Principles of effective communication

The principles of effective communication are general skills, interpersonal skills and written communication skills. To succeed in the IT industry you need to adhere to these principles. These are skills that can be built up over time and they will help communicate effectively in the workplace both verbally and in written format.

General communication skills: Having good generally communication skills is essential to succeed in any workplace but since the IT industry is so reliant on communicating information in a range of formats it is important that employees are aware of the techniques required to communicate effectively. Being aware of the needs of others and communicating in an interesting way is important to engage others and pass on information in an effective manner.

Cultural differences: When communicating with people from around the world which is highly likely when working in the IT industry it is very important to consider other people’s cultural background. For example, religious beliefs may require that people take time away to practice during the working day. Both companies and individuals need to understand the cultural difference and consider how communication can take place when this time away is required. Also when communicating with people from a different cultural background it is important to have an understanding of how they communicate as something that you say or do may be disrespectful of them without you knowing this.

Adapting – modulating voice: When communicating verbally it is important that you address your audience in an interesting manner. By modulating your voice so that you speak clearly so that everyone can understand you are considering the needs of others and will be more likely to communicate effectively with them. If you are very monotone and loosing people’s interest it is important to change your tone and recapture their interest to communication effectively.

Adapting – terminology: When working in the IT industry you may need to communicate with technical and non-technical colleagues as well as customers. If you were talking to a non-technical customer you need to adapt your language to explain things in a way that they will understand. When communicating with technical people in your team it is important to use key technical terms and acronyms to help explain things better by using the correct technical language.

Accuracy: When communicating with others in the IT industry it is important to be accurate and to the point. Think of a project manager that did not communicate the deadlines for major software release and the entire projects failed due to programmers and testers being unaware of the deadline.

Engaging audience – changing intonation: When verbally communicating as part of a team working on an IT project it is important to try to excite and engage the people that you are talking to. As an IT Manager raising and lowering your tone makes people listen to you better as it makes communication more interesting and captures their attention. Think of a movie that has exciting background music that constantly changes to set the scene. This change in volume and pitch makes us excited and engaged in the movie and people who verbally communicate using these techniques will be much better at engaging their audience and communicating effectively.

Engaging audience – use of technology: Sometimes it is better to have face to face communication rather than verbal. This may not be possible due to the distance between the parties that want to communicate but this can be made possible by using technologies such as Skype and video conferencing. Sometimes using technology such as email may be more accurate than a phone call as information is shared and can be accessed for future reference rather than relying on note taking during a phone call. Communicating using technology can be more interactive and engaging also as more people can be directly involved and can communicate the part of the information required by them effectively.
Engaging audience – question and answer: To ensure everyone is involved in the communications process it is always good to get everyone’s opinions. Technical and non-technical staff should work together to ensure they communicate the needs of a project successfully throughout the entire project lifecycle. By getting everyone involved and considering their opinions throughout they will feel as though they have a valuable contribution to make to the project and will communicate information as an when required in the relevant formats.

Interpersonal skills:
Methods – verbal exchanges: You need to be confident in sharing information with others when working in the IT industry. To verbally exchange information you should speak clearly and listen carefully when others talk so that everyone is clear about work expectations discussed in conversations. Being an effective communicator will boost your social profile in the work place too and will be beneficial to you as you will make lots of contacts.

Methods – signing: Another method of communicating and having good interpersonal skills is signing. This is a skill that could be important when communicating with people with hearing impairments. Some people take courses in sign language to be able to communicate effectively in the workplace. Another skill is using informal sign language to communicate with others so that you convey information correctly.

Methods – lip reading: As well as signing lip reading is an important communication skill as people with hearing impairments or slight loss of hearing can rely on this. As a speaker you should be aware of this when addressing someone with a hearing impairment and you may slow down your speech to ensure they can follow you. This is a two way communication process and the person speaking is also showing good interpersonal skills as they are considering the needs of the person who relies on lip reading to gather information.

Techniques and cues – body language: People with good interpersonal skills often are very confident when addressing a group and will have very good body language. Having confident body language means standing or sitting in an upright posture and being calm when addressing a group. Someone that does not have good body language will not be able to capture the attention of the audience so well. They may feel uncomfortable themselves and also make their audience feel uncomfortable based on this.

Techniques and cues – use of intonation: When communicating with others it is important to vary the tone of your voice. Someone that speaks in a very monotone or boring way will not engage the audience for as long as someone who speaks dramatically and varies the pitch of their voice. This can be used when engaging individual members of a group when saying their name in a higher or lower tone to capture their attention.

Positive language: Using positive language is a very important interpersonal skill. Saying something in a positive way is an effective way to encourage people to do something. For example if a project was running behind schedule a Project Manager may say to a Software Engineer “it would be super if you were able to catch up with your work like you did on the last project. I really appreciated how you went the extra mile to ensure we completed on time!”. This is more likely to encourage the Software Engineer by focusing on the positives instead of complaining that the project is not on schedule.

Negative language: Using negative language for the same instance as above could have a negative effect on how things work out in the IT industry. For example, if the same Project Manager said “you really need to get some work done as we are behind schedule. The same thing happened in the last project and this put us under pressure. The poor work ethic in your team may cost us again unless we pick things up”. Being negative about current and past performance may discourage the Software Engineer from wanting to catch up and try to get the project back on schedule. Using positive encouraging language and focusing on the positives is a very good interpersonal communication skill to have in the IT industry.

Active engagement – nodding: An important interpersonal skill that is used to communicate effectively is nodding. By doing this at relevant times you can show that you are listening to the speaker and acknowledging their point of view at particular times. If you sit there with a dead pan stare the speaker will not get any feedback from you to show that you understand, agree or disagree with what they are saying. By engaging in the conversation and acknowledging the speaker you allow the conversation to flow more smoothly.

Active engagement – summarising: The ability to summarise information effectively is an important interpersonal skill. When listening to someone who is giving instructions it is important that you can summarise their expectations so that you can follow the instructions going forward. Similarly the ability to summarise information and deliver clear and concise instructions makes the work process more effective and people understand how to go ahead more clearly with limited instruction.

Active engagement – paraphrasing: Paraphrasing is communicating information that you have heard before in your own words. This is an important skill as technical people communicating with non-technical people may need to communicate information accurately but would need to communicate the technical information using simple language so that the non-technical person understands it.

Barriers – background noise: Barriers to communication are common when working in the IT industry. Due to amount of communication needed in an office environment there might be background noise such as other people talking or intercom services. You need to be able to cope with this and maintain your concentration when working so that you are successful.

Barriers – distractions: Another barrier is distractions such as the internet and using it in an inappropriate way. Other distractions are your colleagues who may talk and put you off your job. Being able to work professionally and avoid distractions is a key skill when working in the IT industry. Showing that you can maintain focus and carry through with tasks and avoiding distraction can be the difference between being successful and falling behind with tasks at hand on a consistent basis.

Barriers – lack of concentration: Another barrier to working effectively is lacking in concentration. Some IT companies may set skills tests at the interview stage to see how well people can concentrate under pressure to make sure that they are right for a role before hiring them.

Types of questions – open: When communicating with others it’s important to have good questioning skills. Asking open questions gives others the opportunity to expand on their answers and expand on things to give the required level of detail needed to continue working on a specific task. Being able to ask open questions is a key skill when you need to get information from technical people to pass on to others.

Types of questions – closed: Closed questions require a yes or no answer. To work efficiently and save time in the workplace it is important to share knowledge as quickly as possible. Questions such as “can this be done?” are very useful when brainstorming on a project before going ahead and wasting time researching if a task can be done.

Types of questions – probing: Probing questions are used to get to feed people hints to help them communicate the information that is needed. If someone is not a very effective communicator then being able to extract the right of information from them by guiding their answers is an important skill when working on IT projects.

Speed of response: The IT industry is a fast paced environment where people expect information to be communicated as swiftly as possible. Managing your time effectively and communicating information as and when people need it is an important skill. If someone needs your immediate response to proceed with a task then it is important that you supply the information as soon as possible so as to minimise delay. Similarly when dealing with customers, having a fast response time helps build relationships and grow your business. If you are a slow and ineffective communicator you may irritate people and make them loose patience with you.

Communicate in writing:
Guidelines: Have strong verbal and interpersonal skills is really important but being able to communicate in writing is equally if not more important. The guidelines for writing effectively are to be precise and professional and to include all of the required information. Different documents will require different formats and may need to be branded with the company logo etc. If internal styles for documents, presentations or memos exist within the company, then these should be used. Language used should be professional and you may need to get someone to proof read any written communication before sending it to an external party.

‘Smileys’ or emoticons: When communicating in writing it is important to be professional. Smileys or emoticons should only be used for very informal messages between close work colleagues or people you have established very good and friendly relationships with. They should never be used to communicate with customers or external parties unless in a marketing context. Some IT companies may automatically not permit the use of emoticons in professional communication as part of their internal communication policy.

Key messages – letter: When communicating information using a letter, it is important to use a professional letter format. Most companies will have a specific format to use and will often do mail shots using databases that contain customer information. You need to include the contact details of both the sender and the recipient in a professional business letter and it is very important that spelling and grammar are correct to convey a professional image.

Key messages – fax: Again when faxing it is important to portray a consistent professional message. Information transmitted over facsimile should include a cover sheet addressing the recipient with a list of what is included in the fax as well as contact details of the sender in case a response is needed. When possible, written information should be electronically formatted so that it is clear. If hand writing is used in the fax message it should be clearly written and proof read and spell checked by a colleague if necessary.

Key messages – email: When using email professional standards should be adhered to. Most companies will have an internet usage policy to adhere to that includes direction on how email should be used and how to communicate with colleagues and external parties by addressing them correctly and closing the email with a professional signature. These can be customised and automatically added to your email to portray a professional image. An email signature might include your full title, job title, department and full contact details. Again when writing an email message clear and professional language should be used and you should refer to any attachments included in the email for review by the receiver.

Grammar: To be professional it is important to use good grammar throughout all forms of written communication. Doing this shows that you worthy of the position that you work in and conveys a professional message for the company. Bad grammar could lead to miscommunication and result in wasted time or loss of business.

Spelling: When using written communicating it’s important to ensure that you maintain a good spelling level. Software packages such as Microsoft Word come with built in spell checkers but these should not be relied on entirely. It is important that you are careful and double check your words and the context that they are written in to portray a professional image for yourself and your company.
Structure: You also need to take time to ensure your written communication is well structured. Use clear paragraphs and ensure everything is communicated in the correct order. When sending documents ensure they are saved with a relevant filename and include important information in the headers and footers. Also ensure that images are clearly labelled and relevant to the context for which they are used.

Identifying relevance: When writing a message or creating business documents it is important to be professional and only include content that is relevant. When someone asks for information be specific and ensure everything that they enquire about is communicated professionally and is relevant to their needs.

Proofreading: This is an important skill when communicating in written format. Taking some time to read over any documentation or written communication means that potential errors in communication can be eliminated. Proof reading also enables someone to form a second opinion on what you are sending and promotes team work and ensures that a professional image is shown. Even if someone else is going to proofread something that you are writing it is important that you proofread it yourself before sending it to them for review. Two heads are always better than one and not only are errors corrected but someone else may re-structure or reword your document to improve it and ensure high standards are maintained.

Alternative viewpoints: Going back to proofread, getting a second opinion is always a good idea to ensure clear communication takes place. Similarly, writing something form a neutral opinion can open up your documents or articles to a wider audience when you explore multiple viewpoints.

Note taking: To document information clearly and efficiently you need to be a good note taker. Taking short-handed notes and then using them to structure a more detailed representation of the information is a key skill as you can summarise what is require and then add more detail to work towards a completed solution with enough detail to satisfy everyone that receives your written communication.

Capitalisation: Using capitalisation at the beginning of each sentence and for titles and abbreviations if important. Writing someone’s name with a leading capital letter is a sign of respect and conforms to the high standards expected when communicating information in written format. Using clear titles and sub-titles within your work also makes things stand out more clearly and help maintain a professional structure and image.

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