February 1st, 2010

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Good Communication Skills: Do you have them?

I'll be focusing on web design in this article as that is what I'm familiar with, but the basic concepts should apply to any field.

Client-to-Developer-to-Client Communication


It is extremely important that you have good communication skills for any sort of relationship, but especially if you're looking to make money as an independent consultant. Without good communication skills you won't be able to tactfully suggest new layouts or request more information. Tact is something that is good, but is hard to come by unless you have some naturally. Being blunt or demanding or impatient will get you nowhere with anyone, especially your client. For one it will put a bad taste in their mouth for any possible future relationships, especially with you and that client. The worse you are in those categories the less likely you'll see repeat business (and the more likely they will consider cutting their losses and canceling your services).

A Hypothetical Situation


You've taken on a job and you've been in almost constant touch over the course of several weeks while you and the client discuss needs, abilities, and everything else that goes into finding out what it is exactly that they want. You have been given a good idea of what that is (could be a brand new website, could be a redesign of an existing one), you've created a mock-up that's been approved and you begin work in earnest after a vague request for content. You have the expectation that the client knows exactly what it is you mean by content so you don't bother to elaborate or even give it a second thought as you wait for them to deliver. After all, you can't deliver the mock-up as a finished product and expect the client to know what to do with it.

Unfortunately therein lies mistake number one. You made a vague request for content, not defining what that is and therefore leaving it up to the client to not only define it, but to deliver upon their own definition. Content can be anything, though, and unless you specify you might wind up with very little of anything truly useful. Whose fault is that? Certainly not the client's, as they delivered to you what they thought you needed based on your vague request.

A better way to have gotten what you need would have been to tactfully ask for every single bit of HTML they had if it is a redesign or to have asked for every ounce of literature they have so that you have a better idea of what you need to put up, at least initially, for the site's content. Of course in a redesign, it probably is good to ask for the literature as well. You can never have too much information when it comes to making an top quality web site.

What to do now?


So you've made the mistake, but you really didn't realize it until you have begun work on the site and have reached the point where either:
  • a) you've copy/pasted everything you could from the old site, or

  • b) you've exhausted the small amount of literature you initially got for useful information to put on the site

In either case, your vague request has brought you to this impasse and now you have to go back to the client and request even more information. This time, though, you're sure to be very specific. This could be a panic moment if you're on a deadline. Even if you aren't, you should be concerned about the delay this is causing you. Timely service for any project is a must. Even if the client doesn't set a deadline, you need to set one for yourself. Don't sacrifice quality, either. If you have to work more then 8 hours a day to get the job done on time, it's time to pull out the energy drinks and the Fritos.

Is That It?


While this is a rather mild example, some of the problems with bad communication are much, much worse and could lead in the end to complete redesign of the entire project costing you dearly in terms of time, money and reputation.

Worst case scenario if you don't practice good communication skills with your client:

You never get hired by them again.

Best case scenario if you don't practice good communication skills with your client:

You get hired again, but for a more menial (and lower paying) job that isn't befitting your technical expertise.

Conclusion


Choose from the beginning to be a good communicator. If anything seems vague, immediately expound and define. Do not let the client define anything they don't have to otherwise you'll be constantly bothering them with requests for more information (and or more time) when both you and they have better things to do then spending your time on this now (possibly) overdue project.

[tags]computers, technology[/tags]

Originally published at Ameliorations 1.0.