On Communication

Let’s face it: geeks can sometimes be poor communicators.

(It’s tempting to end the post there to prove my point…)

I’ve seen geeks forget to inform colleagues and bosses that they’ll be on vacation, geeks neglect to inform companies about scheduled downtime, geeks fail to ask essential questions, and everything in between. So how does one, as a leader of geeks, deal with this?

  1. Know yourself. Many geek leaders were once geeks themselves. Have you inadvertently created a culture of non-communication? Do you tell your geeks if you’re leaving the office to play golf or have lunch? Do you let them know about potential changes and plans?
  2. Know your geeks. Wander into offices and cubes and ask what’s going on. Ask “why?”. And actually listen.
  3. Communicate about communication. Let your geeks know what is and isn’t acceptable to keep quiet about. For example, I make it clear that my geeks can tell me as much or as little as they want about their lives outside of work, but if I ask what they’re working on for their jobs, I require answers.
  4. Leave your door open. Allow your geeks to come by when they feel like doing so. Won’t happen much, but some geeks are more comfortable chatting than emailing. No, really, I’ve seen it. Honest.
  5. Revisit things. Introverted geeks won’t ask all their questions and voice their concerns in an initial face-to-face meeting; they’ll need to mull it over. If you don’t give them space to bring up these thoughts, you may never hear them. And they’re probably good thoughts to hear.
  6. Consider written communication. Email can be useful for this, but I’m planning to set up a wiki for my department to track projects.
  7. Don’t play the blame game. There are definitely unacceptable levels of communication (see examples above), but before ranting and raving at your geek about how he or she was REQUIRED to tell you about the system change, go into inquiry mode. Find out why the geek forgot to do it. Make it clear that it can never happen again, and then, if necessary, examine ways to prevent it. You may need to make a template email that the geek can send out to the company for downtime, or you may simply need to accept an apology.

If you try, you can probably create an environment where your geeks will communicate more. They’ll never become The Great Communicator (thank goodness), but you should definitely see some improvement.