When you're a young, rising star you have to work with people who are older, different, and more experienced than you. How do you conduct yourself in a room with the people who can (and will) either fast-track or stall your career depending on how you "show up"? How do you demonstrate your business acumen and core knowledge with fluid communication and ease even when hammered with questions?
I tell all of my clients the same thing: Speak up, say only what you really mean, and convince people that what you have to say is worth their time.
These steps are surprisingly difficult to master. Before you're promoted, you have to prove yourself, and that means demonstrating your capabilities. However, you also have to learn to effectively communicate in a way that resonates with more experienced people so that you are noticed--and more importantly, positively perceived as someone with potential.
Here are three essential rules that young professionals need to keep in mind when interacting with senior leaders, colleagues, clients, and stakeholders at all levels.
1. Only say what matters
To prove how much they know, I notice that young professionals often do not answer the question being asked. Instead, it's a TMI moment--information overload. We've all seen this: The sales executive asks the young tech architect how the app will make more money. The tech engineer excitedly downloads data and spec information in C++ jargon for 10 minutes, never elevating to the what and then to the why. What is the app and why it will make money?
Nobody cares about the jargon. Most people will disconnect from you and what you want if you are a TMI'er, and you will lose credibility immediately. In fact, the more info you provide, the more you risk. You expose yourself to being questioned on a specific point that is likely to be off the agenda. Answer the question with confidence and conviction in a clear, succinct manner.
To do this, prepare for every meeting by considering the listener's point of view. If you're meeting with a sales executive, know exactly how your proposal will make money. If you're with an HR executive, be able to articulate how your idea will affect company culture. Bulk up on facts so that you're not driven by emotion.
2. Stop thinking out loud
Think before you speak because your words count. "Well, like, you know, if we could, like, get out of here by, like, I don't know, maybe a little earlier..." is a very different sentence than "I want this meeting to end on time at 3 p.m."
Some people believe softer words (maybe, perhaps, kind of, sort of) make them sound more natural or real. They don't. They make you sound as if you don't know what you're talking about, and these words prevent listeners from focusing on what you're attempting (and failing) to say. You are forcing listeners to interpret what you want--and that's dangerous.
When you have just 5 minutes of an executive's time, you'd better make sure every word you choose moves your message forward. If you say "like," "kinda," "sorta," or "try," you sound unsure, inexperienced, and uncommitted. In 3 to 5 minutes--which includes Q&A -- why would executives say "yes" when your words are taking up their valuable time?
Ban those words from your vocabulary to achieve clarity and mitigate ambiguity. To capture attention and be believable, you have to use active words: "I believe. I can. I cannot. I will. I know. I do not know." Notice that "think" is not on the active words list. It, too, is a word that strikes the listener as moderately, rather than fully, committed.
3. Just ask the question
Imagine you're the most junior person in the room pitching a cool idea to sophisticated senior leaders. It is your idea, you own it, and everybody's looking at you with flat, unemotional faces. Then you ask them a question, and the dance begins.
Have you ever suffered from the fear of sounding stupid, so you preface your questions with a preamble containing too much context to boost the perception of "I'm smart"? The preamble might sound like this: "Well, I have a question, but I'm not really sure it's a good one. When you said X...I was thinking Y to myself...so what I am wondering is Z...." Stop it.
To be credible, ask the question with confidence and conviction. No hemming or hawing or kinda or sorta. No preamble. You expect a clear answer, and if you are clear, you will likely get a clear answer.
As a young professional, a common goal is to get promoted. You are determining your own career trajectory. If you want to fast-track, answer the question, keep it short, and never use the words "kinda" or "sort of" or "like" ever again. Getting to the point is a promotable skill. The sooner you master it, the faster you will be noticed and eventually rise.