You’re still not listening!…

But before you even get that look on your face, know that I’m not going to jump on that oh so familiar IS management guru bandwagon that states the reasons YOU run into issues implementing changes, processes, software, etc. in your company, is because IT doesn’t listen to the needs of the business. Trust me, I get tired of hearing that refrain myself. Like I always say, “Miscommunication is a 2-way street”.

But I will say this, if you find yourself constantly battling with the various business and functional components of your company, take a look at closer look at  your presence. What do I mean by that?

I have the pleasure to work on complex cross functional teams at local, state and Federal levels. These teams are comprised of some of the most talented and dedicated people in their respective venues, willing to tackle some of the most arduous issues that society faces. And inevitably one of the members ends up bringing THAT tech person (<- note the PC use of “person” and not “guy”, Winking smile) into the conversation. I’m sure you know this individual. The person that fell out of the stereotype catalogue. The person that chooses to force the most difficult to grasp technical issues into a non-technical conversation. The person that has to show that they know everything about every technical issue. The person that too often has the disheveled, scruffy, “I just woke up in the back of the data center” look. The person that has the look of every Hollywood actor portraying an IT tech who runs into the scene screaming “We’ve just been hacked!”  Every time I run into this person in a cross-functional team, I cringe.

If you’ve got a person on your team like this, or heaven forbid this is you, then take a quick look at these steps for help:

  1. Notice “WHY” you are listening: – Note that I didn’t say ”How” you are listening. Sometimes people are listening only to hear when the other person stops talking so they can begin to speak. It is a bad habit that some people have mis-categorized as being polite. But if you are truly listening to gain a better understanding of the other person’s perspective and their challenges; when they stop speaking it should take you a few moments BEFORE you say anything. Why? Because you are processing what they said. And if you are like other tech leaders, it may take a few moments to translate their communication into salient solutions or next steps.
  2. Everyone knows you are smart: – Everybody at the table not only already knows that you are smart and highly intelligent, but they probably secretly envy your intellect. Stop trying to prove it! You work in the field of Information Technology, a field that is completely reinventing itself every few years and is changing the face of the human experience. When is the last time a Finance Exec did that without bringing everyone to catastrophic ruin? Not everybody can walk your path. If you have a staffer that has to constantly run to IT tech or jargon to impress the other folks on the team or beat them into a corner, let them know that he isn’t. Its because of habits like that companies are satisfied with “Spreadsheet CIOs”! If this is your or one of your staffers I have two words for you: “STOP IT!”
  3. “Tree and Rock” it: Often times I’ll meet with vendors or partners and pretend I’m not the CIO. That’s right, I said it. I’ll pretend I’m a regular process manager or some other position to see if they person on the other side is going to try to pull a fast one. Often I do this to see how well they can communicate in layman’s terms. Often when they start running to the old familiar jargon or ISO speak I’ll say to they “I’m sorry. I don’t understand. Can you use simpler instructions. Maybe words like Tree or Rock.” Man you should see the horror that comes over some people’s faces. That’s when I know whether or not someone is going to make a good partner/team member to work with my company. Try explaining IT concepts in the simplest manner possible and notice the difference. See if you can do it with one syllable words, I dare you.
  4. “Break their reality”: If you have departments that are always complaining about IT being too inflexible, being slow to deliver, deploying bug prone solutions, etc. just accept their words but not their reality. Open yourself up to receiving pure feedback from business groups. As IT leaders, we know deploying and managing Enterprise IT is not as simple as going to Best Buy and buying a bunch of retail hardware and deploying it at work; making everything as wide open, free, and non-standardized as what employees are used to having set up at their home. Staff may not have to worry about HIPAA, SOX or FERPA at home. Since they don’t get that, they describe your solutions by the terms above. Even though these words aren’t true, these words CREATE that reality for these business units. In order to change the words they use (their reality) you must break their reality. To do this, you have to create incongruences between their self-created reality and your physical actions. Purposefully act in ways that are counter to how they are describing you. If the complaint is that IT is closed off, bring them into small work teams where they can contribute skills and expertise on smaller non-critical projects. If you continually act in a way that is counter to the reality they have created, their minds will run into this disjunction and guess what? Their words will automatically to change in order for their brains to process the new reality they are experiencing. Thus creating the reality for them that IS is a game-changer and collaborator. Don’t believe me, try it!

So there you have it. four simple points of reflection regarding listening and communication strategies. Try them and see how they work for you.


About The Warrior

The Warrior spends time as the Chief Information Officer at a Philadelphia non-profit, the father of 2, an amateur astronomer, a coffee aficionado, as a home theatre enthusiast, and a science fiction author.
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1 Response to You’re still not listening!…

  1. I can’t agree with you more. A major reason for IT to fail to impress their business customers is their inability to listen. One of two of those “persons” you decribe can easily turn your business off. I have sat in too many meetings clenching my teeth trying to figure out how to shut the “know-it-all” techie talk. I just want to say: They don’t care about your IT standards! They don’t care about your IT strategy! They don’t care about your credentials! They just want to know if you can solve their problems. And if you can, when and how.

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