Talk is cheap

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to attend a series of seminars that examined how people communicate with one another, and attempted to explain why so many of us are such poor listeners.

One of the exercises my class carried out was quite simple. We were grouped into pairs; one person described an opinion they had on any topic of their choosing, and when they were done, the other person attempted to say it back to them. Most of us, including myself, had to make at least two or three attempts before our partner felt satisfied that their opinion had been faithfully repeated.

I came away from this harrowing little procedure with the realization that the art of truly effective listening was about as easy to master as that of painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

This harsh reality has always been a fact of life, but being aware of the difficulties surrounding communication has never been more important for IT managers than right now.

One of the key themes defining the middle part of this decade in IT, and which will in all likelihood continue to do so at least until the next one begins, is the convergence of corporate computing with business decision making. No longer a mysterious, remote arm of a company’s overall operation, the IT department is right in the thick of corporate strategizing and decision-making. It has to be, seeing as how dependent business has become on ones and zeroes.

The welding of the two sides is a natural progression in the world of business, and one that many clear thinkers could see coming for decades. Technology has grown smarter and stronger, muscling its way into the executive boardroom. Because both camps have lived on opposite sides of the house for so long, however, communication isn’t coming naturally. IT talks data, execs talk dollars.

It’s in such strained atmospheres that mastering the art of communication is most important — at least if a company is intent on beating its competitors, or perhaps merely staying in business. The unforgiving reality is that it will be the companies whose teams simply speak to each other most effectively that will prosper, and it will be those whose employees who bicker and hold grudges that will be at the greatest risk of floundering.

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