Keys to Emotionally Intelligent Communications for IT Geeks
The following checklist can help the IT geek use dialogue to effectively connect with important project stakeholders, such as business executives and members of the steering committee. Using Dr. W. Edward Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle as a framework (The Plan, Do, Study, Act [PDSA] Cycle, 2016), this checklist helps you prepare for dialogue, provides do’s and don’ts for the conversation, helps you ensure that both your needs and those of the stakeholder are met during the dialogue, and provides guidance on postdialogue activities.
• Write down the goals of the conversation you are about to have.
о What information do you want your communication partner to understand? о What do you think your communication partner will need to know from you? о What should you be prepared to teach?
• Gather information relevant to the conversation.
о If possible, use a graphic to help make your case. Use your graphic to explain your point, to transmit the same picture you see into your communication partner’s mind.
о Learn what you can about the stakeholder’s area of the business (requirements, previous projects, budget, issues and risks, best practices, etc.) so that you can relate to his or her schemas.
- • Like a good introvert, rehearse the conversation in your mind. Anticipate what your communication partner might say and how you will respond.
- • Schedule enough time to have the conversation.
- • Consider the setting. Should the conversation be on your turf or theirs? Should it be in a neutral environment? Is the conversation formal or informal? Should the conversation take place over a meal? Weigh the pros and cons and make a decision.
- • If you feel anxiety about the conversation, privately calm yourself using breathing exercises.
- • Start the conversation in a friendly way in order to set a positive mood, helping your communication partner to view the conversation in a positive light.
о Make eye contact to show that you are paying attention.
о Reference the talk continuum—begin with small talk, working your way up to dialogue and avoiding control talk.
- • Express appreciation for your communication partner’s time and contribution to the project.
- • Make your communication partner feel important.
- • Ask questions to gain an understanding of your communication partner’s background. Find areas where you can connect at a personal level, if possible. Find out how your communication partner feels about the situation or subject matter and why he or she feels that way.
- • Find areas of common benefits. Identify common noble motives, such as customer satisfaction.
- • Find out where your communication partner will benefit personally from the project. For example, perhaps the business executive is concerned about building his or her legacy.
- • Use examples and analogies that resonate with your communication partner, that mean something to him or her.
- • Be encouraging, empathizing with your communication partner, getting him or her to continue speaking.
о Try to see things from his or her perspective—use your imagination to try and feel what he or she is feeling.
о Reflect your interpretation of how you think your communication partner is feeling back to him or her and ask for clarification.
- • Give important stakeholders the opportunity to save face and avoid embarrassment.
- • Pay attention to body language and tone of voice so that you can understand how your communication partner normally behaves.
- • This will enable you to detect changes in nonverbal communications and understand when your communication partner is uncomfortable or pleased with the conversation.
- • Without becoming a distraction, subtly mimic your communication partner’s body language to get a sense of what he or she is feeling.
- • Capture notes and action items. Agree on timelines to complete action items.
- • If necessary, schedule a time to follow up on the conversation.
- • Thank your communication partner for his or her time and attention.
- • Don’t start or end the conversation late. Be respectful of the stakeholder’s time.
- • Don’t enter into control talk.
о Don’t tell your conversation partner how he or she should think, act, or feel, and don’t criticize harshly.
о Speak in a way that keeps his or her defense mechanisms down. Once defense mechanisms go up, communication stops.
о Don’t offer your advice unless you are asked. о Don’t interrupt your communication partner in order to debate.
• Don’t try to hide how you feel. Expect your body language and tone of voice to give you away.
- • Don’t draw the wrong conclusions from your observation of the stakeholder’s body language, especially if you do not know the person very well.
- • Don’t be afraid to:
о Admit when you and your team have made a mistake.
о Tell the ground truth, providing the information needed to move the project and organization forward, stating what you agree with and disagree with up front.
о Express how you feel about the subject matter or situation.
о Excuse yourself when you need to get your thoughts together, especially if the conversation gets heated. Return after you have calmed down and you are ready to have an adult conversation.
• Unless you are a mental health professional, don’t engage in mental health issues such as rage and depression.
- • Review your notes and action items with the stakeholder.
- • Ask questions to clarify anything you do not understand.
- • Encourage your communication partner to ask clarifying questions.
- • Verify what information is confidential and what can be shared.
- • Follow up on action items. Delegate tasks to your team as applicable. Follow-through builds trust and credibility.
- • Negotiate enough time for your introverted team members to analyze and understand the information you are providing from key stakeholders before preparing a response.
- • Continue the momentum—check in on your communication partner from time to time on a human level, outside of the issue you are discussing.
- • File your notes so that you can refer to them. Update your Stakeholder Engagement Register.
- • Conduct dialogue sessions with your team members to share relevant, nonconfidential information.