Five reasons your communication with business stakeholders will fail

7 Dec 2020

Communication with business stakeholders can feel like you are talking to people who don’t understand your language or don’t care about what you have to say.

As an IT professional, have you ever found yourself thinking:

  • Does it always have to be this difficult?
  • Why don’t they understand what I’m saying?
  • We told them it isn’t possible but they don’t seem to understand.

No matter what your speciality, if you work in IT you’ve probably experienced this at some point. The thing is, communication between business and IT teams doesn’t have to be difficult. You might not know this, but the breakdowns in communication are often caused by mistakes we don’t even realize we’re making.

Here are five common reasons the communication between IT and business stakeholders fails, and some simple ways to avoid them.

Reason 1: Business stakeholders care about different things from you

Business and IT teams care about different things and have different goals.

Luckily, there is a small set of things that most business stakeholders care about when working with IT teams:

  • What will I get?
  • Will it do what I need?
  • When will I have it?
  • How much will it cost?

Whatever message you have to give, make sure it answers these questions. Do that, and your business stakeholders will be happy.

Reason 2: They don’t understand your jargon

Jargon is one of the most common issues business stakeholder face when communicating with IT teams.

When talking to business stakeholders, try to avoid talking about the specifics of your system, technology or software. While a description of a Kafka topic or an H-base table might mean something to you, it doesn’t mean anything to most of your stakeholders.

Instead, you should talk in terms of outcomes, capabilities, end-user functionality, features, impacted processes, etc.

Reason 3: Talking about how the tech works instead of what it does

If you need to talk to a business stakeholder about a technology topic don’t talk about the technology — talk about what the technology does for the business or for the end-user.

You may be working on some truly amazing tech, but to anyone not working on it the details of how it works are not as important as what it does.

Reason 4: Updates are not proactive enough

Despite the move towards agile project methodologies, weekly status meetings and other communication methods to keep tabs on work, there is still a gap in the communication between business and technical teams.

Technical teams tend to wait for scheduled update sessions to report problems. From a business stakeholder perspective, this is passive communication. They often feel they only get information when they ask for it. When this delayed communication relates to bad news it can look like the information was hidden.

Break this cycle, share news when you have it, whether it is good or bad news. When you start a task, let your stakeholders know when you’ve started. If you plan to spend 10 days working on it, give an update after three or four days whether you are on track or not. Either way, the news will be welcome to your stakeholders and you will build a better relationship with them.

Reason 5: The ‘them vs us’ mentality

How often do you hear, or use, these phrases: business vs technical, marketing vs engineering, operations vs IT, them & us?

Most companies are structured in ways that create an environment that is divided, with each division, department, or team, feeling separated.

A ‘them vs us’ mentality is adversarial. It makes it harder to find common ground and to work towards similar goals. The reality is everyone in your company is working towards the same goals. You all care about serving the customers and keeping the company profitable.

If you change your mindset and think that ultimately you all have the same goals, your communication will be positive, easier, collaborative. You will naturally find ways to work together to achieve the outcomes you want.

Breakdowns in communication with business stakeholders occur for many reasons, far more than are listed here. But, if you and your IT teams can avoid these five common pitfalls, you will go a long way towards overcoming the biggest challenges in communication at work.

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  • Communicate effectively with people in different teams
  • Discover how to create relevant messages your audience can relate to and understand
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