The following article appeared in the 7 June 1999 edition of PC Week and is copyrighted by them. It is reproduced here only as a temporary measure for educational discussion purposes.

The V--as in verbal--thing

by Stan Gibson

"Brush up your Shakespeare; start quoting him now" is the famous admonition from Cole Porter's "Kiss Me, Kate." In the musical, it's advice on how to get a young woman to pay attention.

Whatever your goal is, you're unlikely to achieve it without good verbal skills. Although IT managers might do well to reread "Julius Caesar" or "Hamlet," the basic knowledge of how to use spoken and written English effectively is too easy to neglect while acquiring sundry skills such as router programming and systems management.

Can verbal skills get you ahead? I once interviewed a bank president who had started out as a poetry major in college, only to join the bank as a computer programmer, setting off a 30-year climb that would land him in the executive suite.

There's no way of conducting a scientific survey of this, but I'll bet there are more verbally challenged IT managers per capita than in any other profession with comparable pay levels and educational requirements. Lots of IT managers need to brush up their communications skills--and in many cases, they need to acquire them outright.

One IT manager I spoke with recently, who'd like to remain anonymous, made this point. It seems he plays the English teacher with presentations from his staff, handing them back with plenty of red ink until they're just right. He says it's entirely possible for outstanding technical skills and abysmal verbal skills to exist side by side in the same individual--and he'd be eternally grateful for staffers who have some of both. Where skills collide

So why are writing and speaking skills tough for technology folks? Frank Carillo, president of the Executive Communications Group, in Englewood, N.J., an executive communications consulting and training company, said the problem is the sheer quantity of technical information that must be learned. "The body of information has grown unbelievably large," Carillo said. You can't be a generalist and understand it all, he explained.

He also faulted the teaching methods of many college instructors. He says they are often transferring information but not communicating. After years in these classes, students don't know any other way, and they perpetuate the same mistakes when they get out into the real world.

Carillo said he believes good communication is a skill--or an art--that must be studied and practiced. "The job of a communicator is to take information and make it meaningful to the audience you are speaking to. Communication is totally defined by what happens in the mind of the listener."

E-mail, Carillo said, through which much of today's business is done, is a nether world of poor communications because we write e-mail as we speak--imprecisely. He urges the use of clear, exact English. No emotions, please.

If you've made it to the highest rank, chances are you have solid communication skills. If your career gets stuck in second gear on the way up, though, take a hard look at those communication skills. Ask for feedback from your boss or a co-worker you trust. And have the willingness and determination to brush up or acquire the skills you need.

Is that clear?

Maybe you're already a great communicator. How about your boss? How about your staff? Let me know at

View index of teaching-related articles