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The Number One Soft Skill You Need To Thrive In Your Career

As you prepare for your future, are you equipping yourself with the right tools?

Workin' Girl

You just started your first job out of college. What you prepared for your entire life to jumpstart your career is this very moment. You've set performance goals, and you've started your list of senior leaders you plan to set lunch dates with, but are you communicating well with your manager? As you prepare for your future, which can be next year, next week or even tomorrow, one thing we all forget to take ownership of is our communication skills.

How we communicate is vital in our growth and will be a pain point in your formative years in your career.

"As new grads starting their first job out of college, communication can be your greatest asset or challenge," shared Meredith Moore Crosby, author of "Getting Unstuck: A Guide To Moving Your Career Forward", a guide on how to advance at work. From emails to phone or in-person meetings, the way you communicate in a corporate setting doesn't come with your degree. It's on the job soft skills you pick up from managers, peers, and companies, but it's a skillset some organizations expect you to have right away.

Crosby is a communications expert who managed teams at Verizon, McDonald's, 3M and Comcast and understands how communications can be pivotal in "navigating the unwritten rules" of corporate America. "It starts with the understanding [that the rules] exist and getting clarity early about what your manager and the people who can decide your fate at work [want]. Whether you get promoted or fired all depends on how you react and communicate," she shared.

Here are her tips for working through communication challenges that present themselves at work:

Understand how your manager communicates.

"Most of us hope to work at our first real job for a while. Your first job is where you'll develop skills, friendships, and habits. Often the company culture shows up in how people communicate, so the first few weeks can be difficult while you learn the unwritten rules," shared Crosby. She advises that you open communication lines with regular one-on-one meetings. You create a road map to how you'd like to communicate your progress or challenges with your manager.

She suggests you assess how your manager interacts during the early days of your new job by asking these three questions:

  1. How do people get more information on the direction?
  2. How would you like to give me feedback on my work?
  3. How will I know if I am off track or missing your expectations?

Ask for clarity when you don't understand what your manager wants.

Sometimes the directions our managers give us aren't always clear. However, we often hit a crossroad when considering whether to ask for clarification or figure it ourselves. Will our manager think we are incompetent if we don't understand our assignments? But what if we work on the task inefficiently by doing the wrong thing?

To help with understanding your work, Crosby suggests you ask for examples, templates, or expectations when you receive new assignments.

"Take time when getting new work to reconfirm the expectations, timeline, and what to do if you have existing priority work," she explained. She suggests asking for clarity before agreeing by saying, "Thanks for the opportunity to work on this! I was working on XX as we discussed in our weekly one-on-one, should I switch gears and focus on this based on when you want to see something?"

Remember written communication can follow you.

Emails and messaging software like Slack are like social media. Even if you delete it, it can't be unseen by others, and it can be printed or referred to over and over again. "Remember, it's a written document that can come up in legal issues in the future. Never joke, be sarcastic or make comments you wouldn't want to clarify in a court of law," Crosby shared. Her three tips for managing email communications at work include:

  1. Be respectful, kind, and conscious of the timeliness of your email. When in doubt, talk in person and resolve an issue or opportunity immediately.
  2. Use bold to highlight actions and don't be afraid to resend friendly reminders if you don't get a response.
  3. Get an email buddy. Ask them to review your message for tone, clarity, and to make sure you aren't getting distracted by your perspective.

Find a mentor.

There's always that one person at work who sends great emails and gives excellent speeches at work. They capture your attention every time they speak at a meeting or send an email. If you have identified that person at work, Crosby believes that that person can be a mentor for you.

"Find a role model and if possible, build a relationship, and you can potentially cultivate a mentorship where you can get individual feedback. In the meantime, consider how they would respond in situations where you might feel stuck."

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Featured image by Shutterstock

Originally published on September 2, 2019

This article is in partnership with Xfinity.

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