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06 Apr, 2017

Guru Guidance Mentor Topic: Communicating Effectively at Work

Michael Knowles

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When I began to write this blog post, I sat down and went over lessons learned and skills I’ve developed since my career began during my internship while a senior at The College of Saint Rose. I was fortunate enough to have some incredible teachers/mentors with whom I still stay in contact. So, in addition to this post and others like it, take a second to look around and find some mentors who can also guide you. SMPS DC’s Guru Guidance Program continues to be one of the most successful programs year after year, and I’m proud to be a part of it.

Seek first to understand, then be understood

The first skill to develop is the ability to listen and understand what is being stated. Above my desk I have a 5x7 card that says “Seek first to understand, then be understood”. I’ve kept this above my desk for years and it is probably the best advice I can give to someone new to this industry. Whether it’s in an RFP or in a meeting, there’s jargon and terminology that is unfamiliar. I’ve been in this industry since 1998, and I still ask engineers questions. Asking questions enables you to be part of the conversation and, more importantly, gives you a better understanding of what your firm is doing.

One of my favorite ways to learn is to go to a jobsite with a project manager and observe, take pictures, and ask questions. Reading about what your firm does in a project write-up or brochure is nice, but to actually see it firsthand is eye-opening and will give you a much better understanding of what your firm does. If this isn’t something your firm normally does, just ask!

Get face time

The ability to actively listen is a skill that takes time to develop. With today’s constant distractions, it’s not always easy to stay focused. I recommend when you have a question, instead of sending a text or writing an email, go visit the person. Leave your phone at your desk and instead grab a notepad and pen. This will keep you engaged and focused on the conversation. To gain more knowledge, ask open-ended questions or for examples.

Stay concise

Keep your question(s) short and to the point. You can ask how their weekend was and be personal, but keeping your questions to the point will help move the conversation along and shows that you value their time. If you have a question about something in a document, bring it with you and highlight the specific areas for review. This allows them to see the entire context, and they may be able to point out key words or show you how it all ties together.

Two-way Street

The professionals you work with on a daily basis understand that your knowledge and understanding of the A/E/C industry is limited by your lack of experience, which is OK and will change over time. As young marketing professionals, you are expected to increase your knowledge and understanding so you can actively be part of the conversation. This is best achieved through the two-way street called communication.

Michael Knowles, CPSM
SMPS DC Membership Director
Marketing Director
The Robert B. Balter Company