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The CIO role is a job best performed by somebody who can communicate as easily with purely technical types as with purely business types. Since IT directors tend to be more relationship building than technical people, and more data driven than business people, mastering both communication styles is a feat more easily said than done.

One might call most CIOs "ambiverts", which means they sit right about at the middle of the scale between extroverts and introverts. While it might be challenging to sit in the middle, and communicate with the two vastly different populations, the IT director benefits from being able to draw from the strong points of each group.

To communicate with the purely technical types it's important to remember how they may differ from the louder business types, and how likely it is for the technical person to feel squeezed out and ignored in a business-oriented environment.

Valuing introverts in an extrovert's world

According to Susan Cain, author of 'Quiet: The power of introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking', while nobody is purely introverted or extroverted, about one third to one half of the population are mostly introverted. It's fair to say that most of the purely technical types fit into this category.

IT directors should bring out the creativity of technical types by allowing them time to work alone. Cain says that even if it's a good idea to organise people into teams, that doesn't mean the work has to be done collectively. "Most people think better when they're on their own and not subject to constant interruption and scrutiny," she say.s

Cain says that as a result of the industrial revolution — and now the computer revolution — which have taken away from farms and small towns and towards large urban areas, western countries have shifted from valuing things like character and modesty to valuing things like charisma and salesmanship. This change came about as we moved from working with people we've known for a very long time, to working with people we never really get to know. This cultural shift has caused us to overlook the value of introversion.

Cain says we've lost something in the transition, because despite a cultural bias that tells us creativity comes from group work, "solitude is often a crucial ingredient of creativity".

People who favour solitude may also be better leaders. According to Cain, introverted leaders are more effective than extraverted leaders, because when introverted leaders encounter somebody proactive on their teams, they tend to let the proactive person work on their own. Extraverts get excited, and in the process, they sometimes impede the proactive person.

According to Cain, we need to "stop the madness for constant group work". She says that even though people tend to align themselves to the ideas of the best talkers, "there's zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas".

Having said that, CIOs need to also be comfortable with the more sweet-talking business types who favour teamwork and relationship building. This means boning up on both speaking and listening skills.

Speaking so people will listen and listening so people will speak

According to UK-based communication expert Julian Treasure: "Many people have the impression that when they speak, people don't seem to listen to them." That's often because they are guilty of one or more of what Treasure calls the seven deadly sins of communication:

  • Gossiping: The first thing you think about when somebody gossips is how long it's going to take them to start gossiping about you.
  • Judging: It's very hard to listen to somebody you feel is judging you.
  • Negativity: When somebody is always negative, we tend to stop listening.
  • Complaining: Nobody likes to listen to somebody who's always complaining.
  • Lying or exaggeration: When you doubt you can take somebody on their word, you tend to filter out what they say.
  • Dogmatism: We tend not to listen to people who confuse facts with opinions.

To improve communication with the more business oriented folks, IT directors should keep a close idea on their speaking style and make sure they are avoiding the seven deadly sins.

Treasure advises people to move away from these seven sins and move towards communicating more honestly. Be clear and straight with people — and above all, be yourself. Do what you say, so people can trust you — and try to wish people well, because they will sense what your true intentions are.

While being understood when you talk is important, listening may be an even more important communication skill — especially when your job is to deliver services to business users. Only good listeners understand their users' requirements.

Treasure says: "We spend roughly 60% of our communication time listening. But we're not very good at it. We retain just 25% of what we hear." Furthermore, Treasure fears our listening skills are getting even worse. The world is a noisier place, so we want everything spoken to us in sound bites.

To become a better listener, Treasure recommends changing what he calls your "listening position" as appropriate during a conversion. Some of the opposing listing positions are active versus passive, reductive versus expansive, and critical versus empathetic. Treasure uses the acronym "RASA" to remind listeners to receive (pay attention), appreciate (with intermittent uh-huhs), summarise (rephrase what you hear), and ask (ask questions afterwards).

Embracing diverse communication styles and having fun doing so

Giving technical types the space to work alone, while at the same time, developing a comfort level with the more group-oriented business types, is an important part of the CIO role.

According to Telefonica's Group CIO Phil Jordan, diversity of all kinds has a positive effect on organisations. "You need different styles, different skills, different levels of emotional intelligence, different degrees of multicultural awareness, and so on. There are, of course, other 'ingredients'; and for me, the most important is the ability to laugh and have some fun."