(My column first appeared on Forbes here.)
Communicating technical concepts to another technical person requires focus and discipline. Add to this picture other complexities in cross-gender communication. Then scratch below the surface, and you’ll understand why you’re in a difficult situation:
So consider the most effective techniques to connect with a male technical professional and get your point across credibly.
Be precise, but not pretentious. There is a difference. As Mark Twain observed, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” As a technical professional, you certainly don’t want to misuse words or avoid words you need for accuracy on technical topics.
By all means, if the medical symptoms of the patient present as propriospinal myoclonus, use the technical language. But if you’re discussing a patient’s symptoms with another healthcare technician, saying that a patient complained of a “sore throat” conveys the idea just as well as pharyngitis.
Technical professionals live, bleed, and die by statistics. Specific numbers sound accurate and authoritative; they reduce the likelihood that others will dispute your information. “Of the 256 samples tested, 197 had been contaminated with the acid solution.”
On the other hand, rounded numbers are easier to remember: “Of the 256 samples tested, roughly three-fourths of them had been contaminated with the acid solution.”
So the next time you’re talking tech with technical males, look for data from studies, surveys or tests to increase your credibility.
A key characteristic of men’s conversation is what linguist Dr. Deborah Tannen calls “reporter” talk. That is, in their conversation, men tend to report things: events, happenings, information. Men in technical work tend to do the same—only more of it and more often.
In communicating with these technical men, go one step beyond this minimum. Know when to be persuasive, not just informative.
One of the biggest hurdles technical presenters face is changing their mindset about the mission. As a consultant helping technical presenters shape their content for executive leadership presentations, I often have someone push back with this comment: “But we’re not supposed to draw conclusions and make recommendations. The executives just want our technical perspective as a basis for making their decision.”
Seldom is that the case. Technical presenters are valuable to the executive team precisely because they guide the group to draw the appropriate conclusions based on their technical data.
Take a viewpoint about your data. To stand out from the crowd, inform and persuade.
When senior executives send someone to our firm for communication coaching, one of the most frequent goals on the executive’s wish list is brevity: “John rambles—particularly when asked a question. Can you help him correct this problem?”
Multiply this complaint ten-fold where technical professionals are involved. The best technical communicators drive straight to the point and stop. No rambling. No rabbit chasing.
For many women, the temptation to take a circuitous route is strong. Your female brain can juggle many thought patterns at once. For example, when asked a technical question, you may see seven ways to respond. You may try to incorporate all possible details in an attempt to give a correct, comprehensive response.
Not so with most male brains. They work in linear fashion. The thought starts at point A and goes directly to point B. When the male techie communicates on a technical subject, you may often consider his explanations or answers “blunt,” “incomplete” or “simplistic” while he may consider yours “verbose.”
If you want to get through to a particular techie male, keep this principle in mind: Overview first; then elaborate. State your point in a sentence or two, then circle back to provide details.
Structure matters to help the two species reach common ground here.
Again, several research studies on the differences between male and female communication show that males interrupt females more often than the reverse. And females permit others to interrupt their comments more often than males do.
To go toe-to-toe with your technical male counterparts, from the beginning set yourself up to hold the floor. For example, in a meeting, you might say: “I’d don’t think that’s the best software choice for two reasons. First, the compatibility issue….” Then if you’re interrupted before you get to the second reason, you say, “Just a moment. I’d like to finish with my second reason…” Then do so.
Bottom-line: Being technically sound represents only the first step in communicating with other techies. Your male counterpart is human first, technical second. So connect accordingly.
Learn more ways to communicate clearly no matter the subject in Communicate Like a Leader: Connecting Strategically to Coach, Inspire and Get Things Done. Download an excerpt by clicking here or on the image below.