Updated: Jul 20, 2018
As a coder, I've always been quite successful in chatting with clients who may not "speak geek". It is why I started coaching and blogging about "Business-Geek-Speak". To help tech-folk talk to non-tech folk. I've seen many a technical/coding/developer person not realize that everyone has their own talents and skills, and just because they don't code doesn't make them inferior or less intelligent. Learning how to BGS (Business Geek Speak) is a skill which makes you a great resource for any company.
However, despite your best attempts, sometimes these customer interactions don't go so well and as a Business-Geek-Speaker, you need to know how to deal with these situations and not just dismiss them as idiots or morons who just don't get it.
One of these types of situations happened to me about a year ago. I was looking to expand our presence in a rather large organization and needed to chat with one of their Senior Vice Presidents. We had a bunch of people around the conference table, I gave my spiel in true BGS fashion and thought the meeting went pretty well.
To my surprise, my current contact there said that the SVP found me to be (these are their exact words) "a goofy guy". I found this really troubling because he wasn't talking about my knowledge base, he was really directing it at me personally. My personality was offensive to him.
Let's be honest here. I've had interactions with customers and potential customers that just didn't go well based upon "normal" differences. Differences such as a difference in opinion on what direction they should go with a platform, or maybe their perception of me lacking in a particular skillset, etc. Even in those situations I've had some customer relationship fails rekindle after some time and we end up sitting in high cotton together. But this wasn't that at all.
I'm humble enough to know I have a face that the movies could probably do without. I'm also the product of a Customer Service Vice President who served a huge medical systems firm for over 40 years and a politician. If that doesn't qualify me for knowing how to talk to people I'm not quite sure what would. But in this case, my BGS abilities failed and I desperately wanted to try and figure out why. I needed to figure out why this customer found my personality more fitting for a Wayans Brothers film than as a CIO for hire consultant so that next time I could do better.
After long introspection, I discovered my problem. The problem was I naturally believed the way I would interact with one customer would generally work with any customer. Specifically...the delivery. In Business-Geek-Speak, you always want to be upbeat, energetic and welcoming to questions which may seem so obvious to you as a techie. You also need to read how the other person is speaking to you and adjust your delivery accordingly. Failing to do so puts you into that first date scenario where the other person is just talking and talking and talking about something even though the other person is giving signals that they are simply not interested in that topic. It almost becomes offensive or "goofy" to that person. So learn to read not only their body-language but also the way they are saying something back to you.
I had forgotten something a wonderful German Engineer friend of mine who had been relocated to the United States in the early 2000's had told me. As friends, we frequently talked business and I had completely forgotten about our talks about how confused he was about the way we in North America interact with others. One afternoon our families got together and he had mentioned how puzzled he was at the way we answered the phone. He said he had a question for another engineer and when he called his colleague, the other engineer said, "Hi there. How are you doing?"
Now this is pretty common for all of us here right? To Kristian however, this was confusing. Did this person really want to know how I am doing? What if I was having a terrible day and had some troubles at home? Does this person really want to know this? I remember laughing and seeing how correct his analysis was. Think to yourself if you are a North America/Westernized person. What happens when you pick up the phone and what's the first thing someone says? How-are-you? Could you imagine some of the scenarios/responses you'd get if we were really honest with our replies?
"I'm dealing with my son who's flunking chemistry and trying to find a tutor for him."
"My head is killing me from having way too much fun last night, and way too little sleep."
"Just had lunch and you better make this a quick question because not sure how long I'll be sitting here at my desk."
Kristian went on to tell me that he attempted to understand what was really happening, said "I'm fine." but forgot the other key response in Westernized greetings....to say How are you back to the colleague. There was an awkward silence on the phone for a moment and then Kristian said, "Can I ask my question now?" He had told me the colleague became very upset and he was wondering if he had done something incorrect.
I thought back to that meeting and felt very much like Kristian, and knew I had done something wrong. I saw the body language, I heard the way he was reacting to what I said, and yet I didn't realize I needed to adjust my delivery accordingly. I continued being a little over the top and a little too enthusiastic in my replies. To him, I was that annoying date he desperately was hoping would come to an end either by a planned phone call or food poisoning. Either would have been fine.
I'm not saying you need to change who you are. I'm typically a pretty upbeat, jovial, non-confrontational person. I'll go out of my way for almost anyone which sometimes leaves me holding the door open for everyone in the building like Clark in Superman IV. So that isn't going to change, however you need to think of it more like a speaker knowing the type of audience/event they are talking at. You don't want to be cracking tasteless jokes during a press conference when something tragic has happened. You can still be positive and energetic, but know your audience and adjust your delivery accordingly.
Since that experience, I've had a few more meetings with people where I've noticed it was quickly becoming "date-night-hell" and I've adjusted my delivery accordingly. Fortunately the feedback has been much better and I hope my experience helps you in your next tech meeting. Until next time, keep speaking geek.
-Goofy Photo used courtesy of the Walt Disney World Company