Career Genius: Your Guide to Slaying It at Work
How to communicate flawlessly at work
Talking to your boss or coworker will go much better if you ask a warm-up question (“How’s your day going?”) and then stop talking for a moment.
Yep, close your cakehole. And then gauge how the boss is doing by listening and looking closely. “What business schools don’t teach is that you really need to assess people very quickly,” says Joe Navarro, who served as the FBI’s body language expert for 25 years. “Exceptional communicators assess where the person is right now.” Voice and body language will tell you what you need to know: Is she tired? Ready for lunch? Itching for action?
Before launching into a work topic, Navarro says to consider:
- What’s the boss’s mood?
- Is she having a hard or easy day/week/month?
- What’s her top priority?
- Has she slept full nights recently?
- Does she have an agenda in this conversation?
“Assessment allows us to figure out how to engage in the transaction,” he says. Maybe your boss needs help, and you can present your idea as a way to lessen her work stress. Or maybe your coworker is exhausted, and you abort your plan until next week, and brew her coffee. Or maybe she’s in the perfect mood to strike a deal, and you dive right into your brilliant plan, exiting with career glory.
Pretending your pandemic life is A-OK will backfire
These days everyone has a reason for workplace frustration, whether it’s endless hours stuck in Zoom meetings, or uninspiring back-to-office requirements. “Plastering on a smile is a really, really bad strategy,” says Allison Gabriel, associate professor of management and organizations at the University of Arizona, who studies emotions at work.
That “I’m pretending that everything’s dandy” ploy is called “surface acting,” and it bombs, because your true feelings leak through, despite your efforts otherwise. “When your internal emotions stay kind of angry and fiery, but you decide to try to keep carrying on, usually people can detect that discrepancy over time,” Gabriel says.
Instead, she suggests taking a moment to reroute your inner monologue. Acknowledge your feelings, but also connect them to optimism. Example: “Yes, I’m very sick of Zoom, but I’m also happy to have a job, and really enjoy my coworkers.” Or, “My kids’ remote school schedule exhausts me, but the work I do for my job really makes a difference.” This combination of honest positivity melded with honest frustration will be received well by coworkers, because it’s genuine.
Ask an expert: How often should I check in with a new collaborator?
Answer: all the time, says creative director Adi Goodrich, whose designs you’ve seen in commercials for Apple and Lyft. “With people I haven’t worked with, I check in with them all day long, though not in a micromanaging way.”
How do you walk the thin line between collaborating and micromanaging? Goodrich will start the day talking through the idea, and stating her expectations. “Then I’ll say, ‘I’ll see you in an hour.’ And I’ll walk over to their table in an hour. And then we’ll sit together for a little bit, and jam on things that need to be adjusted or addressed.” Repeat. Repeatedly throughout the day.
Think casual, chatty and encouraging, not tyrannical micromanager. (Yes, the same can be accomplished on Slack.) Goodrich doesn’t maintain this level of constant interaction long-term. “I have lots of people that I’ve worked with for 10 years. With them, I’ll check in midweek, and again at the end of the week to make sure they’re on track.”
Alert: Essential work product
Drumroll please: The most useful workplace thingamajig we’ve seen in years is Stickies ($19 to $69), the delightful dry erase squares that attach with suction, not adhesive, so you can immediately stick them to your wall or desk (or window or door or easel — you get the idea) without wall damage. Imagine Post-it Notes, but bigger and forever reusable and not falling off your wall. You can use them to outline or storyboard or plan or remind, and re-order as needed. Make sure to also order some wet-erase markers, which only wipe off with water, saving you from an accidental erasure catastrophe.
Can I plan a remote career now?
Short answer: Yes. According to a new working paper from economists at Stanford University and the University of Chicago, pre-pandemic, only 5% of workdays were remote, a number that went to 50% mid-pandemic. Now researchers expect that number to hold steady around 20% post-pandemic — meaning that there are likely more than enough remote jobs to go around.
The study concludes that higher-income workers will benefit most, likely from no longer needing to schlep into offices and airports while working long hours. The economy will benefit too, with a 5% boost in productivity. See ya at home!