The human factor: How communication skills drive data center success

Written by Jennifer Reininger 

The data center industry is built on long-term relationships. Our leases are typically several years long and our relationships with vendors are potentially endless. There are no get-rich-quick schemes, you’ve got to stick around.

Our industry has grown a lot over the last few years but we still operate like a small village: everyone knows each other and word travels fast. Consequently, relationships must be nurtured and nourished constantly – your reputation depends on what others think of you. 

Communication with your clients, vendors, and landowners must be solid from day one and remain consistent throughout the relationship or it will meet the same fate as any other relationship with a broken connection. 

Take infrastructure developers, for example. In many ways, developers are the foundation of the business because without them there would be no land to build on. So having developers who can connect with people and build relationships effortlessly is pivotal to success. 

These skills are equally as important inside your company. While our industry wouldn’t be anywhere without the technical expertise that makes the magic happen, clear communication is what makes a company thrive. 

Bad news is welcomed
My colleague, Juan, has a great quote that he repeats to his team all the time: “Bad news is welcomed, surprises are not.” 

We want to know the bad news as soon as possible because we can deal with anything so long as we know about it. After all, we’re a solutions company. Solving problems is what we do. 

A data center with exceptional communication skills will always outperform one surviving on technical prowess alone. You could have the best technical expertise in the world at your disposal but if no one has communicated the problem to them nothing will be done.  

Welcome bad news. Avoid surprises at all costs. 

The skills to lead
Positioning people with good leadership skills at the helm of every department is critical to success. Most of us would rather follow a confident leader who isn’t technically gifted than the other way around.

Someone who communicates clearly and builds relationships effectively can hire technical people and bring out the best in them. But a leader who struggles to get their team to work well together will see their productivity suffer. 

Our Executive Vice President of Global Design and Construction, Laramie Dorris, builds relationships like no one I’ve ever seen. As a result, his team is loyal and works hard to meet ambitious deadlines.  

A leader who communicates effectively inspires people to do their best work. Technical knowledge alone isn’t enough. 

Level up your communication
Here are a few tips to improve your communication and build better relationships. They’ve served me well throughout my career. 

When reading these tips be careful not to fall victim to the complexity bias. This is our tendency to prefer the complicated over the simple. We often struggle to believe the solution to our problems can be simple so we seek more complex answers.  

These tips, while simple, are extremely effective. Try them for yourself and see what happens.  

Acknowledge the human factor
Remember that the person you’re talking to is so much more than the role they are playing at work. 

 At the start of a meeting, I always ask people about their family, their hobbies, and any recent events I know about. It sounds simple but you’d be surprised how effective it is to start a meeting by asking a client how their kid’s baseball game went. 

By acknowledging they are a real person you let them know that you’re a real person too. It helps them understand your motives beyond the deal you’re discussing. 

Determine their needs
It’s important to determine what someone’s needs are – either personally or professionally – so you can put their minds at ease and give them what they want. But people rarely come right out and tell you what they need, so how do you find out? 

There are many things to watch out for, such as body language clues and verbal indicators. However, one of the simplest ways to uncover someone’s needs is simply by listening to what they continually circle back to throughout the conversation. 

For example, if a client repeatedly mentions the timings while we’re talking, they might be concerned about our ability to meet the deadline. As we continue talking I might provide proof that we’re capable of meeting their deadline and at the end of the conversation, I might ask specific questions to find out what else they want to know. 

I’ve also found that asking, “Is there anything we can do for you?” helps people feel like their needs are more important than the other aspects of the conversation. They almost always relax a little after being asked that question. 

Share and share alike
Want people to open up to you? Go first. If you open up and share first, people will usually respond in kind. 

A general rule of thumb here is to talk about your challenges, weaknesses, or faults. People will be more comfortable opening up if you talk about the challenges you’re facing rather than rattling off your glowing list of achievements.  

Blend in
Everyone wants to feel like they belong, especially among the people they work with. So I always try to match the persona of the people I’m meeting so it feels as though we’re part of the same group. 

The tech industry is, generally speaking, relaxed. You can see this reflected in people’s demeanor and the way they dress. I keep meetings with these types of people casual and laid back. However, if someone wants to get straight to business, I’m happy to oblige.

This is not to be construed as manipulation. I’m simply adapting my personality to suit the situation, just as I would dress and behave differently in a Michelin Star restaurant than I would at my local pizza parlor. 

Striking a balance
I’m an extrovert. I love people and I’ve always been good at connecting with others. Those qualities make me good at my job. But I’d be the first to admit that an entire team of people with the exact same personality would be a nightmare. 

Yondr is good at balancing a team. They take advantage of people’s strengths and balance them with people who have the opposite skill set or personality. 

This approach allows everyone to focus on their strengths, knowing their weaknesses are covered by someone else in the team. 

The hard find
It’s possible to train people to improve their communication skills, but doing so is a slow process. It’s easier to hire people who already know how to communicate and build on their natural talent. 

If you’re one of those people, there’s good news: you don’t need prior experience to thrive in the data center industry. 

Last year, I recommended someone I knew for a role at Yondr. They had zero experience of the data center industry specifically but what they did have was excellent relationship-building abilities, a strong work ethic, and a desire to learn. We found a role that would suit them, trained them up and they’re excelling.  

This trinity of social skills, a strong work ethic, and an appetite for education are increasingly hard to come by. So if you feel like you fit that criterion you must recognize that you’d be a great asset to our industry. We’d be lucky to have you.

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