During the first semester of my junior year, I was working on a complex and drawn out group project with three of my classmates, with written portions that had to be completed every day by each group member.
At the project’s end, all of these written materials had to be compiled together into one cohesive document. Having volunteered to do the final edit, I was up late one night working on the project when I found that one of my group members had skipped his reflection assignment for a particular day.
I immediately began composing an email to him to make him aware of this fact so that I could insert it into that section. All set to push “send,” my roommate peeked over my shoulder.
“Whoa. Harsh,” she said.
“What?” I was confused. I thought I had come across as friendly, but direct. Of course the email had a sense of urgency to it, what with the project being due at the end of the week, but harsh was not a word I would have used to describe it.
“Give the guy a break,” she continued. “I know you want to be clear, but these word choices make it sound like he must drop everything he’s doing and send it now. Do you really mean that?”
I didn’t, and after some careful rewording and a roommate read through, it was cleared to send. He got the work to me within 24 hours, and the assignment, not to mention our friendship, never suffered.
This was a valuable lesson in perception. In work and in life, people will judge you on how they perceive your words and actions, not your actual words and actions. From clients to your boss, there are ways to convey your true meaning so that everyone can be on the same wavelength and so work can get done efficiently, accurately, and with balanced expectations.
Here are three tricks to managing your work and words so they come across exactly the way they should.
Use Purposeful Communication
No one can read your mind. Not even your boss. When you have a question or concern about a project, be specific. A nondescript, “So about that project I’m working on,” is not going to suffice and will leave your boss or immediate manager wondering if you really understand what you’re working on. You’re most likely working on a few things at once, so be diligent in listing your thoughts or concerns so that everyone in the room can follow.
During my internship at an art museum, I was tasked with finding area businesses to partner with in conjunction with an upcoming exhibit. At the same time, I was helping with a recurring newsletter mailing for a select group of museum members. While they were very different projects, both were being done in Excel. When my supervisor asked, “What’s the status on that spreadsheet?” I had to be one step ahead. She had a lot on her mind and if I just answered, “Good!” I would risk trouble, particularly if she thought I was working on the business list and I thought she meant the newsletter. As a hardworking employee, it was my responsibility to clarify.
“The newsletter list is done if you’d like me to send that along, but the business list will take a few more hours. Will that be all right?” By clearly stating where I was on each project, we were able to move forward with what she actually needed, which was for the newsletters to be mailed by the end of the day. Crisis averted!
Go Back to Junior High
Remember all of those essays from way back when? One rule I always remember my 7th grade English teacher saying was to read papers out loud before turning them in. For a writer of any level, rereading is a way to catch mistakes, fix awkward wording, and move sentences around so that the message isn’t muddled. In the working world, using this tactic will prevent problems of perception before they start.
Whenever you are giving instructions to someone else via email, write a draft first. Write everything that you need done, then read back through it to see if it will make sense to someone who doesn’t have all the information that you have. Naturally, you possess a deeper knowledge of the project so be careful that there are no assumptions in your instructions. If a task item is complex or unclear, try to rephrase it so that it’s more user-friendly.
Before hitting send, remember to add that the individual can come to you with any questions. Most of us mean to say this when we give other people instructions, but we sometimes forget to verbalize it! Follow the same formula when you’re about to give someone in-person instructions. Run the conversation in your head and nail down what you plan to say and ask, then repeat it back to yourself to catch any confusing wording.
Use the Mirror Test
This is a weird trick that I learned from years of singing in children’s choir. Singing well takes lots of concentration, focus, and determination. Not surprisingly, these emotions can come across your face when you sing. Imagine, then, an audience listening to a choir singing dulcet tones about a meadow, a lamb, and the beauty of nature. The words and music may be lighthearted and sweet, but if the people singing look incredibly serious, the connection between singer and audience member is lost.
To combat this, we had to learn how to demonstrate the emotion of song not just through our tone, but in our facial expressions as well. While our brains were on overdrive to remember lyrics, stay on key, and phrase passages with proper breath support, we slowly trained ourselves not to show the work on our faces. To practice, we thought of the audience as a mirror. Looking out into that space, we visualized how we must look to others, helping us make adjustments that better showcased the emotions of the piece. This combination of sure singing and lively expression made each of our pieces that much stronger.
You can use this trick in a variety of work situations to convey confidence, to reassure others, and to tackle difficult assignments. Whatever emotion you’re trying to convey, make sure that your words and actions match. Confident assurances to a manager that you can handle a new account will mean less if you say it when your shoulders are slumped, when you aren’t making eye contact, or when you have no enthusiasm behind your eyes. Picture a mirror and make them believe you!
Do you have any advice on how to be perceived well? We’d love to hear about it!
For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Levo League!
About the Author: Rachel is a recent graduate of Butler University where she received her B.S. in Arts Administration. She is on an endless search for the next book to read, the next latte to drink, and the next cupcake to eat. Any suggestions, please send them along! Follow Rachel on Twitter!
Image courtesy of photo.elsoar.com… thank you!