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Trust Is the Tiebreaker: 7 Tips for Career Success

May 1, 2014

The following is an edited excerpt from “Trust Is the Tiebreaker,” an e-book by former Counselors Academy Chair Davis Young, APR, Fellow PRSA.

It is intended for leaders and rising managers in midsize and small businesses as well as students. The book is available on and is reprinted with permission of the publisher, Smart Business.

In this chapter, Young outlines seven necessary steps to be successful in the workplace.

1. Be conversational if you want people to pay attention.

This gets to the issue of whether a leader wants to communicate or is just going through the motions, perhaps to meet some minimum disclosure standard.

When you want to communicate, try to speak or write like a real person because a real person is on the receiving end of what you have to say. 

Recommended actions:

  • Always read aloud anything important you write because if it sounds OK, it will read just fine. 
  • Concentrate on taking stiffness and legalese out of business communication.

2. Avoid lecturing folks.

Do you like to be “talked at?” Of course not. And neither does anybody else. It’s far more effective to have a conversation than a presentation. Find ways to interact. Leading and managing businesses today is an opportunity to interact with stakeholders. And that’s the expectation. 

How many times have we all seen managers stand behind podiums and just talk at employees? They never interact. It’s not a conversation. It’s a monologue.

At the end, they invariably ask, “Any questions?” Other than the ones they might plant in advance, there are none. The audience has already reached its verdict: “This manager doesn’t care about my issues. He just cares about his issues.”

That is known as an “information dump.” A manager unloads facts and figures in corporate speak to a group of employees with a long history of passive listening, having attended many such meetings in the past. The manager completely misses the opportunity to connect. And then he wonders why nobody asked any questions.

Contrast that with a company that has employee “huddles.” A huddle is an opportunity for any employee to speak up or ask for advice. That type of interaction is what encourages a young employee to say something like this in front of older and more experienced colleagues.

Recommended actions:

  • In advance of any important interaction, ask yourself what matters to other people and let that define what you communicate.
  • Have a plan to create interaction.

3. Be accurate — always.

Sometimes good communication is about doing all the little things well. When your name is on something, you own it. 

How many emails do you get every day that are full of errors? If you think the other party hit send without taking a second look, then you’re probably right. It’s amazing how much stream of consciousness communication, both to and from leaders, shows up on company computer screens.

Good communication is an important element of a leader’s personal brand. Sloppy stuff sends a strong message. It tells the troops they can get away with doing that, too. A culture that tolerates sloppiness is a crisis waiting to happen.

Recommended actions:

  • Look at a communication one final time before you hit send.
  • Set an example that sloppiness in any area of the organization is not acceptable. 

4. Don’t knock competitors. 

Think carefully about what you say about competitors — especially personal opinions that come off as negative, disrespectful comments. 

Talk about what your organization does. 

Engaging in negative conversation may end up saying more about your organization than it does about the target of your barbs.

Next time you’re asked about a competitor, you might consider this response: “A competitor like that inspires us to get better every day.” 

Good competition is one thing. Engaging in an unnecessary war is quite another. 

Recommended actions:

  • Focus on what your organization does well, not what your competitor does poorly. 
  • Let your troops know that being respectful toward a competitor is a sign of strength, not weakness. 

5. Implement a high standard for confidentiality.

You may be a big fan of transparency, but there is legitimately confidential information in every organization. Aspects of financial results, marketing plans, proprietary product developments and sensitive personnel matters are all confidential — or should be. 

In every organization, there are people who like to traffic in confidential information. It gives them a sense of power. But that behavior can cause serious damage.    

Recommended actions:

  • Make sure that your people know what can and cannot be talked about.
  • Stress to everyone that there are places they should never talk business — airplanes, restaurants, restrooms and, yes, elevators. 

6. Be clear when judging other people’s copy.

A wise person coined this phrase: “Man’s greatest need is to edit someone else’s copy.” There’s a lot of truth in that statement. 

If the goal is communication that helps accomplish business goals, then there are issues that need to be addressed in copy review:

  • Reviewers frequently do not participate in the input phase. This can lead to looking at copy in a vacuum. They lack a clear understanding of objectives and they can’t always grasp context. Nor do they necessarily understand how the copy will be used from a tactical standpoint. You can’t review copy properly without knowing that information. 
  • Marked-up copy comes back without any conversation. The intent of the reviewer is often unclear. That issue is compounded when the copy is returned by an administrative assistant who is not prepared to answer questions. 
  • The approval process drags on and on. Days go by without a reaction. Sometimes weeks. That always hurts quality.
  • Editorial comments lack clarity. It’s probably not a good idea to send something back to the author with a comment like this: “I think we’re missing something here. You’re just not quite hitting the nail on the head. I can’t put my finger on it, but why don’t you let me look at a revised draft.”

What is a communications person expected to do with that type of guidance? Invariably, that leads to another off-target draft, wasted time and bad feelings.   

Recommended actions:

  • Insist on knowing objectives, context and key elements of tactics before reading a word. 
  • Take time to respond in helpful ways. 

7. Take advantage of teaching moments.

Here’s some great advice from a former colleague: “What gets celebrated gets repeated.” 

Think about that. Isn’t that true both in good times and in bad times? Progress — large or not so large — is important to share with stakeholders.  

Success is all around you. That success is the source for specific examples that give meaning to your messages.

Recommended actions:

  • Find success in your organization.
  • Talk about that success. 


Davis Young, APR, Fellow PRSA Davis Young, APR, Fellow PRSA, is a communication professional, author, teacher, trainer and speaker. He was the long-time president of Edward Howard & Co., one of the largest and most respected independent PR firms in the country (since acquired by Fahlgren Mortine).


Laura R. Hammel, Ph.D., APR, Fellow PRSA says:

This is a great book. I use it in my MBA classes and refer to it in undergrad classes as well. Highly recommend.

February 5, 2015

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