?” The man in the balloon responds, “The answer you gave me is technically correct. But it does not help me at all. I am still lost. You are no use to me.”
The man on the ground replies: “You must work in business, correct?” “Why yes” replies the balloon man. “How did you know?”  The man on the ground replies, “You don’t know where you are and you don't know where you are going. You asked me a question and I answered you correctly based on the question you asked. Yet, you are still lost and somehow now it is now my fault and my problem!”

This story illustrates the need to effectively communicate in order to get our point across and our questions answered correctly. So how can we get better at communicating? One method I use for adapting my communication style is called Social Styles.

Like many of the many psychometric tests available (e.g. Myers-Briggs, DiSC), Social Styles is based on analysis of a person’s communication preferences. There are 4 styles of communication: Analytical, Drivers, Expressive, and Amiable. One axis of the assessment shows if individuals are more “people-oriented” on one end, and “task-oriented” on the other end. I’m sure you have met people in both extremes.

Social Styles Model

Have you ever met someone and they are all about getting the task done? And if you try to talk to them about personal issues they change the conversation to business? And on the other extreme you might have met a person that wants to have a conversation more on the personal level. In the meantime you want to discuss the task at hand.

The other axis shows if individuals are more “ask” mode or “tell” mode. Someone in the “ask” mode is also considered less assertive as well as operates at a slower pace. People in the tell mode are usually more assertive and operate in a faster pace. We can probably identify a few people like this as well.

Communication styles

So how does this information help you with communicating with others? First you need to understand your own personal style. Then the harder task is to determine the style of others. Most people have a predominant style but can operate in the other quadrants.

Lets discuss each quadrant in detail:

Analytical – these are the individuals that love data. They love flow charts and process flows. They want to know "how." They like organization and are task oriented.

Expressive – on the opposite diagonally across from analytical is expressive. These individuals like the story. They love the energy. They are people oriented and are big picture thinkers.

Driver – they are driven to results. They want to get it done and want to hear about how results will be delivered. As expected they are task oriented and love to take charge.

Amiable – they are opposite diagonally across from drivers. They are people oriented. Amiable people want harmony. They don’t want to make the wrong decision.

There is a certain degree of frustration when these groups communicate with each other. Take analytical and expressive or driver and amiable for example. Analytical people want details while the expressive talks in big picture terms. Drivers want to get the work done and want action. Amiable people are afraid to make a decision

How to engage

Here are some tips for engaging with each group.

Analytical – when dealing with analytical make sure you are precise and to the point. Make sure your information is accurate and if they need more information they will ask you. Also give them time to think and ponder (remember, they are analyzing what you said).

Expressive – tell stories and illustrate the topic being discussed. Give them time to express themselves. They sometimes struggle with commitment and follow-through.

Driver – show them how the topic discussed means a win for them. They work at a fast pace so be brief and are irritated by indecision.

Amiable – show how the decision affects everyone. Likes to promote harmony and achieves compliance through conformity and loyalty.

Hopefully this basic introduction to social styles will help you create a communication to have with your stakeholders. Effective communication involves understanding the way others like to communicate and to adapt our style accordingly.

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