The things we do at work matter, but our achievements alone don’t necessarily add up to a successful career. For people who have reached a certain level of success through sheer hard work (as many high-achievers do early on in their careers), this can be a hard lesson to learn.
After all, if you’re putting in long hours and knocking critical tasks off of your to-do list every single day, shouldn’t you be the most successful person on your team? Unfortunately, many people reach a plateau in their careers because their hard work doesn’t carry them forward the way it used to. So what’s missing?
Communication and influence.
Why communication and influence matter
Have you ever worked on a project, only to have somebody else get credit? Have you ever brought up an idea to your manager again and again, but the message seems to go in one ear and out the other?
Being able to communicate, convince, and influence the people around you is an essential part of becoming someone who gets promotions, raises, and access to opportunities.
Some people think this means that you have to get good at politics. “Politics” tends to carry a negative connotation, especially in the workplace. You imagine underhanded coworkers who cozy up to managers, take credit for other people’s work, and exploit connections to get ahead. But that’s not the social approach we’re talking about here.
We’re talking about acknowledging the fact that you work with other human beings. By forming strong relationships, you make yourself, and the rest of your team, stronger and more successful. Great teams run on trust and understanding, and strong leaders know how to build and enrich those important connections to get amazing things done.
So how can you become a powerful communicator and influencer? Try these 4 step:
1. Learn people’s goals, pains, and priorities.
The more you understand what different people need, the more effectively you can communicate with them.
Think about it: if you’re organizing a big meeting, the information you need to communicate to your office manager will differ from what you need to communicate to the CEO. They have really different jobs, and therefore, really different priorities and needs when it comes to the meeting. Talk to the CEO about lunch orders and conference room reservations, or your office manager about product specs, and you’ll be wasting their time.
Turn this around to when you’re planning your own work priorities. You shouldn’t just think about what you want to get done this week. Also spend time learning what managers think is most important, what is stressing them out, and how you can help alleviate their biggest pains and deliver more wins for everyone.
Your work will be more impactful. And if you’ve got a different idea of what’s important, knowing people’s biggest goals will help you clarify your priorities in context.
2. Speak their language.
The easiest way to get someone to see your point of view is to step into their shoes to understand how they’d like to receive it. Think about how people prefer to get and process information and then tailor your conversations to their preferences rather than yours.
After all, if you’re not a morning person and someone bounds into your office at 8 a.m. wanting your feedback on a big presentation — are you likely to be as positive and helpful as you would be after a cup of coffee and a few hours to settle in?
Whenever you are going into a conversation with someone, try to consider their biggest communication challenges and preferences. Do they have trouble focusing in 1:1 meetings? Send them a followup email so they have the details and can respond to you more effectively. Do they need to know how every decision affects the team budget? Do this research in advance so you can move the discussion forward.
3. Prime people to receive your message.
If you have a plan or an idea that requires other people’s buy-in, you don’t have to wait until your big presentation to start winning people over to your side. In fact, by having conversations about your ideas beforehand and gathering information, you can tweak your message to improve its reception when you finally do present it.
For example, let’s say you want to institute design critiques for your UX team. If this is something they’ve never done, you may need to do a fair amount of convincing to get people to see why they should change their normal routine.
If you wait until a meeting to talk about your ideas for the first time, you’ll be hitting them completely cold. They’ll have to process all these ideas for the first time, and many people’s first reaction to change is usually a big NO — which could mean an unproductive or even counterproductive meeting.
If you talk with people before the meeting, though, you can prime them for your message. Say you talk to other designers about their pain points — “Have you ever had a final design rejected? Did you wish there was a way to get feedback earlier in your process?” — you’ll get a sense of what parts of your plan will be most compelling. You can present your idea in a way that both addresses the biggest pain points and maximizes the likelihood of acceptance.
Plus, others who aren’t excited about the idea will be able to bring smarter, more complete arguments or feedback to the meeting table. This will make the conversation more productive and ultimately move you closer to implementing the changes you want, even if they’re slightly edited.
4. Help people.
If you only exert energy to advance your own projects, you’re missing out on opportunities to build trust and appreciation with your peers that’ll move you miles ahead of where you could get by yourself.
Research has shown that when you do a favor for someone, they feel an urge to return that favor to you. Every time you help a peer get a last-minute project done or make a helpful introduction for them, you are building up trust and goodwill with that person that can be reciprocated later on.
When people feel like you are there for them, they will be there for you. Help build a community at work and support people. More often than not, they’ll support you back. It’s a pretty awesome cycle when you think about it.
By becoming a stronger communicator and influencer, you’ll build stronger relationships with the people around you and be in a better position to level up your career. Great communication and supporting others are ways to show your leadership and as you begin to rack up wins for your team, you’ll be a much stronger candidate for promotions, raises, and other growth opportunities.
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Image: Daniela Hartmann/Flickr