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Talk This Way: Keywords for your Job

By Amy Marcott

Oh sure, technology is revolutionary and all that, but it's also responsible for dividing dot-com companies into those who manipulate the technology and those who do not. The result? Some good, old-fashioned clashes with the very people you're supposed to work with. Cheer up though; there are ways to deal.

"It's really about respecting each other's expertise." - Donna Tramontozzi, director of interactive technologies, RainCastle Communications, Inc.

The Internet may bring us the world, but it also creates a continental divide in many workplaces. In one corner, there are the "techies" who support the "back end," or technical aspects of a web site. In the other corner, there's everyone else, including editorial staffs, designers, and marketing and sales personnel, sometimes known as the "creatives." These people develop the "front end" of a site, or all the information created to attract an audience.

The back- and front-end teams often exist as if in different worlds. Techies and creatives follow different, often contradictory, processes to complete projects, and they speak to one another using confusing terminology that can sound like a foreign language. These different agendas and communication styles threaten workers' sanity and potential business endeavors. Luckily, there are ways to handle the tensions at work.

Balancing both sides of the equation
OK, but how bad can it really get, you ask? According to both groups, these conflicts have resulted in increased stress, stalled or thwarted projects, screaming matches, lost business, and, in extreme circumstances, threats of physical violence. (No joke.)

"The tension between creatives and techies makes it hard, but I think it makes a really great product if you can manage the tension," says Donna Tramontozzi, director of interactive technologies at RainCastle Communications, Inc., a web design firm based in Newton, Mass. Tramontozzi, who serves as the main liaison between designers and technology providers, says that when the creatives dominate, the product can suffer, and when the techies dominate, the users can suffer. Tension can be healthy, but only when in balance.

A lot of workplace conflict results from ignorance about what your co-workers are doing. No one expects you to understand both JavaScript and the Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual, but you should at least acquire a basic knowledge of what people in different departments do, how they do it, and what their project goals are.

Techies, for instance, are concerned with how fast a web page serves up, while designers worry about how attractive the site looks. But these two goals don't have to conflict. Once you understand your teammates' aims, you can work together to develop the best product.

To learn how other departments do their jobs, consider implementing a workshop designed to explain each department's duties. A simple presentation can alleviate many future disagreements. If you still feel uneducated, ask for a resource that can help you learn more-your co-workers will respect your initiative.

Technical consultant Norm Paillen once worked with a team of technical and marketing people to create a travel-related web site. Because the marketers didn't understand the full potential of the Internet-including offerings such as chat rooms or newsgroups-they were unable to provide their marketing expertise to the techies. In planning sessions, the marketers did not strategically position graphics or capitalize on market research, which would have helped the techies create a better site. Because of this misunderstanding, tempers boiled until profanity echoed throughout the office and someone even proposed a fistfight.

"Nobody stepped forward to break down those barriers, [to ask] why aren't we communicating better? Why aren't we sharing resources?" says Paillen, who admits that pride and inexperience on both sides led to the free-for-all. A now wiser Paillen suggests being the bigger person and initiating the dialogue that will solve disputes.

Go team go!
Remembering that you and your co-workers are seeking the same goal will help diffuse tensions. "It's so easy to lose sight of why you started [the project] in the first place," says Tramontozzi, who finds adaptability indispensable when working across departments. She refuses to espouse either the tech or creative methodology and instead realizes that many strategies can successfully complete a project. "What I care about is getting the work done," she says. Still, she recommends everyone involved on a cross-department project discuss the strategy for completing it upfront and suggest improvements as needed.

Language barriers should also be addressed to avoid misunderstandings. Technology and creative departments often speak with their own buzzwords. "I would never hang onto a term strongly because I find it doesn't get me anywhere," Tramontozzi says. Even words that may seem fairly clear, such as "template" and "prototype," assume different definitions across departments. To alleviate confusion, speak in concrete, lay-person language so you and your teammates understand one another's expectations.

Respecting the expertise of your teammates, creative and techie alike, is the foundation for success. Rather than roll your eyes when an editor interrupts your coding to correct a spelling error or when a techie holds you up while fixing another system bug, take pride in working with people who care so much about their jobs, even laud their efforts. Then discuss more effective ways to approach problems.

And, work continuously to improve interaction with your co-workers. Clearly indicating your expectations for a project at the outset is not enough-this communication must continue, especially when changes occur. Daryl Gonos, co-founder of WorkForce Management Group, suggests several five-minute "flash meetings" every day during important projects to keep teams abreast of changes.

No solution is foolproof, of course, and sometimes personalities and office politics simply clash. In these cases, it may help for an outside person to oversee the project, perhaps someone hired as the liaison between the creatives and techies, or a neutral party from a different department who can gauge when it's time to hash out conflicts.

Let's face it, we all have those moments when we imagine drawing on a co-worker's face with permanent marker, but a little consideration and compassion can help quell tempers. "You can't go into a meeting and start throwing around technical jargon and expect people to understand," says Paillen. The same holds true for chairs, white boards, and other office supplies. When frustration rises to the forefront, stop before you glare and suggest "taking it outside." Remember, it only seems as if some of your co-workers are from a different planet. Really, you're on the same team.

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