Ask someone if they’re a good communicator at work, and 9 times out of 10 people will tell you they’re pretty good but will complain about their peers and managers being lousy at it—their boss never shares enough information, or shares too much.
The truth is, most of us can improve our workplace effectiveness exponentially by becoming better communicators on the job. My friend Jodi Glickman, author of Great on the Job, What to Say, How to Say It, The Secrets of Getting Ahead, offers these valuable tips:
Lead with the Punch Line
Mark Twain famously quipped, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” Everyone is short on time these days. We’re all being asked to do more with less. So when you have to update your team or post your boss, make sure you don’t bury the lead.
Think ahead about your message and instead, lead with your punch line—tell me upfront and center what is new, different or important.
Use the “Smart Ask” to Get Help
Asking for help in a smart way actually shows you to be thoughtful and demonstrate good judgment. If you’re given an assignment you don’t know how to do, consider the following:
- Be proactive and show enthusiasm for the project “that’s great, I’d love to take a crack at writing the business plan.”
- Ask for resources—a recent or good example, someone to speak with or an outline or template to follow, “I’ve actually never written one before, however. Do you have a outline in mind or an idea of the key sections you’d like included?”
- Offer interim steps or milestones—if there are no resources available to you, offer to spend some time putting your thoughts down on paper and come back to your manager with bullet points, an outline or a rough draft to get sign off on before going down the final path. “Why don’t I go think about the key sections and outline them for you. We can then review them and make sure you’re on board with my approach.”
The smart ask is all about setting yourself up for success by getting the resources and guidance you need upfront. Get your manager invested in the process early on and make sure you have sign-off on your approach before going down the wrong path. You’ll avoid lots of wasted time and energy by making sure you and your boss are on the same page from the get-go.
Communicate Expectations Clearly
How are colleagues supposed to meet and exceed your expectations if they don’t know what those expectations are? Whether it be timing or deadlines, information you want included in a report or the key outcomes you’re hoping to see in a strategic review, if you don’t tell people exactly what you’re looking for, you’re likely not going to get it. The quick and easy fix is to tell people what you want and when you want it. If you’re the junior employee, ask the pointed questions to make sure you know what’s being expected of you.
Forward Momentum is Key
Business relationships are all about momentum. The best conversations we have are the ones that lead to another conversation. When you’re getting off the phone or taking leave of your manager’s office, keep him posted on next steps. Offer to keep him in the loop on what happens next or promise to apprise him of a change in the situation. Let your boss know that you’ll close the loop when the final report comes in or ask if there’s anything else he needs from you. Always be thinking two steps ahead so your boss doesn’t have to.