IT Employment

Don't use conversational shortcuts when communicating

It's a communication no-no to assume that others will know what you're saying without your having to fully explain it. Here's how the experiences of others can shape the way they hear you.

It's a communication no-no to assume that others will know what you're saying without your having to fully explain it. Here's how the experiences of others can shape the way they hear you. 


I believe my son was about eight years old when he asked me one day, "When did the world turn to color?" It was one of those left-field childrens' questions that cause you to let down your adult know-it-all facade and go, "Say what?" After a short explanation, I found out what he was asking. Because I tended to watch a lot of old black and white movies and TV shows, he thought that my world growing up was actually black and white and that somewhere along the historical continuum the world turned to color.

Aside from the fact that he may have been insinuating that I looked old enough to have at one time been hobnobbing around with the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Barbara Stanwyck, I was amused and stunned by the question. One of the great things about kids is that they say things sometimes that hit you like a splash of cold water. You realize how fully your own experiences and knowledge have shaped you and how differently someone without your same experiences sees the world.

When you think about it, communicating with other people is a pretty awesome undertaking. So many of us take for granted that others will know when we're kidding, for example, or we expect people to read between the lines of what we're saying.

If you're a manager and it's your role to impart information to your staffers about what you expect from them, it's better to err on the side of too much information. The more detailed and explicit you are in describing an employee's performance the better. If you depend on business cliches to get your point across (e.g., "I need you to step up to the plate.") don't be surprised if your version of stepping up to the plate is different from your employee's.

If you're an employee and you have to take an issue to your boss, don't expect that he or she will automatically see it the same way you do. Be prepared to explain why the issue is problematic and, ideally, why it could have an adverse effect on business strategy.

After all, the world may have been black and white when she was growing up.


Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

Old Man on the Mountain
Old Man on the Mountain

See the recent article to IT saying we should "stop whining". Employees at every level are pressed for time and need us to expend every effort towards brevity. Too much information dispensed too often will brand us (correctly) as a motor mouth and someone to avoid. This is a common malady among IT folks (we LOVE our technological detail). The key here is similar to that of resumes: customize, customize customize. If talking with senior-level management, we must change our presentation accordingly. Same goes for the "techies" with whom we share information - they will likely need an abundance of words from us. This is a critical area that is often underdeveloped in IT. I do agree we need to largely avoid common euphemisms, because what's common to you may not be common to me and may mean less or more to you. And we must make a sincere effort to hone our observation skills so that we learn as much as possible about our coworkers. We serve them better in our communications when we respect their uniqueness. So, I would not err on the side of "TMI". I would instead provide the most succinct communication I could and watch for signs that they need more. My experience is that people will often ask for more detail when we begin with a short version. If they don't, follow up questions are in order and will assure a common understanding. Let's not take the easy road in this most important area of our work ...


I agree, I had the same question when I was a kid...the problem lies in the fact, people tend to take it for granted that others will understand shortcuts, abbreviations which they tend to use. They are merely repeating what they have done earlier. Another person would have understood what they are trying to convey and this assures them that their form of communication is quite satisfactory...

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