Preparing for Promotion
It's Never Too Early To Start. It's Never Too Late To Start.
I’m continuing with my longer descriptions of various stages of Speaking Skills Throughout Your Career. Today, I’m focusing on the reasons clients have sought speech coaching to put themselves in better positions for promotions.
Competitiveness for Promotions
Even people who have lived and worked in the US for many years can benefit from getting objective feedback about how they sound and come across to unfamiliar listeners. For adults already working in their field and interviewing for new jobs or promotions, they have the experience of working in an American company, but they may still not realize they have been mispronouncing important words that they use frequently in their professional speaking situations because nobody wanted to tell them that.
Most importantly, they may have been so focused on their technical skills that they have never paused to consider the “soft skills” that are just as important. The term “soft skills” is currently shifting to more accurate descriptions such as “core skills,” “interpersonal skills,” “people skills,” and most generally, “human skills.” These terms all include communication skills and understanding of cultural expectations that may seem small and unimportant but really do serve a purpose of making people feel connected to each other.
Small talk is a good example. Small talk topics aren’t important, they’re often boring and silly, but that’s the point. The overall purpose of small talk is to help people feel comfortable by talking about something, anything, that isn’t controversial. Small talk and other social speaking situations are some of the most difficult kinds of conversation for non-native speakers of English to participate in but they are important for a fulfilling work environment. They’re important for leadership roles because a major part of leadership is communication in a variety of situations, not just talking about the technical skills. It’s also easy to overlook the importance of this kind of speaking because it’s not directly work-performance related. It can get pushed aside and ignored for a long time until the signs that it could be improved are hard to ignore any longer.
Social Speaking Situations
I’ve written about this example before and I’m doing it again because it really sticks in my mind. I had a client who said when he was working he felt confident talking to anyone. He didn’t feel like he had problems being understood or understanding other people. However, during breaks when colleagues would gather in the break room and talk, he lost all his confidence. He didn’t know how to join in the conversation so he either didn’t talk while he was in the room or he just avoided the break room completely. It was those times that he said it felt like he had a painful open wound that was being poked at and reminding him of how different he was. When he was working and talking about work topics, the wound would magically heal up and he’d forget about it. The reason he hadn’t tried to improve his speech was because of the small amount of time that he was reminded of it being an issue. The majority of time spent doing actual work was fine. Speaking with his family in Mandarin at home was fine. Over time, the short times the wound was making him aware of his differences built up until he wanted to do something about it.
A common refrain in the post-lesson evaluation and discussion is people telling me how lessons made such a big difference in their life because, like this individual, they didn’t have any feelings of dread at break time anymore. They had better and longer conversations with colleagues that made them feel a part of the team. For him, the goal wasn’t to speak perfectly, it was to speak to be understood in all situations, including social ones, not just the technical speaking situations. Basically, his quality of life improved and that’s the most rewarding achievement.
The analogy of “an open wound” was definitely unusual but I think it expresses his experience and feelings in a visceral way that other people who have felt that way can relate to. In the initial consultations, when I ask people what their goals are for improving their English speaking skills, “confidence” and “quality of life” are never mentioned. However, in the post-evaluation conversations, they are almost always given as examples of what they feel they have improved.
People find me for speech coaching when they want to eliminate doubt that the reason they’re not getting hired, promoted, good reviews, etc. is due to their speaking skills. They are trying to improve every aspect of their professional performance. I have worked with more men than women, but when women describe their reasons for pursuing speech coaching they always mention they want to be heard and not just seen. They are tired of their work getting handed over to a male colleague to present or they have worked with a client and want to get the credit due to them. Changing speech won’t change the systemic discrimination issues that exist in the workplace, but it can help that person feel confident that they’re expressing themselves clearly and whatever excuses or accusations are directed at them, being understood isn’t one of them.
Advancing Requires Speaking
One aspect of American culture that I’ve seen surprise many international students after they graduate and start working in companies is how the technical skills that got them the jobs may not take them as far in their career as they want to go. At some point, being able to talk about your work to other people becomes too important to ignore. Some students had the idea that just working hard would get them noticed, but then discover that they have to give weekly updates in team meetings, or present the work of their lab to people outside their team, or train other people, in general, there’s a lot more speaking involved than they expected. That’s when they find me to improve their communication skills specifically for their current position and with the foresight that it’s something they will need for the rest of their careers.
The higher up you go on the career ladder, the more speaking there is. The earlier you start preparing for the role that you want, the better prepared you’ll be when you get it. It’s easier to make time in your schedule for speaking skill improvement before you’ve gotten a promotion and have a lot of new responsibilities to adjust to in the new role. However, it’s never too early to start and it’s never too late to start.