On Language, Part 2

You can find On Language, Part 1 here.

If you are a leader of geeks, you will find that you often have to translate their tasks and projects to someone above. Someone distinctly NOT a geek. Someone who might think that the word “incentivize” is a perfectly reasonable thing to say. Clearly, this person has no idea what an IP address is, wouldn’t know a heap from a haystack, and may have put a CD in the holder with the label side down once or twice.

He and the geeks just don’t speak the same language. Literally.

So what do you do? You prepare.

If your geek has just explained something that will “massively improve business as we know it!!!” Your first inclination might be to run into the non-geek’s office and tell him all about it! The problem is that he’s not going to understand a word, and will probably just get frustrated and angry. Trust me, I’ve done this before. It works about as well as trying to use business-school speak with geeks, and the non-geek can probably make your life a lot more miserable than they can.

When you do run to the non-geek’s office (I’d actually suggest setting up a meeting and telling him what it’s about), you need to lead with the business–not the technology. Will the solution fix the painfully slow Citrix problem? Then tell him that your geek has found the solution for the remote access problem, and give him timelines and resource requirements for implementation. Can you massively cut costs with the solution? Then lead with that.

If you spend the bulk of your time with your geeks, leading with your business foot will not be your first inclination, because you spend most of your time hopping around on your geek foot. This foot, unfortunately, is more likely to step on a non-geek’s toes (geek feet being more awkward and all that). If you think about which foot you use when you walk into the non-geek’s office, you’ll be more likely to have a leg to stand on.

Really bad puns aside, this type of translation takes practice. If you haven’t had the (mis)fortune of going to business school, listen to the language that the non-geek speaks and use that kind of language when you communicate with him. It might feel annoying or awkward (try not to roll your eyes when he says “synergy”), but it will make your job, your geek’s job, and the business guy’s job much easier in the long run.