Effective Technical Communication
Have a developer or technically-minded coworker with whom you struggle to communicate? Here are a few tips curated from years of being on both ends of these often-frustrating conversations.
1. Cut out the fluff
Often when communicating on a subject that we don’t know everything about, we tend to over-communicate. The rationale is often “I’m not sure what they’ll need, so I’m going to throw them EVERYTHING.” If starting a large project, this might be appropriate, but for bug fixes or feature requests, this is detrimental to your end goal. Over-communicating to detailed-oriented people is often paralyzing. Instead of identifying an issue and suggesting/implementing a fix, that person is drowning in a sea of irrelevant noise.
2. Avoid Hyperbole
“URGENT:”, “HELP?! NOTHING’S WORKING”, “THE SITE IS BROKEN”. These are all valid statements and have legitimate ramifications to a company. Unfortunately, more often than not, when we hear these phrases, they are an over-exaggeration by someone having an emotional reaction to an often tiny technical need. I can only equate this to the boy crying wolf. You don’t want a developer rolling his eyes, saying “What now?!” when an actual crisis arises. A misspelled word on a contact page does not have the same level of urgency as a DDoS attack.
3. Bug Report
Instead of stream-of-consciousness when describing an issue, it’s always a good idea to follow this format:
- What happened?
- What did you expect to happen?
- What are the steps to reproduce?
4. Screenshots / videos
Sharing what you’re seeing when something goes wrong is INVALUABLE. You’ve heard the phrase “This meeting could have been an email.”? Let’s take that to a whole new level of “This entire email chain could have been summarized with a screenshot.”
5. Ask the question
“This is what’s happening. Let me know!” is a phrase that I hear often. It’s vague and ineffective. The person could be asking for more information, an action to be corrected, or for something to be communicated to another person. Leaving the interpretation of a vague request open-ended is a non-starter. You’re either going to receive clarifying questions or the wrong outcome, neither of which are ideal. Better to start out clear.