Potomac Tech Wire

13 Workplace Communication Tips Today’s Young People Need to Know

“Real-World” Advice for Generation Text

By Ben Carpenter

If you’re a recent college graduate or young professional, the first thing you probably did when you landed your first real-world gig was text your best friend, post the news on Facebook, or tap out 140 clever characters to tell the Twitter world about your accomplishment. What you probably didn’t do was pick up the phone and call each of your buddies or craft an email announcement to send to all your friends and family.

I’m not surprised. Personal and professional experience has shown me that most Millennials communicate primarily via texting and social media. And yet, email and phone calls are the primary methods of communication in the business world. Hence my question for you: Are your written and verbal communication skills going to cut it in the big leagues?

Young people are entering the workforce with great educational backgrounds, but often, those backgrounds didn’t include a lesson in writing work-related emails or conducting a productive phone call…or even a face-to-face meeting!

In business, relationships are built the old-fashioned way: by picking up the phone and checking on a client, for instance, or by taking your boss to lunch to pick his brain about a new project. Without better communication skills, young people entering the workforce will really struggle to solidify the relationships they’ll need to learn, grow, and succeed.

Here’s what young people entering the big leagues need to know about communication:

Play monkey see, monkey do. If your boss consistently calls you into her office whenever she wants to ask a question or assign a task, it’s a good idea to schedule a face-to-face meeting with her whenever you need to discuss something. If a certain client regularly calls you back to answer questions you asked in an email, start picking up the phone yourself instead of composing a note.

Make a note of how your colleagues and clients communicate with you and mirror their behaviors. This is an easy and effective way to minimize frustration and misunderstandings. Remember, part of being a good communicator is knowing how the other person prefers to interact with you.

Know when to connect without a screen. If an issue is complicated or sensitive, pick up the phone or talk face to face instead of lobbing emails back and forth. Whether personally or professionally, we’ve all experienced how easy it can be to misread an email or misunderstand its tone. Speaking with another person in real time has a way of clearing things up and keeping people on the same page.

Make the rounds. We all know to network when looking for a job. But when that coveted “You’re hired!” finally arrives, most people cut back on cultivating their professional connections. That’s a mistake.

Introduce yourself to all of the people in your office or department when you start, even if you don’t think you’ll be working with them directly. As you move forward, it’s fine to use email and internal messaging services, but make sure to have regular conversations with your colleagues, too.

Be proactive (especially with your boss). Don’t assume that because your clients and coworkers aren’t asking questions, they are on the same page as you. Part of being a good communicator is anticipating what others might need or want from you and proactively providing it. Don’t make the people you work with ask for updates, reports, and information. No one likes pulling teeth!

Always, always respond. Letting emails slide or allowing voicemails to pile up is a major faux pas. The individuals who didn’t receive a response will remember what they perceive as dismissiveness, or even a lack of respect. Over time, this can do major damage to your reputation and cause you to be passed over for the most important career-building tasks.

Always respond to your boss, coworkers, and clients as soon as possible, even if you have to stay at your desk a few extra minutes at the end of the day. Certainly never let 24 hours pass before responding to an email or returning a phone call. Even if you’re still looking into the issue, let the other person know that you got their message, you’re working on it, and you’ll keep them posted.

Don’t withhold information. If there is something your boss needs to know, tell her, even if you think she might react badly. If you made a mistake, admit it, even if you’re dreading the consequences. If a client asks a question you don’t feel comfortable answering, ask your boss how to respond, but don’t prevaricate or (worse) ignore the client altogether.

Waiting, avoiding, or withholding won’t make difficult issues go away; it will only make things worse once the truth does come to light. You’ll come out looking untrustworthy and incapable, labels you do not want attached to your career. Even if you’re in the wrong, others will appreciate and respect your honesty when you’re open and up-front.

Listen carefully. Yes, much of being a good communicator involves being open and proactive. But there are some things you should avoid saying, either in person or over email. In addition to blatantly inappropriate words and topics, you should primarily avoid asking unnecessary questions.

Pay attention so that you don’t miss out on important pieces of information. Read your emails carefully. Put in a good-faith effort to find an answer or solution yourself before bringing your issue to someone else’s attention. Remember, in business, time is money.

Be clear and specific. In the workplace, you don’t have to fit everything into a 140-character limit. So without being excessive, take the time and/or space you need to be clear and specific in your communication. Insufficient or vague information isn’t just unhelpful; it’s downright frustrating!

Don’t make assumptions or expect people to read between the lines. Try to anticipate questions people might have and provide answers up-front.

Practice your verbal skills. There’s a big difference between talking and effectively communicating. Words can come out of your mouth for minutes at a time without accurately describing what you’re thinking or without engaging the other person’s attention. Remember, promotions and accolades come to those who can build relationships with clients, negotiate, and express themselves well.

Think before you speak or type. We’ve all seen the news stories: An ill-advised tweet or Facebook update goes viral. Sometimes, it may damage “only” the perpetrator’s reputation. Other times, it directly contributes to the end of a career. Don’t let this happen to you! And even if social media doesn’t enter into your workday, email or verbal comments can have the same effect.

On a smaller scale, words that are less catastrophic, but still unwise, can cost you respect and opportunities. If you’re agitated or upset, wait a few seconds before firing off an email. Take a few deep breaths before throwing your two cents into the conversation and think through the ramifications your words might have. Just because you can say something doesn’t mean you should.

Avoid conflict. Fighting in the office or getting involved in “work drama” is a bad idea, period. It makes people unhappy and unproductive, and is a huge waste of time and energy. Most importantly, it can make others unwilling to work with you. There are two things you should avoid in particular while you’re on the clock: complaining about your job and badmouthing your coworkers.

Don’t overshare. As a new employee, you’re probably eager to make a good impression on the people with whom you work. And certainly, building relationships at work is a great thing to do. But remember, your boss isn’t your buddy. Your coworkers aren’t your friends. Your conversations with them should differ from the conversations you have with your non-work pals.

Don’t just admit mistakes. Show you learned the lesson. As a new employee, you’re going to make mistakes despite your best efforts. Your new boss and coworkers accept that. How they respond to your mistakes, though, is largely up to you. First, ’fess up when you mess up. This isn’t anybody’s idea of fun, but it’s important to be honest if you want to retain your coworkers’ goodwill and respect.

Then, take your confession a step further by demonstrating that you have learned a lesson. Remember that actions really do speak louder than words. Your organization will value employees who take it upon themselves to learn and grow from their mistakes, instead of trying to sweep them under the rug.

When you enter the working world, you’re immersing yourself in a new communication environment. Think of it as visiting a foreign country and adopt a “When in Rome” strategy. Remember that in the big leagues, your reputation is just as important as your skills and abilities. Do everything you can to protect it by communicating in an appropriate, efficient, and clear manner.

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About the Author:

Ben Carpenter is author of The Bigs: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals About How to Find a Great Job, Do a Great Job, Start a Business, and Live a Happy Life (Wiley, April 2014, ISBN: 978-1-118-91702-2, $25.00), available at bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, and direct from the publisher by calling 800-225-5945. In Canada, call 800-567-4797. For more information, please visit the book’s page on www.wiley.com.

Check out additional free content including excerpts, videos, and blogs at www.thebigswebsite.com.

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