Communicating with Non-Technical Stakeholders
6 Tips for Communicating With Non-technical Stakeholders You Need To Know
Communicating with non-technical stakeholders can present a challenge when discussing a project or the application of new technology for those in the IT department. This is a common struggle for everyone from the CTO to junior developers when it comes to clearly communicating complex IT concepts to internal and external clients, executive leadership, and customers alike. It may even feel like you’re speaking two completely different languages as you get into more in-depth discussions.
The truth is, many stakeholders will understand the critical high-level concepts, yet not understand the intricate engineering details; you may better off keeping those specifics for a more technical audience. Tailoring your communications to the stakeholders’ group is the key to effective communications and creating consensus.
Here are six tips for communicating with non-technical stakeholders that you need to know going into your next meeting.
1. Know Your Stakeholder
Learn about your stakeholders! Find out where their expertise lies and try to gauge their level of knowledge on the subject beforehand. Pick up on clues during your first engagements to better determine their level of technical expertise and communicate at a level slightly below that – being cautious that you don’t undermine their intelligence, as that could be offensive. If you’re unsure, start with a simple “I don’t mean to undermine your intelligence, if this is something you already know, please let me know.” Starting at a lower level and covering your basis is better than rambling about something they know nothing about, as they are less likely to speak up and ask questions. Knowing your stakeholders’ background and being observant of gestures, tones, and body language while you communicate is an essential step towards ensuring everyone is on the same page.
2. Cut Out Tech Jargon
To increase your stakeholders’ understanding, start by eliminating intimidating technical phrases and acronyms. Although it can be a challenge to communicate your ideas and the details without using the IT jargon you’re comfortable with, there are ways to overcome this issue to make sure everyone is on the same page. Consider the use of analogies, metaphors, and similes that your audience would be familiar with when explaining more technical details. Reserve the high-tech jargon for internal conversations inside the IT department where it’s appreciated and understood.
3. Translate and Educate
Never assume what someone does or doesn’t know – only that they are intelligent and capable of understanding provided you appropriately explain. Translate key terms and acronyms that are critical to the discussion in a manner that makes it simple for the stakeholder to understand. If it is not vital, cut out the jargon and instead provide context and analogies that are relatable. Metaphors are also an excellent way to improve a stakeholder’s understanding by putting a foreign concept in a familiar context.
4. Speak in Terms of Results
Communicating effectively with your stakeholders is about using terms they’ll understand, in a manner that matters to them – end results. You need to have an understanding of their overall business perspective and be able to relay what your technology solution will deliver to impact their business needs or goals positively. Tell them how your technology solution is the answer to their problems, makes their life easier, helps them achieve their goals or any combination thereof, and describe what the user will see in the finished product – not how you’re going to build the technology or product. Talking about the technology benefits and what it does for them and the business rather than the technical design, development, or implementation details will allow your stakeholders see that you know exactly what they’re looking to achieve and you have the best interest for their business in mind.
5. Use Visuals
Some people are visual learners and learn immensely better with the use of creative communication tools. There are a variety of tools available to illustrate even the most technical concepts, which makes this much easier of a task. Utilizing an array of resources such as whiteboards to draw what’s happening step-by-step, visual charts, screen sharing, or video tutorials can make a world of difference in effectively communicating with someone who is not as familiar with the technical concepts you are presenting as you are.
Think about how you best learn new concepts and would want something like this communicated to you if you were in their position.
6. Encourage questions
As mentioned previously, people are often scared or embarrassed to ask questions on subjects you’re expecting them to know, so actively encourage your stakeholders to ask questions. Throughout the conversation, pause and ask things such as: “Does that make sense?” or be straightforward, “Do you have any questions so far?” This will make the stakeholder feel at ease while clearing up any questions during the conversation and encourage them to be more willing to ask about ideas or concepts they don’t understand before moving forward.
By implementing these strategies, conversations will flow smoothly and create an excellent relationship between you and your stakeholder that’s sure to leave a good impression and open up the opportunity for additional discussions.
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