Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Your #1 Career Tool

This may be a bit of a cliche, but it also happens to be completely true. Your ability to communicate is your #1 career tool. And no, I am not talking about that throw-away phrase people often put on their resumes or include in job descriptions: "excellent communicator" - that phrase has no real meaning. I am talking about specific skills and abilities that together mean that you are able to get your point across and get others to deliver what you need.

Work place communications are comprised of several sub-categories. I am not going to talk about all of them in one short blog post, but let me highlight a few of the important ones for you.

Learn to Speak in Public - Being able to speak well in front of a crowd is a vital skill for anyone who wants to develop their career beyond the realm of their own private cubicle. I am not just talking about giving speeches and presentations at professional conferences, I am also talking about delivering a coherent and well presented proposal to a room full of your colleagues, and a range of situations between those two extremes.

I don't frequently experience stage fright, and while it would be inaccurate to say that I am completely immune to it, it is not something that I feel acutely. However, I have seen many others get tongue tied, flustered or simply ramble on incessantly when they are placed in front of a live audience. Not good.

I am not going to go into an entire lecture here about how to be an effective public speaker, but I will say this: if it doesn't come naturally to you, then it's all about the practice. If you are uncomfortable speaking in front of people I would strongly recommend taking that challenge head on. Joining Toastmasters could be a good place to start.

Make Judicious Use of E-mail - a frequent method of modern corporate communications, e-mail is one of the most abused tools known to mankind. There are two pieces of personal philosophy I would like to share regarding e-mail: first, if you have any doubt don't send the damn e-mail. If you constantly hit the "reply all" button (which should be banned, by the way), you are not a good communicator, regardless of the content of your e-mail. Also, becoming a corporate spammer is not a good strategy for getting your point across. Send fewer e-mails and make them count. Second, get to the point. Corporate communications is not about showing everyone what a hard worker you are or how good a writer you are, it's about getting people the information that they need and doing so fast. Think about that before you hit the send button.

Give the Information that is Requested - you know how when you ask some people what time it is, they explain the history of watchmaking? There are three specific individuals in my company that fall into this category. One of them is a senior executive. Folks, this is not helpful. Here is my suggestion: if you are asked a yes or no question, the first word that should come out of your mouth is EITHER a "yes" OR a "no". If you then want to add more information, do so parsimoniously. If you are asked an open ended question, start with the basics. I may ask follow-on questions if I need more information, but don't force feed me raw data please. It's not helpful.

Make a Personal Connection - by far the most important type of business world communications are personal interactions. Whether you are holding a face to face discussion with your boss, or you are delivering a performance review to one of your team members, it's all about making a personal connection. In this type of setting there is one rule that I hold above all else: sincerity. There is nothing worse than coming off as phony.

Each one of these could be - and actually is - the subject of many books and articles, and perhaps I will tackle some of these in more detail at a later date, but for now this will do. Short and sweet.

On an unrelated note, later this week I will announce the first give-away / competition in Money and Such history. It will be career related, and I think it will be fun. Stay tuned.

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LandoRefiancing said...

I also want to recommend just talking with whoever about anything as a way to build up your communication skills.

Sometimes we get cooped up and antisocial. We need to break outta this and just make conversations with strangers.

Ask about what book to read to people in the book store, ask for directions or the time even if you know them already.

Master the art of small talk.

frugal zeitgeist said...

I joined Toastmasters last year to become a better communicator. Highly recommend it.

Doctor S said...

@frugal zeitgeist I have been wanting to join toastmasters for a long time and found a local chapter near my work.

Most of the time we see people give speeches that are really good at work, that is the main reason they reach those positions in the first place. Then we see those presentations by fellow crewmembers that make us just cringe b/c they violate basic rules of speaking. After 2 undergrad courses and 2 grad courses in it, I still feel I need more work.

Shadox said...

Lando - I am all in favor of talking to folks, but personally I dislike the small talk. It just feels phony to me.

Finance Phi said...

This is the only time I feel like my English degree has given me an advantage over others in a professional setting. Communication is huge.