I have been struggling over the last several months with communication issues that end up making the IT Department look bad and administration that doesn’t see why their staff not communicating is something they should address.
Over the last 5 and 1/2 years our IT Department of 3 people have changed, adjusted, tweaked, and accommodated our communication methods and styles to ensure IT addresses all of the requests and issues our end users have.
Each year we increase our communicating and adjust our methods we find that our end users communicate less and are more frustrated.
How does more communication from IT create less and worse communication from end users?
I thought I had a solution when I asked myself that question. Initially I thought that our communicating more was either alienating or annoying our end users. Perhaps we were now giving them too much information and we have made all communication from the IT Department seem unimportant and thus end users disregard our attempts to communicate.
More communication does not reciprocate less communication back.
I discovered that the more our department communicates, does not mean our end users as a whole are communicating back less and in a less effective way.
What will happen when IT communicates more?
There are a few things that happen that can create the illusion of worse communication from end users.
- Those who communicate effectively and efficiently have less patience for those who do not
- Those who do not communicate well are identified quicker & are more visible on a day-to-day basis
- Managers may not have identified bad communicators that IT has
Expounding further on these explains the reason why increased communication by one department can create that illusion of decreased communication by another department.
Those who do communicate effectively and efficiently are going to have little patience for those who do not. Those who now communicate well find it relatively easy to do so, thus have higher expectations for those they communicate with. This is a good thing and should help encourage others to follow suit, but can create the illusion of more bad communication even though there are fewer bad communicators. A good communicator understands good communication and bad or no communication now seems worse simply because of perspective and expectations.
Those who do not communicate well will typically be identified quickly by those who do communicate well and will immediately cause problems. A bad communicator may not know they are a bad communicator, but those who have to communicate with them do and it is very frustrating, if not infuriating depending on the ramifications of their poor communication skills. A bad communicator will often have more interaction with IT simply because they aren’t able to express the issues they are having and are thus more frustrated themselves.
The most frustrating issue is that many of the managers of these poor communicators may not have identified who their poor communicators are. If they have, often they have no idea what to do to fix the problem. Their response is usually to make excuses or minimize the problem. A manager that doesn’t deal well with a bad communicator may have some of their own problems communicating which will amplify all poor communication from that department.
What can be done?
Identifying the problem is only part of the solution. Often, the IT Department has little to no power to change another department, especially if management is blind to the problem or is sweeping the problem under the rug. There are, however, ways to decrease the effects of poor communication and change the culture of bad communication.
- Don’t stop communicating
- Don’t stop adjusting and perfecting your communication techniques
- Don’t ignore poor communicators
- Don’t get angry
- Be open, honest, and prepared if submitting official complaints
A first response might be to simply stop communicating or reduce the amount of communication your department does. This is a big mistake. Think back to the day you began. The number of bad communicators then is likely to be less than there are now. You did make a considerable difference with the work you have done. Your increased communication hasn’t gone unnoticed. Most end users have seen your increased communications and appreciate it. You don’t hear about it because you are doing a good job and technology has likely become less of a problem for the majority.
In addition to continuing your communicating, make sure you continue adjusting and attempting to perfect your communication techniques. If you are always adapting and changing to make communication easier and more effective people will notice.
If you have identified a bad communicator don’t do what others do and ignore them. Don’t just brush off a bad communication incident, it will come back to bite you. Bad communicators typically will have multiple incidents one right after the other. This means the 3rd incident, though technically less important, will be the straw that breaks the camels back. Never let bad communication slide. Address it with your supervisor if you have one. If the incident requires, address their supervisor. Sometimes it is ok to confront the poor communicator but typically it is not your place as you are not their supervisor and have no authority to reprimand.
The hardest part when trying to create better communicators is to not get angry. Allowing yourself to truly become mad or angry at the bad communicator puts you at a severe disadvantage. A poor communicator doesn’t always think things through which is sometimes why they don’t communicate well. They may not know how to express the issue they are having, so they choose to ignore it or complain to others about it. Taking it personally is not useful. The bad communicator isn’t usually trying to make you mad, they just don’t understand what they have or haven’t done that has caused the issue. Getting mad yourself simply wastes your energy and gets in the way of solving the problem.
The final and most important part about dealing with bad communicators is to be prepared, honest and open to other ideas when you do bring a complaint to your manager or their manager. Being prepared means you need to document how much communicating you have done and then show how you have not gotten any responses or bad responses from the bad communicator. If this person is habitually a bad communicator it is best to show the trend and how it has caused problems such as wasted time, wasted money, safety or security lapses etc. Going in with no proof makes you look bad and thus less credible.
There is no single way to fix poor communication in a department or district, but you as an IT Department can effect change even without the authority to write policy or punish staff. In the end, your measure for success is to show that the IT Department is not the problem but part of the solution. Showing that your department has constantly made attempts to improve can put the ball back in the poor communicators court where it is now their turn to show what they’ve done to make a difference.
Bad communication is the single most common issue in any workplace and is typically the largest issue that most employers have. Always remember that you’re not alone in your frustration and as long as you are working to improve, nobody can point their finger at you as the cause.