As I discovered interviewing over 500 professionals across several industries and job types, being influential and getting what you want at work often depends on how effectively you get your points across, especially when it comes to digital communication.
It all comes down to being a "user friendly" coworker — one who makes others' lives easy. The more you can make approving your ideas as easy as pushing a button, the more likely you are to get the green light.
Here are 10 little-known communication habits to maximize your chances of getting what you want faster:
1. If you have an idea that's hard to imagine, share a picture, sketch or mock-up.
It's the adage of "show, not tell." Rather than ask if the background color should be light green or dark green, show both options so that people can see the difference for themselves.
2. If you have an edited version of a document, track your changes and add comments explaining your thought process.
The more you can direct people's attention to what you want them to focus on, the less time people will waste — and the less you'll have to wait. This means saying, "Do you approve of the two track changes I added on the second page?" rather than "Here's the latest 20-page draft."
3. If you have information from a specific source that others might want to reference, share a hyperlink to the website.
If you anticipate others needing to open up another browser tab, you've anticipated another point of friction — and having that source ready is an opportunity for you to make their lives easy.
4. If you have a file with formatting that could show up differently on different devices, send it as a PDF.
PDF files show up the same way on every device, so it can help you increase the odds of recipients being able to review your work no matter where they are.
5. If you have a file where people need to manipulate the information, send the original, editable file.
Even though your recipient may never end up digging through the data or manipulating the original file, you're saving them from needing to ask you for it — and, in turn, potentially delaying the process.
6. If you have a decision you want to document to avoid any misunderstandings, send an email explaining the decision.
Not everyone will remember what they agreed to. Saying, "To recap, we decided to…" or "As discussed, the next steps are…" not only ensures that everyone does what they said they would do, but also prevents anyone from backing out later.
7. If you have lots of details for people to sift through, send a file for them to review on their own time.
(Plus schedule a follow-up meeting, if needed).
Even if not everyone reviews what you sent prior to the meeting, sharing as much information ahead of time as possible allows you to spend more of your meeting time discussing, rather than educating. It's also more respectful than pouncing information on others.
8. If you have a topic that's complicated, controversial or requires discussion, schedule a call or meeting.
This way, you clear up any misunderstandings in 10 minutes — and not through 10 emails stretched across 10 days with 10 people copied.
9. If you have a meeting to schedule, send a calendar invite clearly stating the date, time and meeting method.
Having these details upfront can help both you and others avoid scrambling last minute to figure out who is calling whom — and, in turn, getting flustered and losing sight of what the meeting was even supposed to be about.
10. If you have a decision that requires multiple people's approval, consult people individually.
You're more likely to get the approval you want if you know that everyone in the room is already on board with your plan than if everyone is only hearing your idea for the first time — and looking around to see how others are reacting.
Gorick Ng is a career adviser at Harvard College, specializing in coaching first-generation, low-income students and professionals. He has worked in management consulting at Boston Consulting Group and is a researcher with the Managing the Future of Work project at Harvard Business School. He is the author of "The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right."
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