A practical guide to communication

When you are explaining something to someone, you may use a different approach based on your understanding of the other party's background, knowledge and areas of concern. Messages that work well for one person will be poorly received by others. The reason for this is simple, you need to be able to communicate to someone in a manner that resonates with them (see my earlier post, The why of business analysis.)

How does this play out in the real-world? Suppose you applied a patch to a database but something went horribly wrong (for the sake of simplicity let's assume there aren't any redundant systems) and the database is not longer available. Also, let's assume this database provided product information that was consumed by your website, IVR and agents. How would you express the problem?

When talking to the technical support staff, you may mention that the patch has brought the system down. Next steps may be to inform your clients of the outage, roll-back the patch, get the database operational and then contact the database vendor for support.
Now suppose you are talking to the business side, how would you express this outage? Would you use the exact same language? Probably not. The questions that interest the business are:

  • What is the impact of the outage? Explain which systems are impacted and the extent to which they are impacted (e.g., It's taking the servers 3 times as long to respond.)
  • How long will the outage last? How much money is this costing me? The system will be fully operational at ... In terms of lost sales opportunities, during that amount of time we would normally have 800 sales transactions.
  • What can I do in the meantime? How can I help? Direct your consumers to use alternative channels or to contact you a little later.

Note the drastic difference in the responses between the technical and business people. Business users are very interested in the, "So what?" types of questions, not the details. When explaining something to people, put yourself in their shoes. What would they want to know?

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