Most companies require a level of professional training and development in a formalized setting that exist to groom employees with a proper level of etiquette. But, as with anything, there are gaps in the education. One area that is often overlooked is best practices around communication: in meetings, with superiors, with junior-level employees, and even surprise 1:1 meetings with executives.
Here are some tips that I have found useful and guidelines I try to live by in my professional interactions:
- Don’t start a question with “I have a question”: that’s pretty obvious, but it makes you seem as though you are stalling. In addition, don’t preface a comment by saying “this might be ignorant but…” or “you may have covered this already but…” You lose credibility by starting a sentence, question or comment in this manner; in fact, you have probably lost the audience and even the speaker’s attention. It’s a great habit to rid.
- Being engaged in a discussion doesn’t mean you have to add a comment or ask a question: People like to speak to hear the sound of their own voices, and that’s fine. But in a group discussion, if you don’t have anything new or insightful to add, it’s ok to be an active listener. In fact, repeating someone else’s point or commenting on something you know little about can backfire.
- Learn how to say no for the sake of prioritization: If someone asks for your help performing a task and you don’t have the bandwidth, be honest. Although your instinct probably tells you to be eager and say yes, you don’t have the time to do everything. I wrote a whole post about this here if you want to learn more. Being forthright about your time management and the reasons you are unable to help will resonate with the other person, and they will likely not exclude you from the next ask if you give them a sense of when you will be more able to help.
- Include the right channels on relevant communication, and be inclusive: If you are working on a project and forget to cc a key stakeholder on a meeting, that person will likely not be able to perform her job better and/or be insulted that she wasn’t included in the first place. It looks sloppy and breaks up the communication chain if you don’t take time and effort to ensure that communication is going to all of the correct parties. It is not safe to assume that because you forward an email to someone on the team, that the correct person will see the correspondence. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask if you’d like to be included in a dialogue.
- Know what you want in concrete terms before you ask for something: regardless of your level (from CEO down), if you want something and you need help, guidance, resources etc from a colleague, have a set of needs (in list form, if needed) and communicate them as such. The more specific you are, the more that other person can help.
- Have a purpose for every interaction: coffee conversations to formalized meetings should have some form of purpose or agenda. There are instances in which an agenda is expected and should be circulated. And of course there are more “informal” dialogues with acquaintances, potential mentors, etc. Even though a proper agenda isn’t necessary, go into the conversation with a specific set of ideal topics to cover or a reason for the meeting. If not, it’ll probably be a waste of time on both ends. And if the conversation becomes fruitful, don’t forget to follow up.
If there’s anything else I missed please feel free to tweet at me or comment below.