Data pros: Here's how to be a better business partner to non-technical stakeholders - Technical.ly Philly

Professional Development

Sep. 10, 2020 3:27 pm

Data pros: Here’s how to be a better business partner to non-technical stakeholders

To improve professional communication skills, above all, a good tech or data expert needs to be curious.
Professional communication is an important skill for technologists, too.

Professional communication is an important skill for technologists, too.

(Photo by mentatdgt from Pexels)

This is a guest post by Rajvi Mehta, Women in Data — Philadelphia's regional sponsorship lead.

Skill-Based Learning is a series brought to you by Women in Data — Philadelphia that highlights different skills required for being successful in data and tech and offer resources for you to start learning. This week, we are focusing on understanding your business partner.


As someone who is working in technology or data — or would like to work in technology or data — it should not be news to you that your biggest and most important clients will be teams outside your own technical organization. This line of work often involves building relationships with the “business folks.”

Although professional communication is considered a soft skill, it is an extremely important soft skill. (You might have heard of the stereotype that introverted people make the best tech or data experts, or read blogs that start with “How to improve …”) The resources below will help you become a better business partner by way of improved communication.

Harvard Business Review calls data science the art of persuasion. This art begins with building a strong relationship with your stakeholders, asking questions — wait, scratch that; asking creative questions — empathizing, building a model, and sharing those insights with the stakeholders.

Out of all these steps, the easiest one is to build a model. A good tech or data expert needs to be curious. Ask questions, even if you’re worried they sound stupid. Think of yourself as becoming a mini expert in your stakeholder’s field. One of the easiest ways (and a personal favorite) to understand a stakeholder’s problem or even a problem that your team might be trying to solve is to keep asking, “Why?” Remember, you are trying to learn their business better, not trying to prove anyone wrong.

Practical solutions

McKinsey’s famous PIP approach stands for “Purpose, Importance, Preview.” In this approach, the speaker first states the purpose of the presentation, the importance of the solutions observed, and finally the solutions. Spending some time in learning the business acumen (which is very different from technical acumen) might help your case.

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Books

There are multiple books that offer a short communication course. “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey is a classic and talks about building empathy with your business partner. “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman is a bestseller that talks about strengthening your creative solutions. Lastly, “Talk Like TED” by Carmine Gallo is another classic book to read if you are interested in improving your communication skills.

Virtual courses

Although this is a skill that only gets better by practicing and gaining some real-world experience, we recommend this Coursera course offered by The Wharton School.

Other resources

Join a local community (Women in Data, perhaps?) that will let you network with business professionals in your field. Find a mentor or someone that you truly admire for the way they build those connections with their business partners.

Any relationship depends on open and effective communication. Overcommunicating is highly recommended in our field. What we offer to our business partners is unique, if we make it easy for our partners to work together, we will achieve our goal of using data to build effective business strategies.

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