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Are You Really Listening: The Importance of Strong Communication Skills

Let's face it, when most people think of IT professionals, the image that comes to mind is the guy or girl with the glasses huddled behind a myriad of computer monitors, incapable of communicating with anyone other than their keyboard

In today's competitive IT marketplace, this person also is exactly the type that no employer wants to bring on board and will, in fact, avoid at all costs. Strong communication skills are one of the most important traits employers are looking for either within the corporate environment or in consulting projects. In many cases, IT professionals are the only ones that really know exactly what they're doing, if they can't communicate well with co-workers, upper management and even prospective employers, the extent of their technical expertise is of no consequence and consequently rendered useless.

If you're one of those people who are immediately felt the hair rise on the back of your neck when you read the introduction above, you're probably putting together a list in your mind of all the reasons you don't believe that strong communication skills are important in the IT industry. In response, I'd like to challenge you to jot down a list of all the people you know who have recently been promoted within the IT industry. Odds are, in 90% of the cases, you will admit that those people were not the ones that had the best technical skills.

In fact, I'd be willing to bet that as you've watched people around you move up within your organization, you've made the comment, "I'm more qualified than he/she is." Be honest, the majority of people who choose IT careers are more comfortable sitting in a cube or office with a piece of hardware than they are sitting in a room of people. It's one of the reasons you were drawn to and probably have been successful in this industry in the first place and it's probably going to be the reason you continue to watch others pass you by for promotions, management positions and in some cases, even independent consulting projects.

The emphasis on strong communication skills for IT professionals has increased dramatically as the field from which employers have to choose from continues to showcase outstanding technical expertise. Technology professionals, however, are no longer being relagated to the background. In many cases, their recommendations and concepts are having a direct and effective impact on overall corporate strategies. Consequently, if you don't have strong communication skills, you might get a job but you'll probably be stuck in it for a long, long time.

While the stereotype of a techie, such as the one described above, is often over exergerated, it is something that you will have to be able to overcome or disprove either in your current position or perhaps in an interview or bidding process. If your personality tests return results like introvert, reserved, or analytical, odds are you've got a few obstacles to overcome. In many projects, you will be asked to explain the value of your work to others within the company.

These other department heads usually have strong communication skills. While most MBA programs are currently addressing communication skills in their programs, for the IT professionals that haven't had the training, the lack of these skills is detrimental to job security and advancement opportunities.

If you're reading this article and can identify with any of the situations mentioned or are already considering spending some time to fine-tune and polish your communication skills, there are many tools available to you in the marketplace. It would be to your benefit to see whether or not your current employer offers and will pay for these types of classes. If not and you realize the importance of strong communication skills in your future success, you're going to have to find your own.

An example of such a program is "People Skills for Techs" offered by Foster Success. This is a course that focuses on developing listening skills and providing feedback to upper management. There are many online courses and seminars available that have been designed specifically with IT professonals in mind. A quick search on the Internet should help you find something in your area. If you're not interested or can't find a particular seminar that appeals to you, however, you may consider hiring a coach or finding a mentor. There are a myriad of companies and independent personal coaches available to help you work on your skills in a more private and individual setting. These programs, however, usually tend to be a little pricey. Mentors, as opposed to coaches, are usually easy to find and often won't cost you more than a lunch, drink, or cup of coffee.

Take a look at your colleagues and take a few minutes to rank their communication skills. If you find someone that seems to have it all together, arrange for an opportunity to talk to him or her about it. In most corporate environments, your co-workers are happy to help. If you have trouble finding someone within your own department, however, don't be afraid to step outside your box. Any one in sales, for example, is usually more than willing to share their communication secrets and in many cases, will be willing to trade information.

In addition to the suggestions above, we strongly suggest that you expose yourself to as many other tools as you can. The easiest way to do this is by picking up a few of the excellent books that are available today. Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is a must for every reading list. Another excellent title is Secrets of a CEO Coach: Your Personal Training Guide to Thinking like a Leader and Acting Like a CEO by D.A. Benton. As you're reading, consider how you can incorporate the techniques into your own personal situation.

The bottom line is that quite simply, despite the level of your technical expertise, you will not be able to compete with someone else who is actually able to communicate its importance.

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