3 More Communication Tips for my Younger Self

Dear me

I recently shared the first part of this series, called 4 Communication Tips for my Younger Self, featuring these tips, along with personal examples from my own career journey:

  1. Give people something to react to
  2. Don’t ask…recommend
  3. Tailor your text
  4. Questions are great…at the right time and in the right place

I was thrilled to hear from many readers that the content resonated (a.k.a. I was/am not alone…HINT: we never really are!) Not being one to keep good gems to myself, especially if they can help others charge forward, shine, and conquer the world (or at least nail that presentation to senior management at 2 pm!) here are a few more tips to chew on.

1)   If your project takes a detour, it’s okay

Early in my career, I used to be surprised – and sometimes fret – when I received bad news related to a project I was leading. Whether it was legal putting the brakes on an advertising claim, or a supplier not coming through as promised, or an internal partner executing something different than what was documented – I didn’t understand that it was normal (or at least not fret-worthy) for a project’s progress to follow a zig-zag pattern – or even a figure 8! I now believe straight-line A to Z initiatives are the exception, not the norm. As silly as it sounds, I didn’t quite understand that “Plans” – even pretty PowerPoint ones – are not set in stone. Circumstances change. Challenges change. Outside factors change. Inside factors change. Leadership changes. Goals change. And yes, plans change. And it’s our job to adapt and continue to move forward.

Now, when I receive unexpected news about my project needing to make a U-Turn, it’s not as…well…unexpected. As my manager recently shared: Sometimes you plan to make a pineapple and you end up with an orange. But you still have a piece of fruit.

In other words, we work hard documenting what we want and how we want to achieve it – but we also need to be able to go with the flow. Of course, major changes, challenges, and show-stoppers do arise – part of what I’ve learned (and am still discovering) is how to separate the mini challenges from the monsters. And how to manage them accordingly.

Either way, when things change, this is our opportunity to proactively share necessary information with our managers to ensure they are in the loop – and to make sure they don’t receive an update from someone else (especially if the news is not of the cheery variety). In many ways, our job is to help our managers look great – and if they’re blindsided, we’ve missed the mark.

Of course, if you have positive news – your project is under budget or will launch earlier than planned – share that too!

Need help crafting your message? Use the Tailor your Text tip in Part 1 of this series to organize the information and paint a clear picture for your audience.

2)   Clarify and Simplify 

I’m often the one in the room (or on the conference call) that ensures everyone is on the same page. I do this by speaking and asking questions in simple language. Simple.

Asking clear questions isn’t rocket science. But often in big corporations, buzz words and technical language can unnecessarily complicate a conversation and dilute even the simplest messages.

In a recent meeting, we were debating whether to launch a project with a few unknowns. After listening to the team’s conversation for a few minutes, I asked: “So if we launch now, what is the worst case scenario?” As it turns out, there was no risk involved in launching immediately.  The simple answer: Yes. The decision: launch today. Downside: none.

The lesson? If you don’t understand something, chances are others are in the same boat. (Remember, we’re never alone…I promise!) Sometimes it takes courage to be the clarifier (will others think you just don’t get it??) but it’s almost always worth it – for you and for the entire team. And when you ask for clarification, it serves as a gentle nudge to others to strip out the corporate speak and tech jargon if they want to get the best out of people and move projects forward more efficiently. (Unless, of course, spinning is your thing).

3)   You are the expert..so act like it

As the Brand Manager of the Peanut Butter portfolio at Kraft, I managed two Brand Assistants, one of whom was leading the Peanut Butter with Chocolate product launch. I recall a conversation in which I reminded her that she knew more about Chocolate Peanut Butter than anyone in the company. While she was young and fresh out of university, it was important for her to understand that she truly was the expert on this project. When senior executives required an update, she could confidently share her knowledge and recommendations because she knew more than they did.

About six months into my current role at TD, there was a threat of a Canada Post “work disruption.” I was tasked with the challenge of developing a mitigation plan for the TD Credit Cards business in the event that the threat became a reality. How would we send new and replacements cards, statements, and letters to customers? As I was relatively new to my role, being thrown into a challenge such as this one served as a great crash course. And since my role was to gather all the information from the subject matter experts to provide recommendations to senior management, I knew more than anyone else about our plans in the event of a postage strike.

Yes, I was relatively new. But on this particular subject, I was the expert. And it was my job to communicate all the project details as that expert – clearly and confidently. And I made certain to go above and beyond the call of duty to do just that.


 

So, there you have it…7 communication tips in all, ranging from asking smart and relevant questions to sharing our content confidently.

Can you relate? (Tell me I’m not the only one managing zig-zag projects!) Have your own tips to share? I’d love to hear from you!

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