Today, I spoke to Jodi Glickman, who is the founder of communication training firm Great on the Job, a regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review Blog, and author of Great on the Job: What to Say, How to Say It, The Secrets of Getting Ahead. In this interview, Jodi talks about technical skills versus soft skills at work, how to get help from your manager, tips on asking for feedback from management, and more.
How do you weigh technical skills versus soft skills in the workplace?
Technical skills are obviously important. I consider them the “check the box” skills— i.e. what you need to know to do your job well. You need to be technically proficient in your job no matter what. But that’s your baseline, not your endpoint.
What technical skills won’t do for you (unless you’re in a highly specialized field) is set you apart from your peers or help you get ahead. Technical skills can only take you so far. Communication and people skills, on the other hand, are the ones you’ll need to differentiate yourself, to build relationships and ultimately to help you become a leader.
Equally important, you can buy technical expertise (take classes, study, get mentors) but, as Roberto Goizueta, former Chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola said, you can’t outsource communication—you’re going to learn to have master it on your own.
What is the best way to ask for help from your manager without looking dumb?
Asking for help in a smart way shows that you have good judgment (I get worried when I give someone an assignment I know they don’t know how to do and they don’t ask for any guidance). The key to asking for help is to acknowledge that you’re enthusiastic or excited about a task or project and then ask for some additional resources or guidance to do a great job—a recent or good example of a report, or a recommendation of someone to speak with who’s done something similar before.
If there are no resources available, create benchmarks or milestones to assess your performance along the way. Involve your manager by asking her to sign off on a rough draft, key bullet points or an initial outline before handing in a final document. Get her involved and invested in the process—there’s nothing worse than handing in a final document that totally misses the boat. You’ll just have to go back to square one and start all over again—it’s an absolute waste of time and resources on everyone’s part.
Why are people so afraid to ask for feedback in the workplace? What are your tips for getting feedback and who should you ask?
American Idol’s Simon Cowell captured the country’s attention by speaking his mind freely and doling out harsh criticism regularly. But people don’t like to hear they’re not doing a good job and ultimately, the fear of bad news keeps people from asking for feedback.
The real goal of feedback, however, isn’t to make you feel good, it’s to make you better at your job. The best way to get meaningful feedback is to plant a seed in advance with your manager instead of asking for it on the spot (“Hey Jonathan, how’d I do?”) No one can be expected to give constructive, insightful or helpful feedback on the spot—you simply won’t have the time to think about crafting your message in constructive way.
Instead, let your boss know that you’re going to want some feedback as you work through an important project. Go ahead and schedule a feedback session in advance. Get in on the calendar and give your boss specific areas that you’d like feedback on. That way, he can plan his comments thoughtfully and give you constructive feedback.
Planting the seed in advance and asking for specific areas of improvement will avoid the awkward and uncomfortable on-the-spot conversation that will leave your boss feeling pressured to sugar coat the truth or fail to give you constructive pointers.
When constructing an effective elevator pitch, what should you include and how long should it be?
Your personal pitch should be short and sweet. The goal is to pique someone’s interest and then have them ask you questions to clarify or dig deeper into your background once you’ve reeled them in.
The most important thing about your pitch is to start off with your destination—where are you going, what do you want to be when you grow up, what’s the next career move you’re trying to make? Most people start off by reciting their resume in reverse chronological order, which is pretty boring. I don’t care so much about where you went to school or what you did right out of college. I’d rather know what your current career goals or objectives are then have you pick out relevant pieces of your background to show me that you’re qualified to do what you want to do. Tie it up by connecting the dots for me—the future, past and now the present—how does it all fit together and make sense?
Is it possible to succeed at work without being a good communicator? Why or why not?
It’s probably in limited circumstances—but it’s a lot easier to be successful when you’re a great communicator. Business is, and always will be, a personal thing. If you can’t connect with others, how are you going to close the deal, get the promotion, talk your way out of a mishap or just generally advance your own cause? No one cares more about your career than you do—you’ve got to be the one advocating for yourself.
Great on the Job talks about four key concepts—generosity, initiative, forward momentum and transparency. They are the GIFT of Great on the Job. If you’re generous and you share credit and information readily, you consider other people’s agendas and you try to make your colleagues’ lives better or easier, people will want to work with and for you. If you’re transparent people will trust you. And if you take initiative and always think about forward momentum—moving the ball forward, thinking two steps ahead so you’re boss doesn’t have to, following up with a client after a big win to see what else they need, you’ll be the superstar people will come to rely on.
All of that boils down to good communication skills. If you’re holed up alone in your office producing stellar work but not creating, building and nurturing good relationships with people, it will all be for naught.
Jodi Glickman is a former Peace Corps Volunteer (Chile) turned investment banker (Goldman Sachs’) turned communication expert. She is the founder of communication training firm Great on the Job, a regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review Blog and the author of the upcoming book: Great on the Job: What to Say, How to Say It, The Secrets of Getting Ahead (St. Martin’s Press, May 2011). You can follow her on Twitter at @greatonthejob.