Asking for help. Saying goodbye. Requesting feedback. They're all basic communication skills, yet employees often fail miserably when it comes to using them, says communications expert Jodi Glickman.
First a Peace Corps volunteer, then an investment banker, Glickman today becomes an author with the release of her first book, Great on the Job. The story of what to say and how to say it, the book is full of tips for communicating in the workplace, strategies Glickman teaches to business students around the country.
U.S. News asked Glickman to share some of that advice with our readers. Excerpts:
Why write a book about personal communication when online networking is all the rage?
Even though online networking is all the rage, business still is and always will be a personal thing. I wrote this book because I believe that more than ever, face-to-face, one-on-one conversation is the key to success at work. You will never close a deal via email. You will never hire someone via video or email.
I think of technical proficiency in whatever your job is as your baseline of competency. Then, in order to be a star performer, you need to be able to talk to people. You need to be able to sell your ideas, you need to be able to build consensus, you need to build rapport and trust with people. And all of that happens from one-on-one personal dialogue.
What are the most common mistakes you see people make when it comes to communicating at work?
Junior people [are often] afraid to ask for or get the help they need … If you're working on something and you either can't finish it because of time constraints or because you don't have the appropriate resources or know-how, you need to fix that problem … Say to your manager, "Look, I'm really excited about this project, I'm new at working on it, I want to produce a stellar product for you. Here's what I need to get the job done well" ... Those conversations don't happen as often as they need to.
You write about the importance of mastering the hello and goodbye. Are you saying a simple "Good morning" doesn't cut it?
It may, in certain situations … When you start a phone conversation with someone, the way you start the call is your introduction, your purpose for the call, and the key question. And the key question is, "Do you have a minute to speak?" I'm sure you've received a call from someone when they started talking and you weren't expecting their call or ready for their call, you maybe didn't want to speak to them, and all of the sudden you're thinking, Oh my gosh, how do I get off the phone?
Being generous when you begin a conversation with someone is giving them an out. [Ask], "Is this a good time to speak?" [Or] "Do you have a few minutes?" If they don't, [say,] "When is a good time for us to catch up?"
And on the goodbye, the goodbye is not an ending. It's a beginning. It's all about keeping that door open for future conversation … [When] you finish a conversation, you say, thank you, [and] you normally thank them for their help. If they haven't been helpful … you thank them for their time, no matter what.
How do you keep the door open?
Keeping the door open is [saying], "Thanks so much, it was great speaking with you. I look forward to keeping in touch. Would it be okay if I shot you my contact details?" [Or] "Please let me know if you have any additional questions for me" or "I may reach out to you and have some follow-up questions" … It's all about, what's the next step?
When you train business students, what are some of the tips you give them?
When you need help halfway through a project, I always want you to take a stand and have an opinion on the right course of action. It's important to ask for help. There's a caveat, however. If you're asking for help on something you're working on, I want you to come to me and tell me, "Jodi, Here's where I am with this project. Here's what I think the right course of action is, and I want to get your thoughts on whether or not I'm going in the right direction."
So your request isn't totally open-ended?
The strategy is, start with what you know, state your intended direction, and then get feedback, thoughts, or clarification. Because what that does for me is it shows me you've put some thought and judgement into the process ... If you come to me with a decision and I agree with you, how do you look? You look smart. If you come to me with a position and I disagree but you've given me your rationale behind it, I still think you look smart. If you come to me and say, "Jodi, what should I do?" What do I think? I have no idea whether or not you're smart. So take a stand, take a position, and then ask for feedback.
How could people who are looking for a job apply your advice?
The last part of the book is all about the personal elevator pitch … The strategy I use is destination, backstory, and connect the dots. What I mean by that is when you are looking for a job, I always find it interesting when people start by saying, "Hi, my name is Jodi Glickman. I studied social policy at Northwestern, and then I went to work at the EPA, and then I went to the Peace Corps, then I went to business school. And now I'm looking for a job and I think I want to go into brand management." I'm pretty bored listening to that. [Instead, share] your destination first. Tell me what you want to do or where you're going first. Then tell me where you came from, then connect the dots.
Everyone goes in reverse chronological order and it makes no sense … It's not relevant. I only care about what's relevant. When you start the story with where you're going, it's so much more compelling ... I don't care what you've done most recently, I want to know what's relevant to the job you're hoping to get.
How should you respond when someone asks you a question you don't know the answer to?
Here's the strategy. [Say,] here's what I know, here's what I don't know, here's how I'll figure it out. A lot of people don't answer a question that way. They say, oh, you know, I don't know, or I'm not sure, I'll have to get back to you. What I always say is, I know this, I don't have that exact piece of information, but let me go get it for you right away. Boom, boom, boom.
Any final thoughts for U.S. News readers?
The best news of all is that you can learn this stuff … The conventional wisdom has always been that communication skills, you either had them or you didn't … [But] you can learn this and you will absolutely, 100 percent do better on your job.