It has been said that the US and the UK are two countries divided by a common language. And that is true enough. Try telling a proper English gardener they have a nice backyard! But we equally have unfortunate break downs of communication within companies and specifically in IT.
I once took over a critical business application project related to Business Objects because the application and the infrastructure staff had become so angry and polarized at each other that any meetings between the two groups included two or more directors. Even then the interaction was fairly ugly and unproductive. Both sides believed the other was trying to set them up for the project failure. Both sides believed they were communicating adequately and thought it was the other team’s responsibility to bridge the gap. My objective was to take over the project and resolve the situation by restoring trust between the teams.
There ended up being a huge communication problem. The issue was the terminology that being used by the teams. Each team used terms that had completely different meanings. For some odd reason, SAP Business Objects called processes “servers” and the app people kept telling the server team the Business Object Server X was having issues. The server team would investigate and not find a single resource issue with the hardware nor any errors with the operating systems. The infrastructure team as the result thought the app people were nuts. The app staff at the same time would be looking in their application GUI console and see the server (process) having an issue (process was hung). So each team thought the infrastructure and server teams were just being difficult. And this went on for months.
It took me sitting side by side with two of the applications staff and saying, ‘when you say X is having a problem what do you mean, show me?’ I was willing to fill in the gaps and try to understand the problem. By taking several steps back and asking questions in order to work through what things meant to each individual or group, both sides were able to come back together. It retrospect, they felt very sheepish.
The most difficult part of the project was working with each individual without making all the principle players feel rather silly. Though it was interesting briefing the CIO.
So the next time you have to solve some conflict, remember to communicate by stopping to ask, ‘what do you mean’ without assuming it means the same thing to the other person that it does to you.