I'm often asked about the qualities and traits that translate to great leadership.
Almost universally, the answer is simple: Communication.
By communicating effectively, you can turn a challenging scenario into productive results, while developing relationships in a meaningful way.
It's rarely without obstacles, but over 17 years at the helm of my company, I've collected a handful of tips that help me navigate workplace scenarios -- ones employees of all levels can relate to.
When Asking for a Salary Increase
Most people who have approached their boss seeking a promotion or pay raise is familiar with the anxious lead-up to the conversation. You can avoid that angst by following these guidelines:
Don't: Bring up how long you've worked at your company. "I've been here for two years now" is not a valid justification for a raise or promotion. Also, never harp on your personal finances. Your manager will never increase your salary because you chose to move to an expensive apartment.
Decision-makers care about your performance, your responsibilities, and how those factors have changed since the last time you discussed salary. Be prepared to detail what you're doing well, how it's positively impacting the company, and why your day-to-day presence is more valuable to the company now than it once was.
Do: Always give your manager sufficient warning that you're planning on having this conversation. Blindsiding them with a cold request for a promotion or raise will do you more harm than good.
A sound strategy is to give a few days notice, and make sure the topics you'd like to discuss are crystal clear before you sit down to meet. This way, both you and your manager can enter with a plan.
When Asking to Take on Different Responsibilities
Here's a situation that's more common than you think: You've been in a position or field for several years, and your professional interests have gravitated toward something unrelated to what you're currently doing. You want to explore other options at your current company.
It happened to me early in my career, when I was working in the movie industry. I'd been working in marketing but realized I wanted to collaborate more closely with production and development.
By being up front, and explaining particular ideas you have in mind, you can give your manager good reason to encourage your professional growth.
Don't: Be ambiguous about your emotions and desires. If you walk into your manager's office and tell them that you're uninspired in your current role, they could take it to mean that you want out -- in which case they're likely already searching for your replacement.
Instead, be proactive about your own future. Suggest specific actions you think could be mutually beneficial, and a good manager will always help you find new ways to grow.
Do: Have a plan with particular asks in mind, and be mindful when expressing your current feelings about your job. If you've recently developed a passion or skill-set that you think can help your company in ways you aren't already, explain that you think you can provide new value by diversifying your responsibilities.
Be up front with your career goals, both in the short and long term. Explain how you think you can develop personally while helping your company move forward, and a good manager will be open to letting you grow.
When Receiving Critical Feedback:
One of the most important skills you can develop as a professional is processing feedback and, even after decades of professional work, it can still be extremely challenging. By being conscious of your listening and communication, you can make the most of a difficult situation.
Don't: Immediately respond with rationalizations, even if a piece of feedback doesn't initially seem valid to you. Hear the person out, and fight your desire to immediately respond. Responding immediately and defensively suggests you're not mature enough to receive and process criticism, which happens to be a key way to grow professionally.
Do: Prepare yourself to listen, and make sure you understand exactly what this person is trying to communicate. A great way to ensure that you're hearing feedback correctly is to repeat what they said and ask if you understood them correctly. Being on the same page is the first step to effectively communicating criticism, and repeating the concern back, without adding your own point of view or reasoning, is a great first step towards resolution. After a day or two, once you've had the opportunity to digest the feedback, follow up with how you intend to address it.
By being conscious of your communication, you can turn difficult professional encounters into effective ones. You're only as effective as you are understood.