Speaking the Language of Career Advancement

By: Barbara Zolty
You’ve worked hard to get to where you are and your technical skills are top-notch. You are fluent in your area of expertise and can converse at length on the latest developments in your field. But do you speak the language of career advancement? Many of my clients come to me with stories of being passed over for a promotion and are amazed that the company has chosen someone with less technical competence. What’s going on? In today’s competitive environment, companies can no longer afford to promote individuals solely on their technical merits. Work projects are increasingly complex and often require collaboration with a wide variety of individuals both in-house and out-of-house. Delays and inefficiencies are often the results of poor communication, costing companies time and money. Therefore, companies are often reluctant to promote employees who are seen as “hard to get along with." Increasingly, companies are aware that high quality communication is a key attribute of high quality leaders. While technical skills will take you several rungs up the corporate ladder, the climb to the top requires taking your communications to a whole new level. 1. Take 100% responsibility for your communication. As a top-level communicator, it is essential that you take 100% responsibility for your communication. When you speak, there will be times when your message is not understood by the other person as you intended. Yes, it’s very easy to blame the other person and even make judgments about their intelligence. Yet, that brings you no closer to your goal of getting your message across and (even unspoken) judgments can seriously damage the relationship. As the communicator, it is up to you to re-package your message so that it is better understood. In the words of Intel’s co-founder, Andrew Grove, “How well we communicate is determined not by how well we say things, but by how well they are understood." When you take 100% responsibility for your communication you are more likely to build relationships of trust and rapport and get the results you want in the long-term. 2. Learn to listen, listen to learn. An often overlooked component of the communications mix is the ability to listen. In fact, the best managers are known for their listening skills. They understand that we each have two ears and only one mouth and that we should use them in that proportion! Although listening seems like an easy task, many people are guilty of having a duo-logue (where both parties seek only to get their own point across) rather than a true dialogue.

The best communicators are committed to listening not only to the words, but also to the deeper meaning behind them, known as the “meta-message." One of the most valuable shifts in thinking you can make while listening is to move from an attitude of judgment to one of curiosity. For example, if a colleague is talking about why they approached a project in a certain way (that you disagree with), suspend judgment for awhile as you really listen with openness and curiosity. Ask yourself questions that begin with the phrase, “I wonder." As you listen to his explanation for his decision, you may realize that you did not have all the information you thought you did and might even learn something. And even if you decide to do things your way in the end, you’ll have given your colleague the respect of true listening that will ultimately make it easier to work together towards a common goal. 3. Voice your interest in advancement. Many earnest employees keep their nose to the grindstone producing quality work day after day, hoping to be recognized for their contributions. The lucky ones have managers who reward their achievements by helping them get promoted. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Therefore, the first thing to do is make sure that your managers and other appropriate personnel know of your interest in advancement. Never make assumptions in this area. If you become aware of an opportunity for promotion, speak up, ask to be considered for the position, and take the necessary steps for application. 4. Be visible, be vocal. As a general rule, seek opportunities to interact regularly and serve as a liaison with other departments and work groups so that your name becomes known, especially to upper-management. During inter-departmental meetings, find opportunities to serve as chairperson or facilitator where appropriate. Yes, it may take more time, but if you’re serious about advancement, it is usually worth it. During these meetings it is crucial that you speak up when you have an important contribution to make and temporarily put aside any feelings of nervousness. Meetings, conferences and other industry events are also great opportunities for connecting with new people (or colleagues you may not know well) and letting them see other aspects of your personality. Since you’ve already impressed them with your technically savvy, put the shop talk aside during breaks and find out more about them. You may find that you share a passion for mountain biking, fine wines, or raising yaks! As you become known as more than just “that guy who works on the third floor," you will have added a new dimension to your relationship and it will help open doors if you need their support (or the support of their boss) on further projects or advancement. 5. Develop your public speaking skills. Fear of public speaking is the #1 fear among Americans, even ahead of fear of death. According to Jerry Seinfeld that means that at a funeral, you’d rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy! Your ability to speak on behalf of your company (or your department at an in-house meeting) will be a major step in putting you on the fast track for advancement. And you never know when an opportunity may arise. I have a client who rose quickly in her career when she stepped in at the last minute as the headline speaker at a conference when her boss became ill. Although some people are natural speakers, for most of us it is a learned skill. To increase your confidence and skills as a speaker, you may consider joining a Toastmasters groups or working with a communications coach to help you prepare for your public speaking opportunities. Advanced thinking for advancing your career. As with any skill, high-level communications is a learning process. Start paying more attention to your communications at work. If you are experiencing productive and enjoyable working relationships overall, that’s a step in the right direction. If your career is moving swiftly along, then you will know you’re on the right track. If you notice something is working, keep doing more of it. If it is not, forget that old saying that states that if at first you don’t succeed try, try again. The best advice I can give you is based on a quote from Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result." Whether in your communications strategy or in your technical work, be willing to step outside your comfort zone and do things in a different way. With this strategy, you greatly increase your ability to take your career to a new level and achieve the professional results that you want. ?Barbara Zolty, 2006

Careers and Job Hunting
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