Data center communication is about more than just machines talking to each other correctly; it’s also about employees and management exchanging information clearly, respectfully and honestly. Here are some tips to help foster a data center environment conducive to this type of communication.
Clarity of Language Promotes Clarity of Thought
Speaking clearly may be a little more difficult than writing clearly (writing tends to leave more time for thought, whereas speech often leaves less), but the same general rules of clarity apply to both. Although being vague is sometimes necessary owing to a lack of sufficient knowledge, sometimes it’s just a way to dodge blame or even sow discord. These are some things to watch out for, both in written and verbal communication.
- Avoid euphemisms. A euphemism is a linguistic candy coating: it is a way of saying something that makes the situation sound better than it really is. An easily recognizable example is “collateral damage,” which in a military context generally means unintended bloodshed. Euphemisms blunt the seriousness of a situation and can hamper clarity. For instance, “A couple servers had some issues some time ago” might sound more pleasant than “the data center went offline last night,” but it doesn’t reflect the urgency of the situation. And although marketing employees might prefer euphemisms to make a situation look better to customers and the public, you need more forthright communication in the data center.
- Be honest/be respectful. Which should you be? Honest or respectful? The answer is a firm both. Yes, honesty may be the best policy, but that doesn’t mean you should flap your gums about everything. Sometimes, an honest statement or response is necessary for the situation; in other cases, it simply causes harm to others without any benefit. Seek a balance between honesty and respect. If someone is doing something destructive to the business or the data center, have the courage to say it (preferably to the person first). If it’s something you just don’t like because of your preferences, keep quiet and get over it.
- Avoid marketing jargon. You’ve heard them: stupid words or phrases that everyone uses blindly—and they drive you mad. (Try “The Most Annoying, Pretentious And Useless Business Jargon” [http://www.forbes.com/sites/groupthink/2012/01/26/the-most-annoying-pretentious-and-useless-business-jargon/] for some examples.) Type “irritating phrases” or something similar in a search engine, and you’ll find numerous lists of them. So, next time you touch base with a coworker, try empowering yourself by thinking outside the box—and avoid tacky words and phrases.
- Put yourself in the other guy’s shoes. Sometimes, it’s easy to let our mouths work before our brains. But you can still work on getting into the habit of considering how your words will affect other people. Think how you would feel if someone said something similar to you; again, a balance between honesty and respect is required, but consider whether what you’re about to say will build up or tear down others. If it’s going to tear someone else down, chances are you shouldn’t say it.
- Avoid slipshod writing a la instant messenger. If you’ve used Internet-based chat (whatever the forum) or text messaging, you’ve probably been tempted to dispense with capitalization, punctuation, proper spelling and even the rules of grammar. In fact, you’ve probably given in from time to time, if not regularly. This may be somewhat understandable for texting, where typing is a chore and messages must be short, but in most other written communication, it’s just plain lousy. When you write without using a single capital (or, worse, you turn on “caps lock”), you convey to your reader a lack of professionalism and distract from the information you’re trying to convey. Not everyone is an excellent writer, but try to at least put some effort into making your written communication, whatever the medium, look halfway professional. It will encourage your reader to give due attention to what you’re trying to say, since you made an effort to present it well.
- Wait a minute or two before you hit “send.” An angry email may be worse than an angry word—it’s on record forever (well, for a long time, anyway). But taking a pause after you’ve written an email, setting it aside and then rereading it later before you send it can save you a lot of hassles, and not just in the area of personal relations. By rereading your email, you may find an embarrassing typo or something you didn’t explain very well. Sure, email sometimes is an informal medium, and you probably don’t need to reread an acknowledgment that you’ll be attending some company function. If you’re writing in anger or another strong emotion, however, a “cooling off” period before you irrevocably send the message is probably in order.
- Use common sense. Whatever you do, don’t ignore the little voice telling you that something you’re about to say or write is somehow really wrong. As with George Orwell’s rules of writing (“George Orwell’s Rules for Writers” http://grammar.about.com/od/writersonwriting/a/OrwellRules.htm), common sense trumps everything else. Use your brain when you’re communicating.
Don’t Just Rely on Meetings
Meetings are often the butt of jokes, owing to their all-too-common pretentious way of getting nothing done. Worse, however, is that meetings often cater primarily to just a couple people—those who are most comfortable either thinking on their feet or just gasbagging. Meetings often leave out (despite their physical presence) those who may not be as comfortable speaking in front of groups or who prefer to think matters through carefully before talking about them. IT people in particular should be suspicious of meetings as a primary means of discussion or decision making—after all, if you work in IT, you’re intimately familiar with all the different means of communication that don’t involve gathering in a stuffy room.
Therefore, don’t just use a standard meeting as the means of making decisions or presenting information. Consider those who learn best by reading rather than hearing, as well as those who communicate best by writing rather than by speaking. If you must have a meeting, give people the chance to discuss matters over email—this provides a chance to think quietly and express their views at their own pace. In an actual meeting, encourage more than just the two or three most verbose individuals to contribute—but don’t put them in a corner. (Maybe you’ve been in the loathsome situation of hearing “Now we’ll go around the room and everyone will say something about X.”)
Nothing in this article is new or brilliant. It includes nothing but simple, common-sense tips to improve communication in the data center—or any context—and to encourage participation by everyone, not just those who speak well. By fostering clarity, respect and honesty (all in the right balance), you can improve relationships among employees and managers, speed the flow of ideas and information, and thus take an important step toward a more successful business. To summarize in a few words, think before you speak (or write).