Every industry has their own set of jargon that typically only other individuals in the same industry will know what is being said or implied. For instance, a professional baker might tell you to “blanch the almonds,” “clarify the butter” and to “Julienne the carrots.” Or maybe you have taken your car in to the mechanic only to have him list off a number of issues in mechanic lingo—you might have to politely ask him to explain the problem in words you will understand. The same goes for all of us in the security and technology industries—we have our own special language that we speak, but if we forget to translate it to other departments throughout the organization we risk hitting communication roadblocks.
CIO Online puts it rather bluntly, “The IT department is like the hospital. Nobody calls or visits IT to say ‘hi.’ You call IT when you have a problem. IT can improve their ‘bedside manner’ by not using words like ‘down,’ ‘security holes,’ or ‘hack.’ These scare non-tech folks and get things exaggerated for no reason. A non-tech guy thinks all the mail in the company is down because he can’t send an email from his iPhone.”
Keep the following tips in mind when you are communicating with executives and other departments throughout your company:
Consider using metaphors to help make your technical language easier to understand. While analogies may seem overused, it is hard to communicate and do your job without them. Analogies are a good way to educate and motivate both those in executive level positions and other departments.
Only other professionals in your IT circle are going to know what your acronyms and abbreviations stand for. While you can continue to communicate through abbreviations with other “in the know” professionals, you need to be explaining and writing out abbreviations when communicating with other departments.
Don’t talk down
We used the example of your mechanic speaking in automotive lingo that you didn’t understand—what if you told him you didn’t understand what he was saying, but instead of trying to find a way to better describe it, he laughed and rolled his eyes at you? You would likely feel foolish and offended. No one wants to feel like they are being talked down to, and it is important that IT individuals are not making non-IT staff feel insulted. Tone and body language, in addition to your terminology, can come across as condescending.
Get in touch with emotions
When discussing technology or security issues with those outside of IT, consider working in emotions and feelings over literal facts. How is this resource going to help me? How am I going to feel when I am using this program? People may not always understand the facts that you are explaining to them, but you can help them understand the benefits of a program or tool by how it will make their job easier. If “feelings” is a little too corny for you, at least speak in terms of what customers and coworkers want and need by telling them what’s in it for them.
As an organization, all departments and employees are ultimately working together to reach the same company goals. IT and security professionals should keep these tips in mind to help prevent communication pitfalls within their organization. Just as you would expect any other department to speak in a language that you can follow, take the time to help your coworkers understand what you need them to know.