Want to Get Ahead? Learn How to Communicate

Alden Wicker

How do you interview an expert on communication? Very, very self-consciously.

But we took the plunge and called up Jodi Glickman, founder of the successful firm Great On The Job and author of a new book by the same name, so we could find out her secrets.

Glickman has coached everyone from business school students to Wall Street associates on the art of communicating well. She also has an impressive pedigree in talking her way to success. She scored a job at Goldman Sachs even though she had a C+ in finance class, and that was the first in a string of jobs her communication skills helped her nab, despite being less qualified than the other candidates.

We asked Glickman how we could do the same and were rewarded with a gold mine of smart advice and exclusive strategies for LearnVest readers that will totally impress your boss or subordinates.

How important is communication to doing a job well?

In today’s digital age, the importance of face-to-face communication cannot be overstated. In a business relationship, you need to make a positive impression in person, because it is very hard to show how insightful you are by email or by voicemail.

Jodi GlickmanDo women communicate differently than men do in the workplace?

I don’t think we should, but we do. Women apologize more often, which is not a good idea. If and when we do apologize, it needs to be short and sweet and to the point. Women also use more qualifiers. Women should hedge less and be more assertive.

But I think there are a lot of things that women do well: making sure everyone is heard, including everyone in communications and giving credit to colleagues. (To learn what it’s like for a woman working on male-dominated Wall Street, read this.)

What if someone works in a relaxed job like, say, waitressing or acting? Do these tips still apply?

The answer is yes. But you are certainly influenced by your environment. As a waitress, which I was for some time, everything is urgent and happening in real time. If there is a bigger issue, then you can go to your boss, and say, “I’m having this issue, can we talk after close tonight?” Overall, be generous in any environment. Adjust your communication style to the other person’s.

What is the most common communication mistake you see people make?

There are so many of them! One is that people don’t ask for the help they need, which is really detrimental to a person’s career. You can ask for help and still look smart by being proactive–enthusiasm goes a long way. “Here’s what I’m thinking…” or, “I’m going to give you an idea of how I’m going to work…” or, “What are some resources I can use?”

Do you think saying the word “like” too often hurts your career?

Yes, especially in professional environments. There are certain tells that give you away, and “like” is one. First, it shows you’re young, and second, it shows you as wishy-washy. It’s an easy one to axe from your vocabulary if you think about it.

What if someone is nervous around her boss or colleagues and keeps flubbing?

If you’ve got to share info with your boss, practice with your mirror, as silly as it sounds, or with a colleague. Or, email your boss the key points and then have a follow-up conversation.

What are three things young employees could do right now to improve their communication?

First, lead with the punch line. Start the conversation with what is new, different or important upfront. If you don’t have anything that is new, different or important, you don’t have anything to say. Second, always ask people if they have time to speak. Third, keep momentum at the end of every conversation. State where this conversation is going and keep the door open.

I think young people today are hiding behind email. You need to have the confidence to go have a conversation with your boss or client.

Any advice for new graduates?

Introduce yourself when you start a new job. Take it upon yourself to do that right away.

In your experience, what’s the one thing people seem to have the biggest challenge with?

Being assertive and speaking up in the workplace. I think young people today are hiding behind email. You need to have the confidence to go have a conversation with your boss or client. If you’re sharing information, if you’re asking for help or if you are raising a red flag or alerting people that there is a problem coming down the pipeline, it’s important to do that in person.

What if you have a boss who doesn’t like interruptions?

In that case I would communicate mostly by email. You have to ask your boss if she would like to have your email communications bundled. It is a great question to ask your manager: “How would you like me to communicate to you?”

So many workplaces are moving to an open format where nobody–including managers–have their own office. How can we deal with this?

The best thing to do is to ask the question, “How do you want me to handle it if I have a question?” Everyone’s work style is different. I personally don’t like to be interrupted all day. You should still assume there are some boundaries and knock on that fake wall and ask if they have 15 minutes.

Won’t your boss tell you how they like to be communicated with?

The responsibility is on you as the employee to make sure you are communicating effectively with your boss. God bless if your boss does that, but many don’t. You need to take the bull by the horns and ask, “Hey Jodi, we’re going to work together. How would you like me to communicate with you?”

You’re a boss yourself. Have you made a mistake recently? How did you handle it?

Yes, I have. I failed to communicate expectations for a new employee on scheduling hours. I realized after the fact that I had been overly vague. So I had to eat crow, if you will, and say, “I didn’t lay things out clearly enough for you, but here is what I need and here’s how we can make it work.” It was an uncomfortable situation, but it worked out. I couldn’t have done that by email. You can’t fix anything by email.

What’s something embarrassing you’ve seen someone do? What could they have done to turn it in their favor?

I have seen people break down and cry over a work issue. It makes everyone around them so uncomfortable. People just don’t know which way to look.

If you are going to lose it, if you feel it bubbling up inside you–rage, anger, disappointment–you need to excuse yourself immediately, say, “I need to take ten minutes for myself,” and get the heck out of that room.

Speaking of being upset, what advice do you have for someone who has just been let go?

One: You need to keep your head held high. Two: You need to be gracious, and thank people for the opportunity. Keep the doors of communication open and don’t burn bridges. I am never of the mindset of telling off the employer, or saying, “I hated this job anyway.” You may need a reference letter or your old boss may wind up being a colleague at a new company. The best thing to do is to take the high road, try to stay and talk to other employees and try to get a reference letter.

What if you have some serious grievances about how you were treated at the job? Is it worth telling your boss about them?

I think it is. Have a conversation with the manager and frame it as, “This is to help you with people coming through the door.” Don’t do it to vindicate yourself or make her feel bad.

I worked at the EPA, and I thought the head of my group hadn’t been good at giving me feedback and acknowledging my work. When I left, I said, “I think you lost a talent here, and had you acknowledged my work and recognized my talent, I might have stayed. So I think you need to do that.” He was shocked by that. But I framed it as, “I’m moving forward, but I’m giving you feedback so you don’t repeat the same mistakes again.”

Should someone’s communication style change as they move up in the ranks?

It is as important for a junior person to be a great communicator  as it is for a senior person. All the good communication you do as a junior person, you just do more of.

(Be happier and more productive at the office–learn how to “manage up.”)

Ace the Interview

Learn what to say to impress your next boss

Tell me something that you should never, ever say to your boss.

You should never challenge your boss’s authority in public. It is one thing to disagree with your boss, but if you think that your boss is wrong or has said something wrong, you never say, “You’re wrong: here’s what is right.” That is a disaster. If you really think they screwed up, have a conversation in private and have it in a non-confrontational way.

It’s really common these days with technology to make a major faux pas by sending an email or IM to the wrong person (see: Weinergate). What advice do you have for this?

My short answer is, don’t ever type anything inappropriate in an email or text. It is the most unprofessional thing you could ever think of. If you are going to be sending something like that, do it from a home account, from a home computer. I have no sympathy.

Point taken! But let’s say someone did make that mistake. How do they clean it up?

The biggest mistake that Anthony Wiener made was lying. When you screw up at work, the worst thing you can do is deny it. The best thing you can do is take ownership, acknowledge it and say you will never do it again. Cut the discussion off at the knees.

  • Helen

    I think her tip to ask for help when I need it is the most useful for me. I work from home now, so there’s no one around to observe when I’m struggling. I need to let my bosses and co-workers know when I need some guidance and support. There’s also an out-of-sight-out-of-mind mentality, so I need to remind them I’m still here, working hard for them.

  • Lnrreece

    I like the idea of starting out the conversation with what’s new!  My boss or his boss often great me with “what’s new”? so now I’ll be on the same page!

  • Jazmonpoole

    Great interview! As a recent college graduate entering the workforce for the first time, I must say that I feel completely aloof. This article really helped my perspective. I think the most beneficial tip that you have given is to stop hiding behind technology as a form of communication and step out if your comfort zone by communicating face-to-face with your colleagues. I personally need to really work on that.

  • Chris W.

    I love the point you made of letting the boss know your grievances and framing it out as being helpful in his/her handling of future employees. When I was gainfully employed (before kids) my boss was very critical and didn’t accept others ideas very well. Because of this, he would butt heads easily with employees and many didn’t stick around for long. He would have been shocked, too, to hear from any of them what they thought of him! Haha. There were definitely ways we all (including him) could have communicated to make the business run smoother. Loved this article.

  • Audra

    I appreciated the advice about giving feedback to the company for the benefit of future employees.  I am preparing to leave my current position.  I have been asked to take on management level responsibilities in my current (non-management) position.  I requested a meeting and expressed to my boss how I was grateful for the new opportunities I was receiving.  However, I also expressed that to accept these new responsibilities permanently I would like a title and salary change appropriate to the new job requirements.  I was told that change would happen.  Last week I was told I didn’t have the experience, until I graduate from my MBA program next year, to justify the title change.  I feel like the company is missing an opportunity to retain an experienced employee of six years.  I will have to think carefully about how to provide the feedback and not seem offended.

  • http://www.bmwysp.deviantart.com Jennifer Megan Varnadore

    Communication is definitely a very important factor in everything you do, and I personally need to work to be better at it, due to my low confidence levels in my self-esteem.

  • Libertylady52

    I really like the one about not putting anything in an email that you wouldn’t want blazoned across the sky.  To me that is just good, common sense, which isn’t  all that common these days.

  • sassy

    So many great tips! I completely agree with speaking directly to management and not hiding behind emails. I’ve made that mistake in the past. I would say my greatest challenge is speaking up and making myself heard. Not that I sit quietly in a corner, but I feel like I’m not taken seriously even though I know I am more qualified than others.

  • babyface133

    I totally agree that saying the word “like” a lot of times does not present someone as professional, but being young should not be something to be presented as something negative.

  • iWork

    I find most of the tips very insightful however I find the comment about “never correcting your boss in public” a little drastic. I won’t shy away from correcting my boss (especially if it’s a man) to make sure we come off stronger as a team rather than shying away “respectfully”. There’s a way to make a point with tact and stand out, it doesn’t have to be condescending per se. And it goes vice versa for my team. 

  • iWork

    I find most of the tips very insightful however I find the comment about “never correcting your boss in public” a little drastic. I won’t shy away from correcting my boss (especially if it’s a man) to make sure we come off stronger as a team rather than shying away “respectfully”. There’s a way to make a point with tact and stand out, it doesn’t have to be condescending per se. And it goes vice versa for my team. 

  • KG

    I agree with Jodi’s suggestions as they relate to communication; including”Everyone’s work style is different. I personally don’t like to be interrupted all day. You should still assume there are some boundaries and knock on that fake wall and ask if they have 15 minutes.”

    Jodi’s direct approach in communication is appreciated.

  • Chrys

    The framing of feedback to your boss upon leaving the agency was very proactive. As someone who appreciates constructive criticism myself, this example demonstrated the appropriateness in an often awkward situation. Great article and can’t wait to read more!

  • Ora

    “This is to help you with people coming through the door.”  How to act graciously after being fired…having the courage to speak up so that the next person is treated better.  Wow!  I did that once.  I hope someone after me received benefit from it.  It wasn’t easy, but I’m glad I did it.   

  • Oreilia

    I’ve read what you mentionned, but how do we apply your advices in an environnement where managers dont know what they’re doing and keep changing rules and procedures without any communication  ? And also what if the environnement is hypocretical and is 65% based on being a yes man, sucking up to whomevver is in a position of power and where hypocretical/sniky moves and unfair approaches are being conducted when an employee does something wrong. How do you play that game and still b able to ask for a reference letter?

  • Miunomuchacho

    Reading both the great questions from LV and the truthful and knowledgeable answers from Jodi Glickman left me with a feeling of hope and knowledge to improve myself in situations at work. 
    The question which resonated quite deeply within me was, “serious grievances of being treated unfairly on the job”.
    Ms. Glickman’s answer resonated deeply within me, as I was treated quite unfairly everyday
    while recently working on a film. At end of six weeks of very abusive behavior from the head of the department, I spoke with calmness and clarity of how my work was never appreciated or acknowledged, as she was not able to see how hard I was working or the good job I was performing. 
    Yes, I had to hold me head high as I left the job, thanking everyone I had worked with over the past six weeks. I knew burning bridges was not in my character, and never a good way to leave any situation in life. How you say things in life can be a life changer either with a positive impact or negative.

  • Alf9280

    This is so interesting. And, I completely agree about never writing something inappropriate in an email or text to a colleague; very unprofessional.

  • misha

    I’m a manager and recently a person from my management team gave their notice. After that person was gone, it was amazing how much information started coming out of the woodwork (so to speak) from my staff. However, the headache had only started for me. I was spoken to by my boss, based on information from this past employee, now this employee is coming into the workplace (retail) looking for dirt. I updated my boss regarding the reappearance of this individual and was told to relay to the staff to not discuss business with this person. Upon doing so, one of my newer employees “bit my head off” when I relayed this information, and took it further to my superior, resulting in ME receiving a verbal warning. I am totally confused as to how this got so blown out of proportion, and angrier yet that this past employee has once again, continued to create “drama”. How do I put this behind and move forward with my staff? How do I prevent this from happening again?

  • Emilia

    I can’t recall where I saw this one day, but I think it was on TV showcasing a white-collar woman trying a more “relaxed” job for a day to compare–like waitressing or retail or something like that. And to everyone’s surprise, her new-found duties were no less stressful! She basically came away saying that there’s no such thing as an “easy” job. However, I would like to add to that–after observing coworkers and other folks at work–people can make jobs “easy” if they want: by putting forth the least effort, or being extremely and effortlessly talented, or being privileged (perhaps even shady) enough to have other people do the job instead. But those extremes can make or break a job.

    So I’m not sure if relaxed is the proper term–unless its a code word for anything that’s not in the world of business or finance…

    As far as adjusting conversation style, it has been painful for me, as I wanted to create camaraderie with my new boss. But I soon discovered he can be very curt and blunt–which is my complete antithesis (that is, when I’m comfortable)! But I eventually adjusted since I remembered that a lot of bosses don’t want to be too close and personal with their subordinates, and for good reasons. Now, this is my preference for interaction with him as well, because I’ve come to terms with its aid in curtailing office romance/flings, or favorites, or enemies!

    And I totally agree with that personal account/device. I mean, we’re human…but time has taught me that a lot of assumptions can be made based on the types of sites