Are You A Technical Genius Who Gets Accused Of Lacking People Skills?
This article originally appeared on Forbes by Mark Murphy, Founder of Leadership IQ
It’s not always easy being the technological expert on the team. You’re valued for your knowledge and skills, but those same two factors can make you appear superior, sarcastic or uncaring to others who are less technology savvy. When you work in teams you bring your strong knowledge and skills, but when you find yourself feeling uninterested in and growing bored with areas and others outside of your expertise, as often happens, you appear dismissive to others. All of this can shut down communication with bosses, peers, coworkers and customers and prevent you from getting full credit for your brain talent.
Based on testing more than 50,000 people, we know that many technically gifted people are Analytical relators who prefer data-focused communications that convey confident expertise and provide hard facts and numbers with lots of specific supporting evidence. But not everyone responds well to that communication style. You can test your communication style with the quiz called "What's Your Communciation Style?"
When talking to your other Analytical peers, feel free to give real, specific data. But you will need to tweak your communications to adapt to those outside your own style. This will allow you to better relay messages that connect with and bring value to others without putting them on the defensive.
In addition to Analytical communicators, there are three other main styles you will encounter:
#1: Personal relators prefer relationship-building communications that are supportive, warm, informal and conflict free. If you’re an Analytic communicator, these folks will be your biggest challenge as they like to engage in the kind of communication you probably try your hardest to avoid. For example, these are the lovers of small talk and “feeling” words (e.g. mad, sad, angry, glad) and of asking questions such as: “Who else will be involved?” Analyticals and Personals use opposite measures and competencies to decide who they do and don’t want to communicate with. Practice and patience will help you master conversations with Personal communicators.
#2: Intuitive relators prefer to skip the small talk and jump right to the bottom line. A good clue that you’re talking to an Intuitive is if they appear rushed or time conscious. When giving technological recommendations to Intuitives, it’s best to give it up front, before you go through reams of data. This will help gain their buy-in so you can then present your other points.
#3: Functional relators prefer communications that follow a detailed “A thru Z” approach. These are process people and you’ll recognize them by the questions they ask including “What happens next?” Keeping your communications logical, disciplined and organized is the best way to reach Functional communicators.
If you don’t know what style someone is, all you have to do is ask: “What can I share with you today?” or “What would be of greatest value to you?” or “What would you like to hear?” and then listen for verbal indicators in the response. For example, you might hear “Where’s the data from?” from your fellow Analyticals, “What’s the bottom line?” from the Intuitives, “What’s the process?” from the Functionals and “Who else is involved?” from the Personals.
As a technically gifted person, your job is probably providing support to less technical people, and this is a role where good listening is essential. I know listening is one of those things that seems like it should be so simple. You just sit there and people talk and you take stuff in, but it turns out that using this approach only allows you to capture 10% of the incoming information.
Asking “What seems to be the problem?” may seem innocuous enough, but even the singular word “problem” can close off communication. Instead, ask questions that invite open communication, for example: “What issues can I help you with today?” And don’t risk paraphrasing. If you need more information, or if you need to disagree, do it gently by saying:
- I’m not sure I’m fully getting this…Can I share what I hear you saying?
- I appreciate you sharing…I actually see things a bit differently…Can I share what I’m seeing?
- Could you help me understand how you’ve come to this conclusion?
- It sounds like there are some areas where we have some commonalities and some where we have some differences. Why don’t we start with the commonalities?
Get all the information you need by dialing back your communications so the less technical feel served while you still maintain control. Following this script will keep you in good stead:
My job is to listen to you, gather some information and then help you with _____(diagnosis, fix the problem, etc.) Let’s talk for a few minutes about _____. Then we’ll see if there’s anything else you’d like to share, and then we’ll _____ (do test, move on, review, etc.) Does that sound ok?
Outlining the steps you plan to take will help maintain transparency. For example, you might say “First I’m going to ask you some questions about the problems the computer is having. Then I’ll ask you about what steps you’ve taken so far. Then we’ll diagnosis some potential causes and try some fixes. Does that sound OK?” And above all, don’t ask insulting questions like: “Have you tried plugging it in?”
Often the technologically smartest people don’t have matching skills for interacting with other human beings. If your technical competence outweighs your ability to communicate and connect with other people, bring yourself down just a bit so that others can catch up with you.
Mark Murphy is author of Hundred Percenters: Challenge Your Employees to Give It Their All, and They'll Give You Even More