Cultural relativism, in contrast, holds that the hidden assumptions, specialized vocabularies, and patterns of thinking and response that make up a culture are adaptive -- they make sense in the context within which they evolved. Cultures are what they are for a reason, which is that they help their members get through the day.
When anyone in IT interacts with any employee in any other part of the organization and it turns out they don't think and speak about the world the same way IT does, that doesn't make them wrong. Or right. It makes them different, which means these conversations are opportunities for IT employees to broaden their horizons. If IT staff learn to ask instead of tell, the results will be transformational. Take this question, for example: "The way you're approaching this is quite different from how we do things in IT. Can you explain it to me?"
Learn their vocabulary
Do you get as annoyed as I do when someone complains about IT jargon? Of course we have jargon. And the usual complaint about it -- that it's a secret code we've invented to close ourselves off and sound more important -- is a perfect example of us-vs.-them tribalism, only with us on the receiving end.
The complaint is ridiculous, because our only alternative is inefficient communication.
Take, for example, the question, "Are those data structures normalized?" For two IT professionals, using "normalized" saves at least 500 words of tedious explication.
Every culture in your company has its own specialized vocabulary, just as impenetrable to us as "normalization" is to them. Fortunately, the solution is simplicity itself. All you have to do is to ask what strange words mean -- and familiar words that sound out of place, too.
Imagine that the word in question is "axolotl." If you really want to emulate anthropologists, you can ask a couple of additional questions, beyond the definitions. Here are three that can be quite useful. One, "Are there different kinds of axolotl?" Two, "What are axolotls composed of?" And three, "What attributes do you use to describe axolotls?"
MoT stands for "Member of Tribe." Outside the business world, most people have learned this rule, sometimes the hard way. It means that if you're Polish you're allowed to tell Polish jokes and use the ethnic pejorative for Poles. If you're Irish, you aren't, but for you Irish jokes are in-bounds.
Inside the world of business, the same rule applies to anyone who wants to avoid a poisonous clash of cultures. Accountants get to call each other "bean counters." We don't. We get to call each other "propeller heads" (or, for that matter, "geeks"). Accountants don't.
Right about now is when folks start to complain about political correctness, but really, when it comes to establishing a production relationship with colleagues, it's just plain common sense.
This story, "ECease fire! End the war between business and IT," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bob Lewis's Advice Line blog on InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.