Technical Communication Poll: Those Pesky People Skills

There’s nothing like an article that panders to stereotypes to get those technical writer hackles up. Ron Hearn posted a link from the education pages of Yahoo! that ranks technical writing as the #2 career to pursue if you don’t like people.  All we could say was “wow, really?” Most of the technical communicators we know have to have good people skills, and interact with people from internal and external groups fairly constantly. As near as we can tell, it’s next to impossible to do anything in technical communication (emphasis on communication) without the ability and desire to talk to or interact with other people. Unless you’re absolutely convinced that your SME’s are semi-animated store mannequins rather than real people, or your customers are just visiting from Alpha Centauri.

Seriously, to those of us who’ve been in the technical communication field for any length of time, those pesky people skills are absolutely critical–to gathering information on how stuff works, feedback on how our stuff should work, perceptions of our employers and how they make and sell stuff, and so on.  The customers who use the content we deliver may be internal or external, but relating to those customers seems to be a basic  criterion for communicating with them…or is it?

That’s why we’re focusing this week’s technical communication poll on the people skills needed to be successful in this field: face-to-face interactions, the ability to persuade via conversation or written communications, reading body language and interpreting tone and intent. Even if you never get to meet or interact with a real-live end-user of your documentation, isn’t some level of interpersonal skill required to acquire information, and turn it into useful and relevant technical communication content?  If not, how do you go about producing your deliverables?  Take our poll and offer your thoughts via the comments section or add to the thread on the email discussion list.

And we do wonder what Yahoo!’s new CEO Marissa Mayer will think when she reads that Software Developers rank #4.

What people skills, if any, do you need to be effective in technical communication?

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