Learning to speak again

The way you speak to your grandmother is different than how you speak to your significant other, and that in turn is different from how you speak with your closest friend. Now you need to learn yet another way of speaking: how to speak at work.

Photo by Icons8 team on Unsplash

If you’re following this blog in real time, you may have noticed a few weeks’ gap between this post and the last. The reason is my fiancée and I broke up a few weeks ago, and I needed time to go through that and process what was happening.

The good news is that we sat down, talked it out, and got back together again. It turns out that communication is really important in a relationship (who knew, right?) and as it so happens, communication is really important to your career as well. Which brings us to today’s topic: you need to learn how to speak  at work.

I’m talking about office jargon.

Now you may be tempted to roll your eyes and say that you’re not going to ‘be fake,’ ‘play games,’ or ‘engage in office politics.’ I agree with you – I hate that crap too, which is why I’m not going to tell you to do it.

What I’m talking about here is learning to communicate in a professional and concise manner in order to successfully advocate for yourself. Doing so will benefit both you and the company you work for. If that sounds pretty good to you, read on! But maybe an example of why you should learn (and use) some office jargon would be useful at this point.

Consider this situation: Bob and Howard both work in their company’s IT Department, which is headed by a clueless supervisor named Perry. Perry is completely unaware of his team’s skills and their workloads. It’s completely passed him by that Bob’s gotten pretty good at SharePoint troubleshooting because he’s angling to join the SharePoint team (bless your heart, Bob, somebody’s got to administer that beast!) and that Howard’s been focusing on learning Python and PowerShell to automate all the things because he wants to join the DevOps team.

Perry randomly assigns tasks to Bob and Howard as they come in without playing to their strengths. One day, he assigns Howard a SharePoint troubleshooting ticket and Howard decides that enough is enough; it’s time to stop stupidly accepting tickets that Bob is much better suited for.

Pick which of these responses Howard should give Perry:

A: “Perry, why are you giving me this ticket? You know Bob knows SharePoint better than me, right? It’s going to take me two hours to read up about the issue and come up with the fix. Bob can fix this in two minutes. How about giving it to him, huh?”

 B: “Sure Perry, will do. Let me see if I can leverage Bob’s SharePoint expertise here. If anything, he may be better positioned to prosecute this in a timely manner.”

Answer B sure sounds a lot better, right? But, they’re (almost) saying the same thing! The second one is just more professional and and less confrontational.

Remember these words:

Leverage = use. As in, let me see if we can use someone else’s skills here.

Positioned = he/she can do this better than me.

Let’s look at another example.

Good supervisors should act as a buffer between a manager and the front line folks. If a manager is assigning too many projects, a good supervisor will figure out what the real priorities are and will get those over the line while shielding the people under him from the less important work. Unfortunately for Bob and Howard, Perry is their supervisor, and he’s just going to pass the projects along without considering anyone’s workload. Well, Bob’s had enough! There just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done! Pick Bob’s answer from the choices below:

A: “No.”

B: “Sure thing, I’ll take this on. I don’t have the bandwidth right now though – would you like me to prioritize it in the next few weeks, or would you like me to deprioritize one of my current projects?”

Hopefully, you see why B is better. Answer A is insubordination (which you can get fired for, by the way.) In answer B, you’re not actually saying ‘no,’ you’re saying you can’t do this new thing and do all the other things you’ve been asked to do so please pick what really needs to get done.

Remember these words:

Bandwidth = this is how much you can actually reasonably get done. Let’s say you work eight hours per day. Now subtract the two hours of meetings you need to attend each day. You probably sometimes need to go to the bathroom and maybe eat lunch at some point. You’ll also be interrupted by people who need help throughout the day. All told, if you get three hours of time to work on non-support related projects in any given day, it’s a pretty good day. So, three hours per day times five days in a work week equals to fifteen hours of project time. If a project will take at least twenty hours to complete by the end of the week, you don’t have the bandwidth to do it. If it will take ten hours, you do.

Prioritize/deprioritize = you’ve assigned me X tasks and I can only reasonably accomplish X – 1 tasks. So which of these would you rather I drop?

There’s a ton of other jargon out there, enough to fill an entire book, so I’ll stop at two examples. You can learn more useful jargon by listening to people at work and adopting the language you hear.

But I want to be clear here: I’m not advocating for you to become a jargon spewing automaton! What I want you to do is use the right words to convey the right ideas with the right tone. I’m not saying to play politics by using gibberish words. I am saying to say things the right way to get what you need in order to be effective, all while avoiding getting fired for insubordination. Where I come from, we don’t call that politics, we call it common sense!

That’s it for today. I’m going to spend the rest of this beautiful Saturday making sure to take care of my relationship to make sure it stays strong.

Oh, you may be wondering what the original reason was that caused us to break up. It turns out that we communicate too differently…

Go figure!

With each post, I cover a new topic to help you get your start (or keep progressing) in your IT career. If it’s your first time visiting this blog, start here. Or, see all my posts about interview questions you should definitely be prepared for.