If you work in IT, you're in the people and influence business

If you work in IT, you're in the people and influence business

Summary: The prevailing view is that IT is a business where abilities matter more than presentation skills or personal interactions. Wrong.Wrong

SHARE:
TOPICS: CXO, IT Employment
7

Your aptitude should speak for itself. You shouldn't have to dress a certain part or act a certain way to get a job done or advance your career. Your performance should speak for itself and people should trust you to do the job.

That is a prevalent thought in information technology, a business where the promise was that nerds could excel and science geeks could thrive on their abilities not their presentation skills or personal interactions.

Wrong, says Don Crawley. IT is very much a people business and successful IT pros rely on their ability to present themselves and influence those around them as much as any technical skill.

Crawly is the president and Chief Technologist at soundtraining.net, which trains individuals and teams in Information Technology and recently published The Compassionate Geek: Mastering Customer Service for I.T. Professionals, a guide to IT pros to improve their interpersonal skills, which far too many, he said, disregard as inconsequential to their job performance.

"I hate to use the term selling, but as humans we turn people on or we turn them off," he said. "We are in the business of convincing people to buy our services as employee or contractor [or to follow our instruction]."

"If you are in IT you are often in the position of convincing people to do things that they aren't inclined to do," he said. "One of big issues in IT has always been security. Sometimes it is difficult to persuade a C-level executive to do simple things like use a complex password. Or you might be asking for something more complex, like a budget issue. If you don't present well, the executive will write you off. You can't persuade anyone to implement something while they don't respect you."

The message to IT Pros: To be successful, sharpen your influence skills to those of lawyer or sports agent.

The message to IT Managers: To run a successful department, invest in people don't just know the IT, but present well and can influence users and executives.

Get hired

Presentation  is also a factor in hiring and career advancement, an area that too many in IT disregard as being solely decided on the technical qualifications and performance.

"The reality is, if [a company has] a choice between two people equally technically qualified, but one cares more about the job and is easier to get along with, why would they choose the guy who isn't those things?" he asked. "Why would they select the guy who is arrogant, or too cocky, or doesn't present himself well."

Crawley's best advice is basic, but overlooked.

  • "Know the dress code, don't guess... overdressing can be as inappropriate as underdressing."
  • Be meticulous about grammar and spelling in your resume and cover letters. "Many people don't care, but if you get someone who is sensitive to it, you will turn them off."
  • Don't let age change the way you talk. If you're interviewing with someone younger than you, a phrase like ‘young lady,' will land you in trouble. Remember: they hold the cards."

Listen to their emotions

Crawley also recommends honing your EQ or Emotional Intelligence, as a means to better present yourself and influence people.

Where to pick up these skills? Aside from Crawley's book, he recommends the organization Toastmasters International, which is kind of like a support group for the shy. Members teach each other to improve their communication and leadership skills.

Or you can continue to trust that your aptitude and performance are enough to carry your career.

"It's like professional athletes," Crawley said. "There are a handful of players good enough to be signed to the NFL or Major League Baseball or the NBA without regard to personal behavior; based solely on talent. Most are in a mid-range, where there is competition and those things come into play. IT Pros are the same. You might be very good at your job, but not so good that an organization can't choose somebody else."

Related Content:

Topics: CXO, IT Employment

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

7 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: If you work in IT, you're in the people and influence business

    Great article and worthy of sharing.
    Lorie Munson
  • Technical extroverts, to some it sounds like an oxymoron

    It is true that today more IT professionals are into the social networking aspect of their vocation more so than in earlier days. This fact reveals a huge difference in the people who were once sought out by industry to handle "data" and those who today handle data as a sideline to managing events. Maybe a new term for the occupation of the modern-day IT person should be "Event Processing." <br><br>Why is this important?<br><br>Data seems to have become so ingrained in the average persons daily life that it has become a norm. Being that data is rarely handled these days in isolation, but rather that it is more so called upon by the interactions of people who demand answers makes data simply attributable to the events of our daily lives. <br><br>Old rules for finding work in this occupation are rarely in demand these days; depends on who you contact. Introverts ruled the early days with their propensity for engineering the tape on their spectacles and pulling all nighters over having a life. <br><br>On the other hand, extroverts sporting their search engine optimizations rankings and marketing / networking prowess have taken their place in this field seeking to fulfill the idea that HAL (reference to 2001 - A Space Odyssey) will eventually just act as a dutiful servant. <br><br>But until that day, technical people, both introverted and extroverted, will remain crucial to the successful deployments of new and better systems. Along this path we all need to do a better job of listening to and accommodating one another. Everyone has special talents that she or he brings to the events of our lives. Celebrate the differences....<br><br><br>Carpe Diem - enjoy the day, pluck the day when it is ripe
    chuckfizz
  • RE: If you work in IT, you're in the people and influence business

    Bummer that the book wasn't available on Kindle. Hopefully this changes, I'll buy for sure.
    dougsyo@...
    • RE: If you work in IT, you're in the people and influence business

      @dougsyo@... It will be available on Kindle shortly. It's going through processing now. Should be available within the next few days.

      Don
      doncrawley
  • RE: If you work in IT, you're in the people and influence business

    My career has always been built on the premise that although I know less technical stuff than my geekier colleagues, I understand the link between the business and the IT dept better, have better people skills and can influence the right people.

    So thanks for blowing my cover John, if everyone starts doing this I'm going to actually have to learn how to do my job :p
    OffsideInVancouver
  • RE: If you work in IT, you're in the people and influence business

    "Crawley?s best advice is basic, but overlooked.
    ?Know the dress code, don?t guess? Be meticulous about grammar and spelling...Don?t let age change the way you talk. ?

    "Crawly is the president and Chief Technologist at soundtraining.net, which trains individuals and teams in Information Technology...."

    Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach. Those who can't teach, either, regurgitate cliched pieces of advice your grandmother could give you. The only one he left out was "take the gum out of your mouth before you talk."

    ?I hate to use the term selling, but as humans we turn people on or we turn them off. We are in the business of convincing people to buy our services as employee or contractor [or to follow our instruction].?

    And the march is on to turn every profession into marketing... or, convincing people to do things they don't want to do. This advice is nothing but the same old, it's not what you know but who you know, be nice, look attractive, network advice given to people who don't have the skill set to stand out.
    jgm@...
    • RE: If you work in IT, you're in the people and influence business

      @jgm@... Such cynicism! I agree that there isn't much new here, but clearly the message bears repeating because a lot of IT-types don't seem to be getting it. There are genuine differences between hard skills and soft skills, and nearly everyone needs both in order to succeed.

      As for what marketing is... Sometimes it may be about "convincing people to do things they don't want to do," but that's not always the case. Sometimes it's about explaining how your offering is different from the competition's, and why it's better. In this context, marketing just means convincing someone that you're the best candidate for an opportunity. What's so bad about that?
      ParrotHead_FL