You have the technical know-how, you’ve developed your tech skills, and you have some great experience under your belt. But for every IT professional, there comes a point when the realization hits: technical skill will only get you so far. You may have your foot in the door (or the IT cave), but in order to advance your career and set yourself apart, you need to bolster a critical soft skill: learning effective communication skills for IT professionals.
Why Bother with Soft Skills?
Though you work in a technical role, there will always come a time (or many) when you need to communicate with people who don’t share your technical proficiencies or interests. IT departments are far less insular these days, and a strategy of avoiding the non-IT coworkers isn’t an option anymore.
- Promotions and Advancement
HR, hiring managers, and executives align on the importance of soft skills for business growth. Anyone who wants to advance in their career — especially into management and leadership roles — must demonstrate an ability to communicate well with people at all levels, abilities, and backgrounds, both inside and outside the organization. If you aspire to advance your career, you should be partitioning time into soft skills development along with your technical skills development.
- Marketability and Job Security
Wanting to advance your career is a great reason to start (or continue) developing your soft skills as a professional. But even if you aren’t interested in advancing any higher, it’s important to keep in mind what’s required in the ever-changing job market. If you aren’t currently looking for work, you may find yourself in that situation in the future — whether or not that’s by choice. Executives report that it’s difficult to find professionals with vital soft skills, so developing and demonstrating your communication skills is a great way to set yourself apart from your peers.
Six Do’s and Don’ts of Effective Communication for IT Professionals
Whether you’re working the helpdesk, gathering non-technical stakeholder requirements for new software/hardware, or presenting the findings of a cybersecurity audit, you will work with business people, professionals outside of IT, salespeople, and other tech people. Your interpersonal communication skills will have a significant impact on whether you’re successful or not. If you find some or all these situations a little daunting at first, that’s OK!
Here are important do’s and don’ts to keep in mind as you start looking for more opportunities to step out of your communication comfort zone.
- DON’T make assumptions about the other party’s knowledge.
Don’t assume the other person has the same level of knowledge you do. Similarly, don’t assume an air of superiority. Instead, show empathy and tactfully ask whether the other person has some familiarity with the subject you’d like to discuss. Start with “Have you already received some background on this?” or “Stop me if I explain something you already know” to get a sense of their prior knowledge.
- DO adapt your message to your audience.
Depending on the other person’s familiarity with the technology, you can adapt the conversation to their level of understanding. Your communications with other IT people will require a different approach than your conversations with non-technical people outside your department.
- DON’T hyperfocus on the complexities.
Your coworkers in IT will understand the complexities you deal with (and overcome) every day, and they’ll have a stronger appreciation for the minutia in the solutions. However, other people in your organization oftentimes (but not always) prefer to get the information in simpler or bigger-picture terms. For example, instead of detailing every step of the troubleshooting you went through to solve a problem, start by discussing your end solution and why it works moving forward.
- DO include what the business cares about to explain and exemplify.
When communicating with leadership in non-technical positions, frame your ideas and present your solutions in terms of what it means for the business. These might include how your solution creates value, increases network uptime to increase revenue, reduces waste, or improves employee productivity.
- DON’T use email (or text, or Slack/Teams) as a crutch.
Email communication skills for IT professionals is a topic all its own! This is not to say you shouldn’t use digital communication channels at all; make sure that it’s not all you’re using. For example, if someone hasn’t replied to your second email about something, don’t drop the subject. Give them a call or visit their cube/office.
- DO use various communication channels.
Some people prefer the phone, others prefer face-to-face, and some answer emails at all hours of the night. Learn the ways different people in your organization communicate so that you can meet them halfway. And hold them accountable for doing the same — for example, by telling them your preferred communication channels, schedule, and boundaries. If texting works better for you because emails get lost among the sea of JIRA notifications, tell them this, or remind them that you’re off the clock promptly at 5:00 p.m. Being open about expectations and boundaries sets everyone up for communication success.
How to Make the Most out of Communication Training for IT Professionals
How did you get so good at the technical part of your job? Did you teach yourself the basics and figure the rest out on the job? Did you earn important certifications? Perhaps you went to school or took some training courses. Or maybe IT is something you’ve always been interested in, and all you had to do once you were ready was hone the skills and knowledge you picked up along the way.
You can take a similar approach to learning effective communication skills. However, you’re not working with 0s and 1s, you’re dealing with people, and people have emotions. Learning through trial and error is part of life, but it’s critical you mitigate the risks to your career by knowing how to communicate with people, so you don’t damage interpersonal relationships. People may forgive, but they don’t forget. In IT, you’re always looking to reduce your attack surface and harden your machines, so why not do the same for your communication skills? Don’t let poor communication jeopardize your success.
Soft skills can be learned
Soft skills can be taught, learned, practiced, and applied with excellence. Formal training courses, whether instructor-led or on-demand, bring proven best practices, example scenarios, and tips to you. You probably experienced a similar path as you’ve built your IT expertise — it takes time and practice; it won’t always be easy, and you won’t always get it right, but the rewards are well worth it.
Rewards include improved relationships with your coworkers (which will undoubtedly make your job easier), promotion and advancement in your career, and better communication that extends beyond the workplace.
These courses will help you improve your communication skills:
- Technical Communications Essentials
- Communication and Interpersonal Skills for IT and Tech Professionals
- Communicating for Clarity
- View all Communication Skills Training Courses
Free effective communication white papers:
- How to Deal with Six Types of Difficult Coworkers [white paper]
- Communicate, Communicate, Communicate [white paper]
1. “2018 Workplace Learning Report.” LinkedIn Learning,