Renowned author Helen Keller (who was hearing and visually impaired) once said “Security is mostly a superstition…Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” It is my observation that the Technical Communication industry inherently attracts introverts. The detailed, complex, methodical, analytical work that can be produced in relative isolation once we complete our research is well suited for such people. However, there is also a risk of underexposure. Depending on a variety of factors including organizational behavior, management structure, and individual personalities the tremendous value of your local Technical Communicator can be grossly underrepresented.
Although she transitioned from this world in 2011, I’ll never forget the wisdom of STC past-president, Suzanna Laurent, who passionately explained that we are much more than just technical writers: “we are business people with writing skills”. Our ability to make information more useable and accessible to those who need that information, and in doing so, advance the goals of the companies or organizations that employ them is a tremendous asset. Yet, we seem more willing to advocate for our users than ourselves. The time has come for us to expose ourselves and fantastic value that we offer. We must make this case to our peers, our colleagues, and our superiors to advance our individual careers as well as the overall TCOM profession.
For some, the very thought of such self-promotion task is daunting. Many of us work faithfully for years, putting forth our maximum effort, producing fantastic deliverables despite impossible obstacles and wonder why others in the organization take us for granted. The reason is simple – lack of exposure. In his book, Empowering Yourself, Harvey J. Coleman explains that career success is based on more than excellent performance. Success is comprised of three factors: Performance, Image, and Exposure. All too often, Technical Communicators are perform exceptionally, but do not advance in their careers as far or as quickly as they could because of neglecting the I and E slices of the PIE formula.
Business is all about managing relationships. Exhibiting a professional image is essentially about trust and respect. Professionalism is adhering to a set of values which include meeting professional obligations, conducting oneself according to formal and informal codes of conduct, and meeting the expectations of everyone with whom we come into contact as part of our business role. Technical communicators often extend a great deal of consideration to SMEs, customers, developers, engineers, product managers, support personnel, but that consideration may not be reciprocated. If mutual respect seems nonexistent, you are overdue for an image makeover! It is never to late to turn over a new leaf. Learn more about your colleagues, share more about yourself, seek ways to insert yourself into new situations and apply your considerable expertise to address others’ pain points. Your image may suffer if colleagues lack information regarding your role, background, and how you can make improve the quality of their daily work life. You must also be willing to extend yourself socially. That means having lunch somewhere other than your desk every day and using corporate-sponsored activities to connect with your coworkers at a different level.
We must promote ourselves and our unique set of skills. Keeping abreast of the latest trends in content design and delivery, becoming the voice of reason when people are in a quandary about the best approach for communicating a message, and connecting with others across your organization, expands your knowledge base, fosters productive relationships, and increases the level of awareness for everyone. Be willing to take on special projects, test a new tool or process, or conduct a lunch-and-learn about one of the many topics that you can address as an expert.
Applying the PIE formula requires some effort, but is well worth the reward. You need only decide whether you want a daring adventure, or nothing.