Be a better communicator
Tips from Great on the Job
Have you ever dealt with a great salesperson? Say, a vacuum-cleaner
salesman who notices the cat hair on your sweater, takes 30 seconds
to enumerate the pros and cons of a model in your price range, and
says, “You could upgrade, but you’d be paying $70 for three extra
feet of cord.” You’d intended to price all the competitors' models
first, but instead you buy his vacuum on the spot.
A good salesperson considers your needs, is honest and straightforward, and offers appropriate solutions without wasting your time. In the workplace, good communicators do the same. (You are, after all, trying to sell something: your idea, performance, or availability for promotion.)
In her book Great on the Job (GOTJ, see review here), communications consultant Jodi Glickman, MBA ’02, dissects common work situations, and explains how to optimize your communications to get the results you want. Glickman, who has worn many hats, including stints as a Peace Corps volunteer and a Wall Street investment banker, says that her varied experience has helped her distill the elements of effective communication into a few simple rules. “I always had a steep learning curve to master, so I had to get really good at asking questions and figuring things out,” she says. A few examples:
How to ask for feedback.You corner your supervisor on her way out and smile, “So, how am I doing?” She blurts out “Fine!” and sprints for the exit because she’s late picking up her daughter from daycare.
GOTJ approach: “Nancy, do you have time to discuss the client presentation I’m giving tomorrow? I’ve been working on communicating hard data in an understandable way. I know you’re busy, so I want to work around your schedule.” After your feedback session, you ask for concrete ways to improve, and thank her. You follow up after you’ve had time to digest her suggestions. In this scenario, you consider her needs, save her the trouble of wondering what to discuss, and show that you’re serious about her input.
How to field questions you can’t answer.Your boss asks you how much market share your leading competitor had last quarter. You stammer, “Uh, sorry?”
GOTJ approach: “Well, their ad campaign is very strong, and so are their numbers. I want to say 15 percent, but that might be off a point. I’ll have numbers for you before lunch.” Thus, you provide useful information and show your ability to think on your feet, as well as your willingness to go the extra mile.
How to admit you screwed up.You realize that the report you sent to your client has an outdated chart. You hope no one notices.
GOTJ approach: “Peter, I just realized there’s a mistake in the report. I forgot to update the real-estate trends before printing it. Should I call the client, or send the updated version and tell them to disregard this morning’s e-mail?” Thus, you take responsibility for your error and offer viable solutions.
Whether you’re asking for a plum assignment, managing a crisis, or hobnobbing with the CEO, the principles of effective communications are the same: Consider what you want to accomplish; put yourself in the other person’s shoes; and make your case clearly, accurately, and succinctly. Your results will speak for themselves.