5 Simple Ways to Immediately Improve Your Communication with Business Stakeholders
In a previous article, I talked about why communication is an essential skill for IT professionals. A key reason is an increasing need to communicate with business stakeholders. So, if you are looking for ways to improve your communication with business stakeholders, these five ways will help.
- Talk in terms they understand
- Relate the technology to the business outcome
- Start all communication clearly
- Treat business partners like friends, not adversaries
- Be proactive when asking or telling
Each of these will help improve your communication with business stakeholders. Read more below to find out how.
#1: Talk in terms they understand (stop using Jargon)
Jargon is one of the most common issues when communicating with technical teams.
When talking to business stakeholders, try to avoid talking about the specifics of your system, technology, or software. While a description of a Kafka topic or an H-base table might mean something to you, it doesn’t to most of your stakeholders.
Instead, you should talk about outcomes, capabilities, end-user functionality, features, processes, etc.
Read more about Jargon in my previous article
#2: Relate the technology to the business outcome (what is the impact?)
Business stakeholders care about business outcomes. That is what the company wants them to focus on.
If you need to talk to a business stakeholder about a technology topic don’t talk about the details of the tech. Talk about what the technology does for the business or for the end-user.
Here are some suggestions:
- If you are trying to get support for a new technology idea, talk about the outcomes and benefits. Don’t talk about the technology itself.
- If you are talking about status and progress on a project, focus on the benefits and features. don’t walk about how the tech works.
- If you are trying to understand the requirements, talk about what the users want to achieve and why. Don’t walk about how the solution will operate behind the scenes.
#3: Start all communications clearly
Starting all communication clearly is important for both IT and business professionals. Starting any communication in an unclear or confusing way will doom it to failure. Make sure every conversation has a clear, concise, well-structured start.
Make sure you provide context for the topic. Have clear intentions for what you want the other person to do with the information (Is this an FYI, do you need help, a decision, etc.). And deliver a one-line summary of your key point
#4: Treat business partners like friends not adversaries
How often do you hear, or use, these phrases: Business vs IT, Marketing vs Engineering, Operations vs IT, them and Us?
A “them vs us” mentality is adversarial. It makes it harder to find common ground and to work towards similar goals.
The reality is everyone in your company is working towards the same goals. You all care about serving the customers and keeping the company profitable.
If you change your mindset to these goals, your communication will be positive, easier, and more collaborative. You will naturally find ways to work together to achieve the outcomes you want.
#5: Be proactive — in asking or telling
It is human nature not to want to give bad news. This is true for business and IT teams. All too often we wait for scheduled update sessions to report problems. This is passive communication.
Business stakeholders often feel they get information only when they ask for it. When this delayed communication relates to bad news it can look like the information was hidden, or delayed.
Break this cycle, share news when you have it, whether it is good or bad news.
When you start a task, let your stakeholders know when you’ve started. If you plan to spend 10 days working on it, give an update after 3 or 4 days whether you are on track or not. Either way, the news will be welcome to your stakeholders and you will build a better relationship with them.
Communication with business teams is an important part of an IT professional’s job. If you want a simple way to improve your communication with business stakeholders, these five tips are a great place to start.
(Image credit: chepkoelena)