If someone asked you, “What skills does an IT professional need?”, you’d probably list a number of hard skills. Examples of these include, computer skills, coding skills, and project management skills. And of course, you’d say that IT professionals need an in-depth knowledge of the technologies they use at work.
But did you know, to build a successful career in tech you need more than just these basic hard skills and knowledge.
Soft skills, like the ability to learn quickly, attention to detail, effective time-management, prioritization, empathy, analytical thinking, intuition, and stress-resistance are also very important skills to have when working in the IT industry.
When you work in different IT roles, you might find that you use some soft skills more than others. But there is one skill that is crucial. You must have strong communication skills if you work in IT.
In this article, we will explain why communication skills are essential for any IT professional, and how you can develop and improve your communication skills.
Why are communication skills important in the IT industry?
There is a widespread misconception that people working in tech spend most of their time sitting in front of a computer, and that they don’t really communicate too much. Therefore, communication skills are not crucial for them.
Well, believe it or not, IT is full of communication, in some shape or form! And, although those who work in IT do spend time working on a computer, they actually spend a lot of time communicating with various different people, across different channels daily.
Think about, it takes a whole team to build something new in the IT world. Some of the people involved in this creative process are, developers, testers, support specialists, administrators, clients, and designers, for example. And many of these people will be interacting on a daily basis, either online, in person, or on video chat.
Strong communication will increase a team's productivity, it’ll help to solve problems faster, and it’ll save companies time and money in the long run. And that is why communication is such a valued and sought after skill in the IT industry.
What are communication skills?
Communication is when we exchange, or give out, our ideas and thoughts in a verbal, nonverbal, visual, or written form, to those around us.
What are the most important aspects of communication?
- Active listening. We are often so focused on expressing our own thoughts that we forget to pay attention to what others say. Listening is the foundation of strong communication.
- Empathy. The ability to see the situation from a colleagues' perspective, and to relate to their feelings, can significantly strengthen communication skills.
- Non-verbal communication. We might not realize how much information we get and give from non-verbal cues during conversations. Examples include eye contact, hand gestures, and other body movements. It’s important to consider how we stand, where we look, and how we come across to others, when we are speaking to them. If you keep looking away, for example, you might come across as disinterested or preoccupied.
- Adapting to an audience. Even if your job primarily involves tech tasks, you still have to collaborate with your teammates and managers. In many cases, projects involve several people who come from different backgrounds, responsibilities, and expertise levels. So, you must address your audience appropriately.
- Concise and clear written communication. Whether you are preparing a bug report, submitting a ticket for a QA team, or sending an email to a client, you will need to put your findings down on paper in a clear and concise way.
- Friendliness. As an IT professional you’ll be working with many people, not everyone will get on in a team, but it’s important to be friendly to everyone, so that you can work on the project together. If you don't communicate in a friendly manner, this will impact the project in lots of different ways.
- Confidence. If you appear confident to those around you, there’s more chance of them listening to you when you try and communicate with them. You can improve your confidence by making eye contact with the audience, and raising/lowering your voice and its tone when need be.
- Open-minded. When working in a team there’ll be times when you don’t agree with another person’s idea. But it’s imperative that you remain open-minded and not shut down the person’s idea immediately. If you want to be listened to and respected in a team, you must show the same to those around you.
- Respect. When communicating with people, in any form, it’s important to show that person respect. If you don’t show someone respect why would they listen or value you.
- Giving out and receiving feedback. It’s imperative to be kind when giving out instructions and feedback to people. You can, for example, communicate a bad point in a nice way to someone. This would be really handy in a testing role for example, because here you’d actively be telling someone about the bugs and errors in their piece of work. Being tactful is key.
- Responsiveness. It’s vital to actually respond to people. Not Responding to someone sends out all kinds of bad vibes. So even if it's a short email, make sure you reply. Nobody wants to be ignored, and this can stir up all sorts of issues in a team.
So, now you know more about communication, let’s take a look at how you can improve your communication skills. Read on to find out more.
How to improve your communication skills?
An excellent first step to improving your communication skills is to determine your strongest and weakest points. For example, maybe it’s hard for you to write documents. If you know what you need to improve on you can focus on developing this skill, so you don’t have to waste time re-learning stuff you already do well.
If you aren’t too sure about your strong and weak points, try asking your colleagues for honest feedback.
Next you need to think about how you’re going to improve your communication skills. There are several ways to improve your communication skills. Here are some ways:
You could consider enrolling on a course in your area. For example, many business schools offer communication skills courses and public speaking classes. Some of these courses focus on a particular topic like negotiation, presentation, crisis communication, and business writing too. While other courses will try to cover all aspects of communication in the working environment.
You can choose a course that suits you best.
Additionally, if your employer organizes some in-house training, do sign up for this! Courses like this often address the challenges that are specific to that company and its teams, so it's incredibly beneficial.
Don’t feel discouraged if there aren’t many classes near where you live, because nowadays you can learn online.
Here are a couple of sites to explore:
You can choose from many courses and different topics, for example communication in the workplace, common communication mistakes, empathy, email writing, business etiquette, public speaking, presentations, and teamwork.
As the name suggests, this is when you organise your own education. Typically people who choose this route read about the topics online, buy books, and watch videos online to learn and develop a skill.
This is a good way of updating your skills, it can take as long as you like, or it can be as short as you like, and it’s usually quite cheap. However, the lack of structure, and the idea of going and finding all the resources can become tedious, so some prefer to go to a pre-planned course. But it’s entirely up to individual preference.
So, you can choose between offline training, online courses, or the self-study method. But developing better communication skills requires practice.
Here are few tips to keep in mind:
- Effective communication starts with listening. Pay close attention to what others say to you. If you listen carefully you’ll be able to summarize the whole conversation in your head and ask thoughtful questions. And you might be able to help the person out!
- Non-verbal signs influence communication. Be aware of what your body language tells people, and maintain eye contact. Also, pay attention to non-verbal cues from others, think about what they are also trying to tell you.
- Always try to be brief, yet specific. Use simple and straightforward language and stay on topic.
- Learn how to manage your stress. When a conversation starts to get heated, it’s important to control your emotions.
Do IT professionals need strong communication skills? Strong communication skills are a must have when working in the IT industry.
It doesn't matter which learning method you choose, the point is, developing strong communication skills will help you to become a better team member, will help you stand out in job interviews, and it’ll ultimately take your tech career to the next level.
Besides, it’s one of the most sought after soft skills in most industries.