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How to Communicate Effectively at Work and Move Up the Ladder

Were/are you the smartest student? Do you have lots of friends? Did you believe that you wouldn’t be as successful as some of your peers? I did. If you are into your career now you are no doubt realizing that the technical or focused areas that you studied during school do not seem to come into play as often as you thought. The realization that you need many more soft skills in life are becoming very apparent, in fact it’s normally these skills that move you forward in your career! 

Have you ever noticed how some people continue to move up the chain even though they are not necessarily the most skilled in the workplace? Many of these people have the unspoken soft skills that allow them to communicate clearly and effectively. Other groups in the company enjoy working with them and even request them be placed on certain projects knowing the sort of input/output they can expect to receive. Truth be told I was not the smartest student in my classes, I was not the most talented, I was not the most studious but I did understand subjects enough to discuss them intelligently and would always volunteer to present to groups. I went to engineering school so one can imagine using the typical “engineer” stereotype that we are a sheltered crowd of awkward antisocial annoyingly logical hermits. This is true for many of us and at times all of us, but some know how and when to turn it on and off. During group projects there would always be a final presentation that must be given to the class, and of course no one in the group would want to present, but you absolutely must take this opportunity! I always volunteered to present and take the pressure off of my team members. I have a slightly deep and louder voice allowing me to speak clearly where the class could hear me, I also made sure I knew exactly what I was talking about, which meant understanding the subject, and if I didn’t then I would talk with my team members until I felt comfortable. Everyone has some sort of strength in your group or team and the group must find it and utilize it effectively. Volunteering to speak whenever I got the opportunity gave me the confidence to continue to do it over my career, and to understand my process for relating material to the crowd in some way. Today I have no problem speaking in front of others given adequate time to prepare, all while understanding my purpose for delivering the information. 

Moving up in your career using communication

I am not afraid to admit that I have moved up in my career rather quickly by placing about 80% of my focus on communicating clearly. That’s right I said it! If you can communicate properly across multiple team functionalities then people will enjoy working with you and when they like working with you then you get more jobs, projects, etc…more jobs more responsibility…more responsibility more promotions…and so on. There is an excellent book on this subject called “How to Win Friends & Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. If you have not read this book then stop reading this post and go read it or listen to it on Audible or something, just get that information in your brain! The book is a bit dated but still totally relevant and I would dare say even more relevant today due to the lack of actual face to face communication between people. The title of the book should not deter you, it isn’t suggesting that you cannot make friends! Anyway, just read it, I digress. I do want to say that I very recently used some of the concepts in this book and without asking my hotel room was upgraded to a huge two bedroom suite! Also when I went to get lunch I got a free beer (a craft local IPA to be exact!). This type of thing does not normally happen to me so I have to credit it to smiling and being very polite and friendly! Try it, what do you have to lose?

One aspect that makes communication easier is of course whether you are delivering good or bad updates to a certain project or task. Anyone can deliver good news and many people in the work place will fight for the right to be the one to communicate it, however you will be a much more respected communicator if you can also deliver bad news with the proper poise. The key to delivering bad news whether to an internal or external customer is to be honest because yes, honesty is the best policy. I have had managers in the past whom were afraid to tell the customer the truth about a certain situation i.e. behind on production, bad test of a product, employee being over-resourced with other tasks. The truth is that if you were on the other side what would you rather know? Would you rather someone spend their time making up a lie or would you rather hear the truth and just move forward? I would rather move forward knowing the truth because every company/industry faces similar issues and they really do not have a choice but to understand. Of course some individuals will believe that they should be priority but of course that is everyone’s mindset so if they are realists then they will understand and try to help the situation. On a flight from New Orleans to Los Angeles there was a feisty flight attendant who was very entertaining and friendly, she was one of those who made you laugh while giving the safety briefing before take off. The flight attendant started the briefing by saying “I have bad news, there is no WiFi on this flight” the whole plane lets out a collective “Awwww!”. After stating the bad news the flight attendant states, in a slightly sarcastic voice, “You guys will be alright, most of you were around in the 80s and 90s!” This was well received by the passengers including myself and the bad news just blew over. The point is she was honest and delivered the bad news with some comedy. The worst kind of news a customer (internal or external) can get is NO NEWS! Please remember that people hate being left in the dark when it comes to priorities, tasks, project updates, and especially changes. Just get the information out there so everyone can work it together!

Let’s Review Some Key Do’s and Don’ts (Dont’s…Do Nots…however you say that)

Do

  1. Be Honest! Some bosses/managers may not like it but trust me it will further your career and reputation with those who will really help you succeed in the long run.
  2. Over-communicate! not necessarily in person but at least via email, read your customer and what sort of communication they like.
  3. Show Ownership! I have been around those who try and always blame others and it is embarrassing as a human being. Own your decisions, hell, own your teammates decisions (if you were involved of course) and show them you have their backs!

Don’t

  1. Try to Solve all issues without help from your team(s). Make sure to get all necessary parties involved as early as possible so the solution can be prepared carefully. Remember be proactive not reactive!
  2. Talk only about what you want or what you need. Make sure to offer something of value to others. People are naturally concerned with what affects them so if you only talk about what you need instead of relating benefits to others then people will be less likely to help you and to be honest less likely to want to work with you.
  3. Communicate with everyone the same way. Let’s be honest with ourselves, the saying “different strokes for different folks” absolutely applies here. There are many different personalities out there and not all of them respond to the same angles.

The point is to just communicate! It’s that easy. Just talk and provide information.

Good Luck!

-Matt

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