I came across a study that was done over 10 years ago, titled ‘the power of who gets heard, and why’.
Deborah Tannen, an expert in the field of socio-linguistics, unearthed interesting findings, including deep-seated biases that prevent professionals from attracting the attention that they need to get their careers to the next level.
This resonated deeply with me. About two years ago, I had a conversation with one of my mentors.
As part of my annual self-evaluation, I was taking stock of where I was, (career and brand-wise) vs where I wanted to be.
Given that we had served on a corporate board together, he was the perfect person to give me an unbiased evaluation.
What is your point?
Don’t walk into a meeting without clearly sounding off ideas in your mind. Then speak clearly, even–toned and look confident about it. Any nervousness will take away from your idea. Also, avoid being long-winded.
Cut to the chase and only explain in detail when asked to clarify something.
Nice guys/ girls don’t finish first. And they pay a price for being good. Rule followers almost always don’t progress much in their careers.
Why? Because most things in life, especially roles of great responsibility have a bit of a risk. And how are people going to see your creativity.
So if you have a brilliant idea that you think works, raise it, don’t second guess it because you think it doesn’t follow the norm.
Do people trust you?
Do you promise something and deliver? Do you keep your word?
Credibility, an extension of one’s reputation, is one of those things that is difficult to define or measure, but we know it when we see it. What is the link then, between communication and credibility?
Think about building a personal brand and about one person who you admire. It is likely that they have leaned on various forms of communication to cement their credibility whether it is on stage as an expert, in print or on screen.
Communication does not just comprise what and how we say it. It also includes ability to manage expectations, self-awareness and likeability or how well we connect with people the first time we meet them.
Managing expectations is especially important as it feeds into the integrity with which people view us (do you deliver on your commitments and do you do what you say you’re going to do every time?).
How many times do you find yourself so intent on formulating a response to something someone has put across that we completely miss the next three minutes of what they are communicating?
Being a good listener is a vital skill whether we are dealing with people senior or junior to us in the workplace. If you find that you are one of those people who gets easily distracted, take short notes that you can use later. There is one caveat though – notes should be with pen and paper and not via an electronic device as this will only increase the distractions you are trying to avoid.
Are you a negative Joe?
There are a million ways of communicating a challenge in the workplace. Are you the person who goes to the most negative scenario as soon as a project hits a bump, bringing everyone’s morale down?
Or are you the team member who acknowledges a challenge while looking for ways to resolve it?
The tone with which you infuse your spoken and written communication will earn you the reputation of whiner or problem solver before you even realise that your colleagues were picking up on these nuances all along.
Do you look like you know what you are talking about?
Speak confidently and clearly. A Harvard Business Review report showed that in the workplace, women are more likely to downplay their certainty, and men are more likely to minimise their doubts.
As a current or aspiring team leader, it is key to notice which category you fall into. However, it is even more important to identify whether you have these nuances in the teams you supervise.
This will ensure that you groom the right team member for coveted roles as opposed to just those that speak the loudest and sound most confident.
Why we communicate the way we do
Communication is not just about what you say, it is also about how you say it. According to Deborah, how we use language is a learned social behaviour; how we talk and listen are deeply influenced by cultural experience.
For example, from a gender lens, certain ways of speaking that are learned in childhood affect assessments of confidence and competence, alongside who gets credit, who gets heard and what gets done.
Not understanding this cultural context can not only be frustrating but also very damaging.