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a blog by Don R. Crawley

Keynote Speaker on
IT Customer Service and Compassion

Bringing humanity into the world of technology

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A common complaint among end users is that we, in IT, use technical jargon when explaining problems. It’s similar to your doctor using lots of medical jargon. It may be accurate, but unless you understand the jargon, it’s a waste of time. It can even come across as condescending.

Of course, different people have different levels of technical understanding. When a customer or end user asks you about the problem, use your judgement as to the appropriate technical level of your answer. You can always ask how technical they want you to get. Here are some examples:

Accurate Jargon, but Bad Communication

“Our BIND DNS server was using Dynamic DNS with our ISC DHCP server. Some of the A records weren’t getting updated, which caused name resolution to fail.”

Simple and Good Communication

“It was a DNS problem and it should be working now.”

Accurate, but Bad

“The VPN was down because of a key length mismatch, then we had an issue due to AES on one end and 3DES on the other, and you know what happens then!”

Simple and Good

“It was a configuration problem. It’s fixed and should be working now.”

Accurate, but Bad

“It’s a routing issue due to a misconfigured OSPF autonomous system number. None of the 10.100.200 slash 24 subnet routes were being propagated.”

Simple and Good

“It was a routing issue. Thanks for letting me know. Everything is working now.”

In fact, it’s usually safe to say, “It was a configuration problem. It’s fixed and should be working now.” It’s not a matter of being coy or condescending. It’s a matter of respecting your customers or end users by realizing that most of them do not want a detailed technical answer. Certainly, there are exceptions. For more technically oriented customers or end users, a more technical explanation is appropriate. If you’re not sure, it’s usually okay to ask, “How technical do you want me to get?”

Every profession has jargon which people outside of the profession don’t understand. IT is no different in that regard, but our work touches everyone everywhere. For that reason, we, in IT, must master effective communication skills and be especially sensitive to our use of jargon. That means learning how to speak in plain language, to explain issues in a way that non-technical people will understand, and to get in the habit of giving our end users enough information to do their jobs without overwhelming them with jargon or, as they sometimes call it, technical gibberish.

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Discussion

  1. Wayne Schoeneberg says:

    Don, I really enjoyed this. It is frustrating when IT people start throwing around phrases that have meaning to them but are foreign to the rest of us. It creates a feeling of distrust and it also makes me question whether the tech really knows what he is doing. Tell it to me in simple terms and I will do my best to understand.

    • Don Crawley says:

      Thanks, Wayne. It’s not just IT people who use industry-specific terminology. We all need to consider our audience when speaking. I agree that the use of jargon is sometimes an attempt to mask incompetence. Thanks for your comment.


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