Angie Chang: Welcome to another episode of the Girl Geek X Podcast, connecting you to the best insights from women in tech. I’m Angie, founder of Girl Geek X, and this podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek dinners. We’ve been elevating women in tech for over 10 years.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi. I’m Sukrutha, CTO of Girl Geek X.
Gretchen DeKnikker: I’m Gretchen, COO of Girl Geek X.
Rachel Jones: I’m Rachel, the producer of this podcast.
Angie Chang: Today, we’ll be talking about communication.
Angie Chang: I think we have so many episodes and experiences where we miscommunicated where there was a potential bias or a misstep that we made, either as a manager, or by expressing a political idea, that communication is something that we often learn in our 20/20, looking back, than honestly that we kind of plan for.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. It’s also not just what you’re saying, but how the image you’re portraying and the message you’re sending beyond just your words, that’s super important, and how your actions are being perceived.
Gretchen DeKnikker: Nothing gets done without humans, right? No matter what it is that we think the work is, it’s actually the humans that make everything go together. Obviously, communication would be fairly important to that whole thing.
Rachel Jones: Has anyone ever experienced a miscommunication in the workplace?
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I have. I was told that because I wasn’t participating as much in meetings, people assumed that I didn’t have strong opinions. Especially in technical discussions, if you don’t say things or you don’t contribute when people are typically talking over each other, I think it’s just misunderstood to mean that you’re not as competent. That’s happened to me in the past. I’ve learned how to interject myself without speaking over people, but it is definitely something I’ve experienced. What about you, Angie, have you gone through something like this?
Angie Chang: Yeah. I think communication, to me, oftentimes is a point that I struggle with in large meetings, where I’m trying to find my voice. As someone who’s more introverted and soft-spoken, trying to interject and say more robust things in a crowded room of people who are often yelling, they’re much louder than myself, requires some more strategy than I expected, and took a little bit of work to get used to being prepared to interject and raise my voice what feels like 10 times its normal range, so that I am part of that normal conversation flow in the workplace.
Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean, I wouldn’t even know where to start with all of the workplace communication issues. I think, really early in my career, I didn’t really realize the human part enough. I thought the whole point was to get the job done. I didn’t really understand that the relationships were what were going to make me successful, not necessarily any one individual task or project that I needed to get done. I think my communication style was very abrupt and to the point. It still is, on some level, but not as bad as it was. I know that seems impossible to anyone who’s been working with me recently, but it’s definitely, I think about the person first and the project second, now. I mean, I broke a lot of glass, early on in my career. A lot.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: I can totally relate. I really, really had a hard time, actually. As a student, you’re doing a project solo. You’re probably paired up with other people, but it’s like a maximum one or two people, and each person has their own role. When you’re working in a corporate job, or even in a startup, you have to know how to convince other people of your points and your perspective. Knowing how to speak to other people while also being able to listen to them, or at least making them feel like you’re at least listening, is something that it took me a while before I learned that. Have you had experiences like this, Angie?
Angie Chang: Yeah. I had experiences, definitely, where I didn’t realize that my face was like resting bitch face. I had to get feedback from people for like, “You should maybe smile at me when we’re having this conversation or you’re asking me things.” Like, “That’s right.” I think there’s always that impact versus intent aspect.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. I was told, “Hey, I think resting bitch face is better than …” What I was told, I was told that I don’t look confident, just the way I stand.
Angie Chang: I wonder how you stand.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: I don’t know. I guess I cower? I don’t know. Yeah. I feel like portraying confidence but not coming across like a know-it-all, like just striking all of that balance is so important and so difficult that I wish I had been a little bit more exposed to this, early in my career.
Gretchen DeKnikker: I was thinking, when you first become a manager, you sort of think everyone needs to get used to you. Then, I think, for me, at least, later in my career, and definitely as you become a manager of managers, thinking about, how do I conform myself so that I can get the most out of each one of these individuals? What do each one of these individuals need from me to be more successful? I think that’s another way that you can look at communication and how it changes and evolves.
Rachel Jones: Yeah. I definitely learned a lot about just how effective you can be switching up your communication style when I was working with high schoolers in my previous role at a youth media program, just having a different approach for each student, knowing, like, “This person, I need to be really direct with to get them to do this work. This other person, we need to start and just have a conversation about their day and how they’re doing, and then we can get into the task at hand.” Just knowing, yeah, how different ways of communicating with different people can actually get you better results from them.
Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. Also with your managers, right? I had one guy that I worked for, and you could not directly challenge him, even in private. You would just have to work around the issue. If you went for a direct challenge, he was a person who really thrived on conflict, and so he just really enjoyed a good debate, maybe he would think that it was. It was just completely unproductive for me to ever go for a direct challenge, so working around it.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: It’s so interesting. Part of being successful at communicating is understanding the other person’s personality, it feels like.
Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. Understanding what buttons to push for positive or negative, right?
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah, knowing the language to speak in so that you’re most heard.
Gretchen DeKnikker: And, what buttons you do push, right? Because I have pushed more buttons than I ever intend to with people. I’ve just sort of learned that over time. Usually it’s like, “I put my finger on the hot plate, and now it burned. I’m going to try to remember not to touch the stove again, or use a different finger, whatever.”
Sukrutha Bhadouria: This is great that we’ve been talking about this, because during our dinner with Quantcast, Disha Gosalia shared a story about learning the importance of communication. Disha is a VP at Quantcast, and she talked about her experience with miscommunication in the workplace.
Disha Gosalia: There was an incident, and there was a big learning point for me. I was in a really big meeting with my colleagues, my boss was there. My boss’s boss was there. We were discussing the solution, an implementation solution, a complex solution. The person presenting the solution, you know, kept going on and on. I didn’t necessarily agree with that idea, but being who I was, I decided not to really call her out in front of everybody, and decided to go one-on-one later, and talk to her about why I thought this was not a great idea. When I did that, she actually accused me of being indecisive. She said, “Why did you agree with me in the first place?” I was really taken aback. I’m like, “Really? Did I even agree with you?” It actually gave me a couple of sleepless nights. At that point, what I didn’t realize, which I realized a little later, was that it wasn’t that she was accusing me. It was that my lack of speaking up or lack of objection in that meeting was actually taken as agreement by her. It was only because we had had different ways of processing information. The way she processed was she would talk and think while she’s talking, while how I processed was that I think and then talk. I would have these long, awkward pauses, but she would keep going on and on. What I had realized and actually learned through this process was, you know, I need to just find a pause, and then ask clarifying questions. That’s kind of how to better communicate with her.
Rachel Jones: Can you relate to that story at all? Have you done anything to take stock of your own communication style?
Sukrutha Bhadouria: I had to go through this communication training where they give you a topic to talk about, or they make you pick one, and they video record you. Then, they give you feedback. Then, they make you do that again and video record you again. When I did this training, I realized that I sometimes don’t make eye contact with everybody. That makes people feel like they can tune out really quickly. It also makes people feel like you’re not talking to them or you’re not addressing what they just said. Little things like that that I learned made it easier for me to get better at convincing people of my point of view, because that’s where I struggled the most, my communication in meetings and making sure that my point was heard. Did you all go through something like that, too?
Gretchen DeKnikker: For me, a thing I didn’t learn till later, which was kind of a bummer, is that, completely generalizing, but it was my experience the majority of the time, is that I like to talk through a problem, like go through all of the angles, and just work something out. Many of the men that I work with, they think if you’re coming that you’re coming to make a decision. I’m still in information gathering mode. I just want to talk through the thing. They’re like, “Okay, so then, we’ve decided.” It’s like, “No. At the end of this meeting, I’ll have decided nothing. I’ll have more information that I will go back, and I’ll process, and then I’ll decide.” I’m not asking you for a decision. I think understanding and finding the people in the organization that I can talk through a problem with without me feeling this pressure of like, we still don’t have all the information. I’m not going to make a final call on something right now, and leaving a meeting … This is informal. This isn’t like a whole bunch of people, but leaving a meeting without a final decision and output is fine on something that’s a really complex topic.
Angie Chang: I went to this one training, before. Since I’ve never worked at a bigger company, it was this training for people who were in small and growth-stage startups. I realized a commonality between all of us who were in this training was that we were all extremely high achievers in our own domains, but almost to the risk of running over all our reports. Kind of going around in the group therapy, I felt like I was hearing people not understanding why people just weren’t doing what they wanted. Then, we had to kind of have a “come to Jesus” moment, where we’re like, “Okay, let’s take this personality test. Let’s do this videotape exercise where we see ourselves talk to other people, and hear this open quick criticism about what’s wrong with our communication style.” Then, there’s the come to Jesus moment of, “Okay, so in the moving forward, I need to practice my communication style to be X or Y, so I’m much more likely to get the desired result from my reports. That also happened. I highly encourage people to seek out, even if you’re not at a big company with these resources, those types of programs, they do exist.
Gretchen DeKnikker: I’ve never heard of those, and both of you have had them. I didn’t even know such a thing existed before.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think you will seek it out when you get feedback enough that you appear a certain way, and you’re like, “How do I appear that way?” You know, like, “This is crazy. I need to figure this out. How can I get some sort of training, or class, or something to put a finger on it?” Disha also talks about how she ended up modifying her communication style knowing who she was speaking to, especially because the person she is talking about has a completely different communication style from her. What’s a good way for us or for our listeners to understand the personalities or the styles of the people they are trying to communicate with?
Angie Chang: I think it’s a good exercise to be mindful of everyone being completely different, and taking note of that, and taking the time to prepare before each encounter that you are going to be in this different scenario and perspective for the next hour or half an hour.
Gretchen DeKnikker: We talked about books in an earlier podcast. One that I found super valuable was called The Loudest Duck. It is just sort of communicating with people with different styles, and different heritage, and how that can impact. I think it took me till … I’d probably been a manager for like 10 years before I realized not everyone wants to work the way that I do. It took me a really long time to understand that there are people who really like to be told what to do. They want every step laid out for them. That just felt so ridiculous to me, because I would hate to be managed that way. Getting that awareness that when you get good at being a manager, you can maybe think you’re better than you are, because you think, “I’m being the kind of manager that I would want. I would love to have me as a manager,” rather than, would this particular person, are they a good manager for you? I might ask them to be more like me.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. On that note, understanding somebody else’s personality to better improve one’s communication has really, really been most applicable for me when I’ve been trying to manage up. When you manage up, you really, really want to understand what makes your manager tick, what makes them listen, what makes them perceive the way they do. That adjustment period that I typically have with a manager that I’m reporting to for the first time is when I do that assessment, so that I know best how I can bring out the best in me and ensure that they’re able to bring out the best in me, too.
Rachel Jones: Yeah. I think this can be hard, because sometimes you don’t think about being mindful about someone else’s communication style until you have experienced a miscommunication with them. I think, yeah, just making an effort to pay attention to people and how they approach their own work, so you have an idea of how they communicate before you get into a more sticky situation is definitely valuable.
Rachel Jones: Also, yeah, like Gretchen said, just not assuming that everyone’s approach is the same as yours and leading with that.
Angie Chang: In the past, we heard from Laura Thomson, a director of engineering at Mozilla, talk about her approach to communication during an engineering leadership panel.
Laura Thomson: Try to encourage in my team a force of communication that is kind, direct, and prompt, because I think, particularly in the open source world, you have a place where people can be kind of jerks, right? They’ll say, “Oh my god, this code is terrible.” Sometimes, you need to communicate that, but you don’t need to communicate it in that way. Also, you can go too far, and be nice, and not say anything. That’s not helpful. What you have to do is be kind by telling them, by sharing that with them. Be direct, so say what you mean. Be prompt. Don’t think something and not get around to telling someone until it’s too late for them to do anything about it. That’s my philosophy.
Angie Chang: I liked how Laura talks about how being quiet can be a symptom of what Kim Scott in Radical Candor refers to as rudeness empathy, where you’re so kind and empathetic that you let people fail. I think it’s something that we are always working on, to be more proactive in these crucial conversations and providing very quick feedback, so that you’re not giving someone a surprise at their review, or even just by laying someone off later, by saying they failed, when you never gave them any actionable feedback in the first place.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. When I was a new manager, I remember I wanted to be the opposite of all my bad managers. I want to give everybody feedback right away. While everyone says they want to hear feedback right away, when someone knows that they bombed in a meeting, or in a presentation, they don’t want to be told right away that they bombed. They know it. With everything, I think there’s a time, and a place, and the right phrasing when you give feedback to people. Just like how Laura says, “You can’t say, ‘Your code sucks.'” You have to give appropriate feedback so that it’s actionable, and people can improve, whether you are their manager or not. It’s super important. What do you think, Gretchen?
Gretchen DeKnikker: I think a really important thing in any communication style, even if you’re more of an abrupt person, or whatever it is, that you use a style that’s genuine to yourself, because it can come across really disingenuous if you are a person who’s generally very, I don’t know, straightforward, and then all of a sudden, you’re dancing around something because you’re putting on your ‘I’m going to give feedback hat’ right now. I think the consistency is really important, because you don’t want someone who’s telling you you did a job when you know that they never say anything nice. They’re just completely full of shit at that point. As a manager, making sure, like for me, I’m very, very straightforward about everything. I make sure that that’s also in, when you tell somebody that they did a good job, and you can hear, they’re like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” and stopping and being like, “No, here’s why that was really good. Here’s the things that I liked,” so that I make sure that I’m balancing it, so that, one, they get all of the feedback that they need, but two, when we have to have really hard conversations, that they know that I’m on their side. I’m always on their side. It’s my job to make them successful.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s great. With every feedback that you give, you’re direct, clear, and you give context, so that it’s easy to digest?
Gretchen DeKnikker: That’s the dream, yeah. I feel like it’s also just, I can’t be a beating around the bush kind of person, so if I adopt that style for only certain types of conversations, I don’t think that I’m doing myself or that person any sort of a favor. I just kind of need to be me all the time. Obviously, like, adjusting for how the person needs or when the person needs to hear it, but not trying to be, like, “I’m going to put on my manager hat, now, and I’m going to use my manager voice, and I’m going to give my manager talk.” That, I don’t think, works. It doesn’t for me, anyway.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Right. I think, for me, I try my best to think about it, how would I want to hear this feedback? Because you don’t want to crush someone’s soul. You want to say it in a way that it’s actionable. That’s the part that I had to learn over time. Depending on who the person was, if it was someone who’s a little bit more sensitive, I would ask them, “Are you ready for some feedback?” Then, always, they’re like, “Yes, we want to hear it.” Then, I ask questions. “How do you think this thing went? How do you think you did here? How do you think you could have been more effective?” That sort of thing leads me to then get to the feedback that I want to give without them shutting off right away when I’m being a little … My style typically has been to be very, very to the point, which I found that not everybody was receptive to. I had to modify that a bit. How did you come up with your communication philosophy, Angie?
Angie Chang: I think it’s a combination of what Gretchen said about making sure that your feedback is consistent with your authentic self, and also, to your point, Sukrutha, I do think a little bit about how I would like to take that feedback. I also try to imagine how that person would like to take that feedback, because no one’s the same. Maybe asking them how they prefer to take feedback, in a way that they are more open to it, and they don’t have a knee-jerk reaction and take it badly.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. I know that I’ve always meant to take feedback deliberately but not personally, but there are so many times I take it personally that I have to be very, very mindful of that when I give feedback to other people, too. Whether they’re my peers, or they’re people who report to me, I have to be very careful.
Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, because then the feedback becomes about you, and not about the thing, about, like, “She’s picking me apart,” or she’s whatever, and really trying to think about … I think your thing that you said earlier about, with people you know are going to be more sensitive, like basically having them tell you what they think they could have … what went wrong, or what could be changed, but also, making sure that you’re always separating the person from the action. I had a boss really, really early on that was really great at that. I could screw up the worst thing, and I would leave his office feeling bad about the thing about I messed up, but always knowing that he had my best interests at heart. I always try to be him, right? This thing happened. We don’t need to go back through. The only thing we need to understand is how do we not do it again? How can it be more effective? What were the things that were missing? Or, whatever, but not to go back through stuff that can’t be changed, that isn’t forward-looking.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: A long time ago, someone told me, “It’s never people that make mistakes. It’s the process that makes mistakes,” right? When you think about something that goes wrong, and you’re like, “What caused that to happen?” taking the person out of it, it helps me to think that way. Then, when I’m trying to give feedback or help the person get to that conclusion, I’m able to ask the right questions, I think, that would then help them self-assess without taking it too personally or getting defensive. Just keeping that in mind has really been helpful for me, as well.
Angie Chang: I remember, once, I got this feedback. It wasn’t necessarily something that my … Well, it came from my boss, but it was like, at one of our events, a customer or client said that you were not smiling and greeting them with enough warmth that they expected. I was like so shocked. I was like, “Wait, my face isn’t that happy?” Then, I was just angry at the … I didn’t take it that personally, but I was also like, “Is it a gender bias thing? Because as a woman people, expect more warmth from women, so certainly, it’s this expectation on me.” Then, I spent the next hour crying by accident, because I was, I guess, having a hormonal week.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think I remember that. No, but I got it. I got why you were upset, because when someone is commenting, or giving feedback, or making quick judgments on something that was not intentional, it’s very difficult to rationalize it.
Angie Chang: Right. My boss was having to hand me tissues and be like, “It’s okay. I just want to give you this feedback.” I’m like, “I know, it just sucks,” and then I got over it, but it took like a day. I wasn’t too hurt, but I was like, “Whoa. My face needs to be much more on for something as simple as greeting someone at a registration desk.”
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Sometimes it just feels silly, that you have to do things like this, where you have to smile more, and you have to be more charming, but …
Angie Chang: As women, right, in the world today, it’s still a thing, unfortunately.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: I mean, and then I think about, what is it that I want when I walk into a room and I see other people? Do I want them happy and smiling? Do I want them to say, “Hi, how are you doing today?” That sort of thing. Then, I feel like it’s okay for me to do that. If it’s just being asked out of the blue that I’m not smiling enough, or I’m not standing confidently, things like that, I really have a hard time with.
Rachel Jones: Yeah. It’s an interesting discussion, like how much of that you should take on and make your responsibility, if it really is about people’s own biases that they’re bringing. Just thinking about your objectives in communicating, even if someone is wrong for the reasons why they’re expecting a smile, if me not smiling means that they’re not absorbing anything of what I’m trying to say, then is it still my job to try to fix that?
Sukrutha Bhadouria: I used to be told that I look really stressed in certain situations. Then, obviously, that upset me, because I was like, “I don’t think I look stressed.” My way of coping with that was like, I’m always looking happy. The few times that I don’t look happy is when everyone notices, and they assume that I’m stressed. It’s really tough to adjust to feedback like that that’s about communication beyond words, I would say.
Gretchen DeKnikker: That’s a good segue, actually, into our next quote. Minji Wong runs an organization called At Her Best that does leadership development and coaching. She spoke at our Elevate 2018 conference about self-awareness and ego. This next section is what she had to say about nonverbal communication.
Minji Wong: When we think about communication, 93% of it is nonverbal. It’s not even the words that I say, because most people think that that’s communication. It’s my body language. 55% of it is, how am I standing? Am I just totally just tired, low-energy? Do I have my arms crossed, looking and appearing to be more closed off? Am I open? Then, 38% is the actual vocal tones. Am I super excited to be here, or am I super excited to be here? Then, the actual 7% is the actual words itself. My question to you is, again, how are you showing up in ways that you may not necessarily intend with impact that you actually have?
Angie Chang: I feel like Minji delivered that talk for me. I was like … Actually, she did use me as one of her examples. She’s like, “You are so articulate and warm in emails and writing, but in person, you’re so quiet, and your voice doesn’t have the same inflection and excitement that I know you have.” I think there is definitely some work to be done in terms of coaching and self-improvement to meet expectations across the board on my part.
Gretchen DeKnikker: I feel like when Minji gave you that feedback, I felt very frustrated and defensive of you, like protective of you, of like, “Angie is Angie, and trying to tell her to be a different person in the world, when Angie’s done pretty fucking well being who Angie is already,” right? I don’t know how I would … I felt that way about her giving you that feedback, that I don’t think you need to be in your head, worried about how you’re coming across, because I think it’s pretty awesome.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think I can see both sides, because I’ve gotten similar feedback, and I also have sort of unintentionally wished people I have communicated with would deliver their communication in a slightly different way. I only say this because when I was reporting to someone who was a little bit, you know, he would get straight to the point, he wouldn’t sugar coat anything, he wouldn’t prep me before delivering not so great feedback. I kind of wished he would ease into it. It’s not the same as what was told to you, Angie, but I do sometimes understand that this, even though you might naturally be a certain way, people seem to want other people to be warmer or make them feel better, for whatever reason. While I am not necessarily seeking that out from everyone, I need that from some people. I think it’s hard to strike that balance, for me, especially to be me and also be the person that people want me to be, because I’m obviously a different person with different people. I’m totally different with my friends, when I am comfortable. I’m totally different when I’m at work. This is all natural. I’m not trying to put up a front. Again, that video recorded training that I did was really, really helpful for me to see what other people were talking about. Then, I realized that that’s not what I was thinking of myself, inside. In my head, I was smiling more. I was standing confidently. Then, what was coming outwardly was not what I thought I was doing. Just knowing that realization in itself made it easier for me to accept feedback like that.
Rachel Jones: I think what’s helpful for me is framing it around results. It’s not so much I’m communicating because I know that this is how this person is going to feel comfortable, or this is what they’re expecting to hear. It’s more like I’m trying to communicate these things for this reason, and this is the approach that’s going to get me that result. That’s something that I experienced a lot of, working with high schoolers, because there was definitely one approach that felt more natural to me, like, “If I relate to them this way, then we’ll get along, and we’ll have fun, and we’ll be friends.” That wasn’t as effective in terms of I’m coming here to teach them these specific things. I had to do a lot of work around the way that I stood and the way that I used my voice to get them to actually hear what I was saying. Even if it wasn’t the most fun for them all the time or what they were expecting in an after school program, just really thinking about the styles of verbal and nonverbal communication that really got us to what they needed to learn is the way that I thought about that.
Angie Chang: I’m curious, what is the style that you were adopting [crosstalk 00:31:26] …
Rachel Jones: I literally called it my stern voice. Yeah, because when I started that job, I was 22, like only a few years older than a lot of the students that I was teaching. I just had this very sweet, friendly approach. My voice was just nice, and calm, and gentle. I kind of got walked all over in the first couple months of doing that job. Especially when I got promoted to be the person leading that program, I really had to switch up my approach, my voice, to become a lot more direct. I put a lot more bass into it. Those tiny changes definitely saw a lot of results in the way that the students were approaching me and the way that they were approaching their work.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: I mean, I think for me the biggest struggle is accepting that I should change, you know?
Rachel Jones: That’s why I focus on results, because it’s like, I’m not changing my personality just because this is what people want me to do. I’m here for a specific reason, and this is what needs to happen for me to get to my goal in this situation. It’s the same if you’re walking into a meeting. You can say, “I’m going to smile when I walk into this meeting so people know that I am warm and approachable,” or you can think about, “This is the information that I’m trying to get across. This is the way that I can say this and present myself so people know that I know what I’m talking about, they’re in a place to receive what I’m saying.” Yeah, I think it’s just a slightly different way to think about it.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: How did you perceive the feedback that was given to you about exhibiting the energy that comes through in your emails more in person?
Angie Chang: I thought it was really curious. I tried to understand why and what, as Rachel said, what is the impact and the results that I wanted? They often came at times when I didn’t see the impact. Sure, some people didn’t feel that I was warm and fuzzy in person, but that didn’t really have too much of an impact on the results. I think where it’s important is, for example, when we are at a Girl Geek dinner, and we are, for example, bringing people together, doing the introduction. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of being authoritative. When Rachel was talking, I kept thinking about how teachers describe classroom management and bringing people together. In those moments, I think we do a good job. I think that’s what matters. In the other moments of managing teams, managing projects, managing impact, all of those things, I’ve been happy with. It’s just the occasional feedback. You’ll always get that. You’ll get the occasional errant tweets or feedback. You’re like, “Okay, that’s interesting. I’m going to just kind of move on, because there’s only so many things I can deal with in a day.”
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, totally. I mean, feedback, I’ve learned, is someone’s wishlist, you know? You’ll decide if you want to make that wishlist or not.
Angie Chang: Yes. Also, since so many of our friends are turning into consultants and coaches, I’m like, “Is this also another bid for having a therapist, having a business coach, having a professional coach?” I think that’s another thing to keep in mind, is are you ready for that experience?
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. I think that feedback would be actionable if, A, you were trying to fix something that that would be directly applicable to, which, in my case, it was, right? Are you actually seeking out any feedback?
Rachel Jones: Yeah, if you were hearing, “I feel like the people who run this are not approachable, so I’m going to stop coming,” then that would be one reason to have a conversation about your smile, but not if it’s just someone’s personal, yeah, opinion of how you seem different than the impression they got from an email.
Angie Chang: That’s a good point, yeah. Out of the thousand of encounters we have in a year, I’m like, “Okay, I’ll take the two, or three, or four ones that were curious, and be like, ‘All right, that’s just the numbers.'”
Sukrutha Bhadouria: I don’t think you’ve ever gotten feedback that people don’t want to come to a Girl Geek dinner because you weren’t smiling. I mean …
Gretchen DeKnikker: I feel like, a little bit, too, like Sukrutha, you were talking about a little bit more setup, or ease into something, and I spend a lot of time communicating where I’m forcing myself to go through that part, where people … Like, I hate small talk. I hate it so much. The first five minutes of a conference call, I just want to … Can we just wait for everybody to get here and start talking about the thing? Or, in writing emails, when I write internal business emails, I don’t put anything in them other than exactly what I want to say. When you’re communicating externally, then you have to be like, “What can I say, like, ‘Hope you have a good weekend,’ or whatever?” It’s just like, it’s a waste of words. It’s a waste of space. It drives me crazy. I think my wishlist would be that we could just cut out what feels to me like stupid, pointless small talk, but that other people really need that, so that they feel like you’re a nice person.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: I’ve never been big on the small talk, myself, but I had to learn to do that when I was managing people, just so that they felt more comfortable telling me things. Especially because I want them to tell me first if something is not working, and not feel like they have to escalate every little thing. Asking people, like, “Hey, how was your weekend?” That used to like, oh my gosh, I could never do that, before. It’s just, I’ve realized the importance of needing to do that because of what I get out of it.
Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. I’m not saying, like, don’t get to know your team. I always really get to know my team, as much as they want to be known, and keep up, and remember things like that, right? Like, “You said you were going to that show. How was it?” or whatever. To me, that’s not small talk. I’m asking a question. I’m genuinely interested in the answer.
Gretchen DeKnikker: The first five minutes of a conference call talking about the weather, like, I don’t care. We’re just filling time, right? Saying, “I hope you have a good weekend,” to someone, you don’t even know them. Who cares what kind of weekend they have? I’m saying, like, they’re not going to have a bad weekend just because you didn’t say, “Have a good weekend,” right? It’s just empty words. Like, “How are you?” “I’m fine,” right? Not a genuine how are you.
Angie Chang: I think asking about weekends as small talk is fine. The weather is perfectly fine, too. I was once at a workplace where people just talked about the Kardashians as their small talk all the time. As someone who’s never watched the Kardashians …
Sukrutha Bhadouria: I’m sorry, Angie.
Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, no, Sukrutha and I would love that. You might not like that, but we would love it. That’s way better than the weather.
Angie Chang: Like, who are the Kardashians?
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Is she talking about us?
Angie Chang: My entire workplace was bonding around watching the Kardashians and having Kardashian viewing parties. I was like, “What? I’m not meant for this life.”
Rachel Jones: Any last thoughts on communication?
Gretchen DeKnikker: Absorb the feedback. At least listen to it and be open to it, but only internalize the parts that feel genuine. You’re not doing it just because someone said so.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Right. I like the suggestion to focus on the end result, right? If you changed that one thing, what is that going to result thing? Focusing on that.
Angie Chang: Right. I like what Rachel said about impact, like thinking about your impact, at the end of the day, making sure everything goes for that.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah.
Rachel Jones: Know yourself, and don’t wait until there’s a miscommunication to get to know others.
Angie Chang: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Girl Geek X podcast. We’ll be back soon with more advice for women in tech. This podcast was sponsored by Quantcast, a global leader in artificial intelligence technology. Quantcast is using machine learning to drive human learning to help brands grow in the AI era. This podcast was also sponsored by Mozilla, a global community of technologists, thinkers, and builders working together to keep the internet alive and accessible, so people worldwide can be informed contributors and creators of the web.
Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones. To learn more about Girl Geek X or buy tickets to our next dinner, visit girlgeek.io. You can also find video and full transcripts from these events there. If you’re interested in hosting a Girl Geek dinner, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.