Watch a TV show or movie that includes an IT professional and you're likely to see someone from central casting sporting high-water pants, Coke-bottle glasses and some sort of social defect. When the guy (and it usually is a guy) opens his mouth, either he can't speak due to shyness or he's talking about something so complex, everyone is lost.
While stereotypes represent gross exaggerations, there is a kernel of truth to the fact that many technically minded people have a hard time communicating with we less-technical folks.
Did you ever have a teacher who was obviously an expert in his or her field, but wasn't a good teacher? Remember how frustrating that was? Other members of your organization may be suffering a similar situation with members of your department.
Dianne Durkin, president of training firm Loyalty Factor, offers a "Teaching Techies to Talk" course designed specifically for helping IT professionals improve their communications skills.
"You can have a lot of technical people who are very, very competent when it comes to the technology, but they're not very good at people skills," she says. "They don't know how to relate what's in their heads to average people."
Durkin says the course starts by assessing how people communicate with others.
For example, Durkin says many IT folks fall into the "thinker" category: "They're very, very detail-oriented and technically-oriented and want to make sure everything is perfectly correct.
They're the types of people who work with systems as opposed to people."
On the opposite end of the spectrum you have the class of "intuiters" - those who are very people-oriented and can talk to anybody about anything. Sales people usually fall into the later category, she says. When those two groups meet, you can see the potential for communication problems.
"Once they understand who they are, we teach them how to relate to other people who are not necessarily like you, through listening strategies and communication strategies," Durkin says.
She's usually hired to help IT departments learn how to handle difficult customer situations, improve customer service and reduce employee turnover. If you're having problems in some of the latter areas, Durkin offers the following suggestions:
* Show your IT folks you appreciate their ability to be analytically correct. "Tech people want to be correct," she says. "At the same time show them or instill in them the knowledge that they have to do it in a way that is acceptable for people to receive their message."
* Accentuate the positive. "You have to come from the positive before you can address the areas for improvement," she says.
"Always address your people from the positive of what they're doing and show them how areas of improvement will make them better."
* Invest in your people. It's as important to invest in your staff as it is in technology.