The Importance of Communication: How to Understand Technology for the Non-Technical

By Rob Foxx, CCBTO

Have you ever had a conversation with a member of your information technology or information security staff and after they left, wondered to yourself what they just said? You are not alone, and it is not an uncommon occurrence. This two-part series (the next to be released in the October 2022 Wisconsin Banker) will help non-technical and management staff better communicate with — and understand — technical staff. Before breaking down the best ways teams can improve their communication — we first should understand how we got into this situation.

Like I image many people with computer and technology background did, I came from a more technical side of IT. There were two distinct points in my education where the need for communication skills were downplayed, if not ignored entirely.

Experiences Shape Us

In high school, I was given a career aptitude test that assisted my school advisor in determining what they would best recommend I do after graduation. I scored high in many areas; however, I did not have many social experiences with my peers and spent my days labeled as a “nerd,” which skewed my results and stated that I had a low score for interpersonal skills.

My advisor suggested a career involving computers and technology, which would allow me to work independently and avoid much social interaction. While I am not a full-blown extrovert, I do very much enjoy working with and helping people — something I think many of my peers share with me, even if they are not the best at communicating it.

Though public speaking courses are often required in high schools, technical colleges, and universities, the classes often do not cover critical skills such as how to explain complex concepts to people who don’t have a baseline understanding of the requirements to understand them. In addition, many computer and technology students may only have experience communicating tech-related ideas and concepts with peers, causing a significant gap in communication and understanding between technical and non-technical individuals.

Communicate Expectations

Often the communication gap doesn’t seem as obvious in other majors or professions however, with the rise of technology in our daily lives and the increased use of computers and technologies to better facilitate and perform day-to-day tasks in nearly every industry, it is important that professionals either have a strong understanding of technology or rely on technology experts.

The major problem that often occurs with improper communication is failure to set, understand, and meet expectations. Ideally to set these expectations, experts should be able to both ask and understand business requirements and explain solutions to make informed decisions. This is something college does not prepare these experts for. In fact, it is something they have been told — either directly or by implication — is not important.

In a business scenario, the inability to pass along knowledge of the differences between options presented could lead to business leaders making decision based on what they can understand (usually financial cost). In the long term, making the wrong decision could require having to revaluate and revisit decisions before the end of their intended lifecycle.

Avoiding Common Mistakes

So, we see the problem, now how do we fix it? First and foremost, good communication is a two-way commitment. There is no shame in not understanding or asking for a clearer explanation. I promise that there are many aspects of the bank that the technology professionals do not completely understand.

The knowledge many IT professionals are trying to pass along is not expected to be learned overnight and might not even be able to be conveyed in a single meeting. However, this information is often very important for leader to consider when making informed business decisions for the benefit of the organization.

Frustration and lack of understanding can be the enemy of all productivity and growth within the organization — don’t pretend to understand a topic. Rather, non-technical individuals should ask follow-up questions or for explanations of terms that are not understood. This will assist every computer and technology professional in more effectively relaying IT-related information to all.

Foxx is director – infosec and IT audit services for FIPCO, a WBA Gold Associate Member.