Journal of Management Information Systems

Volume 10 Number 4 1994 pp. 159-182

Establishing Mutual Understanding in Systems Design: An Empirical Study

Tan, Margaret

ABSTRACT: Effective communication is critical to the development of mutual understanding between professionals and their clients. The processes by which this mutual understanding is achieved, however, are not well understood. This article reports a study of the communication behaviors of systems analysts when they work with clients to determine systems requirements. The study hypothesizes that three key processes shifting perspective, managing transaction, and establishing rapport-affect mutual understanding. Twenty-eight systems analysts employed in government departments in Australia participated in the study. Their verbal and nonverbal behaviors during the interview with the clients were recorded on video-and audiotapes. These tapes were then analyzed using a content analysis method together with the perceptual responses obtained from interviews with the system analysts and their clients. The findings suggest that, while there is great variability in the communication behaviors of system analysts, there are nevertheless discernible styles and patterns of effective communication. The study has both theoretical and practical significance. It suggests that effective communication is the outcome of complex processes that are influenced by the personal and situational characteristics of the participants. It also provides clues for better-designed communication training programs. The findings of specific effective verbal and nonverbal behaviors can be incorporated into these training programs to improve the communicative behavior of systems analysts (and also other professionals), and so help them establish mutual understanding with clients.

Key words and phrases: content analysis, effective communication, knowledge elicitation techniques, mutual understanding, protocol coding, systems analysts-client communication, verbal and nonverbal behaviors