As a security professional, you’re working in a field that most of us would consider highly technical. In other words, when you speak to a someone who doesn’t share your technical expertise there’s a good chance much is lost in translation. When this happens, important client relationships can be affected, processes can become cumbersome, and ultimately, money can be lost.
You’re often communicating critical security information to people who may not understand the most basic inner workings of their computer systems. Sometimes they know less – and sometimes they know more – than they think they do. It’s your job to handle both. Often the impulse is to load up the non-IT person with as much information as possible. This only serves to confuse the issue. The other impulse is to talk down to them as though they are children in need of especially rudimentary instruction. This of course can breed resentment. Neither scenario serves the common good, which is to get everyone up to speed quickly and thoroughly. Keep these six steps in mind the next time you’re talking to a non-IT user who has asked for support, or when you’re talking to a key decision maker who needs to understand the point as quickly and efficiently as possible.
1. Stop – Look – Listen
Who are you talking to? Using basic powers of perception, you can immediately recognize how much your listener probably knows about the subject. But you must stop to do this before starting to explain anything or help them. When you need more specific information, move to step two.
2. Ask Questions
How much do they already know? You won’t know until you ask. It’s redundant and insulting to explain something that the listener finds obvious. Likewise, it’s rude to assume they know more than they do and spend your time talking over their head. But you have to ask.
3. Speak Simply and Clearly
Remember how easy it is to have an engaged listener if you simply manage your tone and pace smoothly. Many communication gaps result from simply not speaking clearly.
4. Be Respectful
No one wants to be treated like an idiot. Think about the possibility that you’ll need to ask this person for assistance in their area of expertise. Treat them like you want to be treated.
5. Speak in Terms of Results
They don’t want to know how you’re doing it. The only thing that really matters to anyone is getting the result they’re looking for. Think about when you go to the doctor. Do you really want to know how they’re repairing your knee? Most likely you just want to walk without pain.
6. Use Familiar References
“It’s like you’re sitting at a stoplight…” Remember: engaging the imagination is the surest way to lock the information into their minds. Speaking in technical jargon and loads of data is never as good as a clear, real-world example. Traffic examples are usually a good place to start.
Using these six tips, you stand a far better chance of avoiding problems down the line. And chances are good that while providing critical security information you’ll also strengthen the relationship. And who knows? The favor might be returned to you one day.