For the last two summers I’ve had the good fortune to speak at “intern day” for one of our Clients.
I recently found my flipchart from last summer’s session and thought some of what we talked about that fun morning applies to any of us doing leadership skill training (for college students, up-and-comers and seasoned veterans alike) or building leadership communication programs.
9 Communications Tips Every (Young) Professional Needs to Know
- Listen – We all need to spend WAY less time talking and A LOT more time listening. And I don’t mean just keeping your mouth shut for the sake of keeping it shut. I mean ‘really’ listening. Listen to what’s being said, and what isn’t. Listen for clues about office culture and politics. Listen for instructions about how to do your job best. Listen for ways you can add value beyond your job description.
- Ask Questions –If you don’t understand something, if you don’t know the deadline, if you don’t have a crystal clear picture of what is expected of you, then you need to be asking some questions. You are the only person responsible for your success, and if you don’t know how “work gets done” in your organization you will not be as successful as you could be. Asking questions shows you are engaged in the conversation, shows you care about what’s going on around you and shows you are interested in opinions other than your own. I’m not suggesting you become an interrogator or ask questions just for the sake of having something to say. All I’m saying is seek clarity when necessary and show an interest in what’s going on around you.
- Understand Email Etiquette– Never EVER put something in an email that you wouldn’t want displayed prominently on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper or forwarded to your mother. Your work email address is not private or personal. Have a game plan for managing your inbox. Is there a system within your organization for how information is filed? If so, learn it. If not, build one for yourself. A former officemate was able to clear her inbox every day before she left (I still envy her blank screen). I speak from experience when I say you will be more productive, less stressed and more valuable if you manage your inbox instead of it managing you. Also, learn how to send succinct messages. Email generally isn’t the best place to send paragraph after paragraph after paragraph of information. Send the supporting documentation as an attachment. The best messages are succinct and leave little room for misinterpretation. Remember, you only have the written word – no hand gestures or tone of voice – to convey your message.
- Have a Healthy Relationship with PowerPoint – Use PowerPoint slides like billboards instead of magazine pages. A simple rule of thumb: 6-10 words per slide, max. This is supposed to be a visual AIDE – not your complete presentation. Practice your presentation – more than putting the slides together. And, unless the words are in a foreign language that only you know, stop reading your slides to your audience. They already know how to read. Finally, have a backup plan. There may not be a projector. Your computer might fail. Your edits didn’t get saved. The email with the presentation didn’t arrive. Be ready to rock regardless of technology.
- Prof Reed Evrything, Twyce – nuf saed. Are those numbers accurate? Is there a typo in the first sentence, or anywhere for that matter? Is there a gaping hole where you meant to fill in more information later? Spell check doesn’t catch words that are spelled properly but in the wrong place. It also doesn’t catch words that are inadvertently left out. Errors impact your reputation – even the small ones. Ask someone to review your documents, re-read your email before you hit send, send a preview copy to check links and formatting – take the time to be as accurate as you can possibly be.
- Really Know Your Boss’ Style – How does your boss prefer communication from you? Is it OK to interrupt her day with questions or do you need to get on her calendar? Can you send him an email or would he prefer a conversation? Does she like lots and lots of details or does she prefer an executive summary? You will be more successful – in every area of your life – when you communicate with people the way THEY want to be communicated with. For ultimate success at work – know your boss’ preferred communications style inside-and-out.
- Always Say Thank You – Your mom probably taught you to say thank you at a very young age, are you still taking mom’s advice? Make it a habit – right now – to send thank you notes, preferably handwritten ones. It’s amazing to me how many people don’t even say thank you – and even more amazing to me how many people don’t send notes any more. Email thank yous are nice, but an actual handwritten, addressed and stamped card is sadly a relic. Don’t be a relic, be a rock star and send thank you notes as often as you can. And here’s a tip: the biggest opportunity for thank you note sending that’s so often overlooked it’s ridiculous…after a job interview. Really want to set yourself apart from the other applicants? Send a well written, thought-filled thank you note.
- Know How to Network – Knowing how to network is a game changer, and it’s not about having the most business cards in your rolodex or contact list. It is about having real relationships with real people and helping others achieve their goals whenever you can. Networking opens doors. Networking finds you new – and repeat – business. Networking makes your job more fun. And the key to networking is being focused on the other person first: listen, ask good questions, and make connections whenever you can.
- Don’t Be ‘That’ Guy/Girl – Please remember, you are not THE smartest person in the room. When it’s all said and done, I don’t care how many degrees you have – or don’t have; I don’t care how many spelling bee words you use – or don’t use; I don’t care how many books you refer to – or don’t refer to…all I really care about is how you treat people and how you communicate with me. Everyone has something to share. Everyone. You can learn something from every person you come into contact with, but only if you intentionally seek their knowledge. Don’t be the person that looks down on others; be the guy/girl who lifts others up – no matter where they are.
- (Bonus) READ – I know I said 9 Things…but the other thing you must do is read. And when I say read, I mean read everything you can get your hands on – in your industry and out. Knowledge is power (see The Think System). Read to learn. Read for fun. Read fiction. Read magazines. Read blogs. Basically, read as often as you can. You’ll be a better conversationalist, you’ll be a better writer and you’ll be an even bigger asset to your organization.
Solid communication skills will help you move up the proverbial laddar; and they’re critical if you have aspirations of coaching and mentoring others or ultimately of an executive leadership position.