How successful would you say your communication is with a) your peers and b) your non-peers (e.g., older or younger folks, different management strata, etc.) within your discipline?
How about your communication with non-technical types?
So how comfortable are you after you push away from the table, post meeting? Did everyone “get it”? Or are you wondering when you will be dealing with the fallout from everyone who: a) didn’t get it or b) had their own agenda anyway and was going rogue?
Let’s eliminate the folks with their own agendas. This post isn’t about how to cope with folks involved in Machiavellian psycho-drama. I’m talking about whether you are encouraged and perhaps even inspired after meetings because everyone really worked hard to get on the same page.
Which begs a further question about how productive your meetings are in the first place….with folks in your own discipline and then again with folks outside your discipline. Don’t assume that just because you have a table full of technical types that everyone is on the same page. And I do feel that is an assumption that many technical folks make, while the other technical types around the table don’t want to admit they don’t get it.
I was out of the country for the past two weeks, speaking (or trying to) smidgens of another language (Italian, a melodious and wonderful language), and thinking about what life would be like if I treated every business discussion as though no one seated around the table spoke the same language as I did. If we all took care to explain ourselves, ask questions frequently during our discussions (like, does this make sense?) and user shorter sentences and simplify concepts, what would our business lives be like? Hey, what would our personal lives be like? (although I do think that “Honey, take out the garbage…NOW!” is a pretty basic request …but that’s another blog post).
Think about how productive you can make meetings with non-technical folks if you treat them as though their native tongue is different from yours. Because in this global economy, it very well may be different than your native tongue and on top of this is the fact that these folks are non-technical. The double-whammy of communication obstacles. And besides, these folks probably aren’t looking forward to having a meeting with engineering and operations types anyway. Why I don’t understand. You both have so much knowledge to share with each other.
OK, so this blog isn’t about everyone making nice to each other, having a kumbaya moment and communicating. However, it IS about getting everyone on the same page. So how are you going to do it? Because if you don’t, you are simply wasting a lot of your time.
Now, getting everyone on the same page isn’t the same thing as giving a technical lecture. It’ll put you to sleep as fast as it will put everyone around the table to sleep. And besides, folks will feel you are unapproachable, egotistical and, yep you got it, not on the same page.
Non-technical types have some great questions: “How will your engineering decision impact brand loyalty?”, “What are the ROI implications of shelf placement for the new package design?”, “If we sell X amount of units in the next 6 months we can displace the #1 brand. What is your monthly production schedule to allow us to make this number?”
OK, if you don’t know the answers to these questions, I suggest you ask a non-technical (aka marketing type ) to explain these dynamics to you. Because life doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
And then there are some great engineering and ops questions to ask these non-marketing types: “I know that Concept A was most favored in the LA and Phoenix focus groups, but the design will not be easy for geriatrics to open and they are the target market for this product. How can we reconcile this situation?”, “Prototype production runs of this product produced great results. However, full production runs will generate additional heat which will impact product integrity during the fill process. In order to correct this situation we may have to add 3 weeks to product launch. How can you weather this situation?”
OK, if they don’t have the answers to these questions, I suggest you work with them so they understand the intricacies of heat exchange on filling machines as it equates with product formulation.
Bottom line: getting on the same page involves simultaneous translation of technologies, concepts, rules and “wiggle room.” Getting on the same page can be highly creative and productive if everyone is prepared to sit down at the table and work through processes and differing perspectives and disciplines. During the entire course of a project. I see this as an opportunity for a great learning experience all around.
Time to give it a try?
Babette N. Ten Haken, Founder & President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC, brings entrepreneurial mojo and business- and revenue-producing collaboration and communication tools to small and mid-sized businesses and startups. She was named one of the Top 50 Sales & Marketing Influencers 2013. Her book, Do YOU Mean Business? focuses on technical / non-technical collaboration strategies and tools.