Good communication is not merely about keeping your participles from dangling or your infinitives from splitting. It’s about taking the time to understand the way the person you’re speaking to receives and interprets information.

I learned a long time ago that if I want to talk to my husband about a fairly serious issue, I should never, ever begin with the words, “We need to talk.” In his mind, “we need to talk” translates to “Warning: Criticism is forthcoming.” Therefore, he isn’t exactly receptive to what’s coming. It was an important lesson for me to learn in order to communicate with him better. Now I approach those difficult conversations with “Did you hear about Brett Favre?” Then, with his attention razor-sharp, I light into him about his not picking up around the house. OK, I’m just kidding, I’ve never actually done that. (But only because I just now thought of it.)

Good communication involves empathy. Defined as “identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives,” empathy is basically the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes. Sometimes, IT pros get very frustrated with end-users because they don’t have an understanding of technical concepts that the IT pros feel they should. However, most end-users think of technology as a tool, not as a way of life. A computer is merely an instrument they use to do their jobs. If they look at you like the RCA dog when you ask them when they last defragged their hard drives, be patient. You would be equally confounded if your doctor were to ask you what your last basal metabolic rate was.

Of course, most of the time, user cluelessness directly translates to more work for the IT pro, so the frustration is understandable. But unless your users are particular satanic, they’re not doing it on purpose.