5 Tips to Improve IT/Business Communications

These five tips from "The Winning Dialog" can help IT and business users get back on the same page.

by Thomas Benedict

One oft-cited problem of IT professionals and business users alike is the seeming inability of both teams to understand each other. In survey after survey, we read that IT and business workers aren't "on the same page."

Thomas Benedict's new book, The Winning Dialog: Negotiation and Communication for Professionals, examines common communication issues. We offer the excerpt below to help improve how you communicate with your users or tech staff.



As a professional, you deal with many different people, including colleagues, employees, or clients in a multitude of settings. Your ability to approach each individual and situation adequately, largely determines how successful you are. The book <em>The Winning Dialogue</em> offers the overview, insight, and skills to deal with the most challenging and complex professional situations. The winning dialogue system was developed based on five basic principles.

1. Live in the Moment

People lose a lot of concentration and efficiency by dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. This means that they miss the most important moment of influence, the now, and therefore the chance to really shape their situation. If you limit conversations to the here and now, you are not involved in settling old scores or worrying about what could happen in the future. Rather, you are focused on what is happening right now.

That is not to say that reflecting on the past or making future plans is never relevant. Reflection and planning both have their place, as long as you are choosing to engage in these activities in the here and now and can stop doing so after an appropriate length of time. Concluding reflection or planning well contributes to the effectiveness of your performance. However, if thinking about the past or the future turns into a constant gnawing undertone, then it becomes a hindrance.

2. Act Proactively

Situations in which you are communicating with others are constantly changing, not least because you are influencing the situation yourself. What you say and how you say it has influence on the other person -- just as the other person influences you with their communication. But whatever they say or do, you are always in a position to choose how you will react to it. This choice and the resulting freedom and responsibility form the basis for proactive behavior. Prior to each action or interaction, there is always a moment of choice that is not always experienced as such, or exploited optimally. Using your awareness and moments of choice, especially in difficult or challenging situations, determines your attitude and the meaning you assign to the situation and the role which you play in it.

Many times people justify negative, manipulative, emotional or aggressive behavior by citing the circumstances or another person’s behavior. Another’s behavior leads to an automatic reaction, as if not they themselves, but outside factors have caused their behavior. But in reality, no one is an automated responder: we all give direction to our own behavior and are therefore responsible for it. We are free to determine our behavior, to direct our energies and to experience the consequences -- both positive and negative.

Most people understand this insight, in theory. But in daily life, recognizing moments of choice, consciously choosing and accepting responsibility for choices made demands a large dose of discipline and dedication. The strategies within <em>The Winning Dialogue</em> assume that you are aware of the fact that you make your own choices and therefore determine your own behavior.

3. Focus on the Other Person

Who determines if you will be successful in achieving your goals? An order that goes through, a staff member who gets motivated, a client who really lets you into their world -- these are all processes taking place with your conversation partner, not yourself. The other person, in fact, holds the key to your success. This surprising insight, called ‘allocentrism’ by Nalebuff and Brandenburger in their book <em>Co-opetition</em>, is of essential importance for conducting effective negotiations. It implies namely that you have to focus quite a lot of attention on the interests, the situation, the feelings, and the personality of your conversation partner. The better you are able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, the closer you will come to the source of your success, and the better you are able to conduct your conversations based on this basic principle, the more effective and successful you will be.

4. Earn the Right to the Next Step

Working step by step is more or less a continuation of what has taken place previously. This also comes down to the idea that the things you say and do during a conversation should be relevant to your conversation partner’s experiences. This is not only true of the content (as outlined in the previous principle), but also for the timing and the sequence in which you address each issue. When your actions do not appear consistent or if you do not take enough time to let things sink in, you run the risk of your conversation partner losing interest, and, even in the most favorable case, will cost you extra energy to reach your goal. By working step by step, you create the opportunity for yourself to focus on the other person and remain flexible. You can view a successful conversation as a process of continuous steps that bring you ever closer to your goal. With each correct step, you create as it were an opening with the other person to take the next step. In that way, you are building little by little a firm foundation for the results which you are trying to achieve.

5. Work Non-manipulatively

During the training sessions that I facilitate, I often notice that people are interested in learning techniques with which they can trump their conversation partners or pressure them. But these types of techniques do not honor the two-sided nature of the communication process and, as far as I am concerned, are even damaging to the mutual trust which is necessary to a joint achievement.

Communication is a powerful tool which can help you influence others to a large degree. By comprehending the basic principles of effective communication you have formidable means at your disposal. That brings with it its own danger, namely the conscious, destructive use of your communicative power to manipulate others. Manipulation in this case means the use of tricks which aim to limit the freedom of choice of others.

Sometimes, the difference between effective communication and manipulation can be difficult to determine. If you withhold or distort information, introduce artificial time pressure to a conversation, sow confusion or exploit the weaknesses, fears or worries of your conversation partner in order to limit her freedom of choice, then you are being manipulative. Then it will be no surprise that the other person has the feeling that the conversation was less than fair. Again, this does not mean that you should not make use of your influence or get into vigorous negotiation with someone.

Nearly all conversations can be brought to a positive conclusion in an honest, respectful manner, even the traditionally complex or "hard" situations such as (commercial) negotiations. By exploring and weighing each other’s interests and making concessions, negotiation partners create an opening for agreement. Personally, I prefer giving concessions to people that I like, or at least people who act with integrity, rather than to people who play tricks on me or place me under undue pressure.

The Winning Dialogue, copyright 2010; used by permission of the author.

Thomas Benedict studied business and psychology in Groningen and later Management Consultancy at the Free University of Amsterdam. Over the last 15 years, Thomas has worked as a trainer and organizational consultant for a wide variety of Dutch and international companies. Much of his work is focused on managing change processes in complex international surroundings. In 1993, he founded InContext, a training and consultancy firm in Baarn, the Netherlands; today seen as one of the key players in the field of strategic behavioral change, focusing on fair play, bottom-line results, and fun.

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