We can all hit a career plateau at one time or another. Sometimes it’s due to forces outside of your control, like if you work for a company that stops innovating. But sometimes it’s due to your own actions. The difference between a career that plateaus and one that skyrockets is the impression you make on others.
“One of the most overlooked variables in your career is communication,” says Steve Herz, author of Don’t Take Yes for an Answer: Using Authority, Warmth, and Energy to Get Exceptional Results. “How you show up in your daily life can cement a plateau.”
Instead of getting stuck in a rut or in a job that isn’t going anywhere, Herz says you have to pay attention to three attributes—which he nicknames with the acronym AWE—that can make or break your career success.
People who communicate with a sense of authority can gain influence. They gave a greater chance of getting their ideas in front of people who can have an impact on their careers, says Herz.
“Your career can move forward if you’re working hard and doing a good job, but you’ll go farther if your voice is being heard,” he says. “You can take two seemingly identical people who both go to good schools, work hard, and do all the right things. One will plateau, though, if they don’t have influence. If you’re being taken seriously, you’ll never get to plateau.”
To assess your authority, it can help to audiotape or videotape presentations you make. Ask yourself: Do I speak with a sense of purpose? Do my comments and questions trail off? Also, pay attention to your posture, eye contact, and watch how people respond to you.
Another important attribute is the warmth you convey. Herz says this is communicated by being humble, vulnerable, empathetic, and attentive. Warmth is often measured by how good a listener you are. It’s not just about sharing your ideas; it’s about listening to others.
“Warmth is necessary to create trust, as well as to be relatable, which is crucial to solidifying your position on a team,” says Herz. To assess your warmth, ask yourself if colleagues trust you? Do people feel comfortable challenging your ideas or giving feedback? Do you acknowledge others during interactions?
The final attribute is a dynamic quality that gives you power. “The more energy you have, the more power you have to influence, illuminate, educate, or engage,” says Herz. “Authority earns other people’s respect; warmth earns their affection and trust. Energy compels people to follow.”
Energy is an emotional commitment and an emotional connection that makes you memorable, impressionable, and persuasive.
“That doesn’t mean you always have to be ‘on,'” says Herz. “There are benefits to high and low energy; what matters is how it’s communicated and received.”
Assess your energy by tuning into how you engage with others and paying attention to how others react to you. Do you talk too fast? Not enough? And do you truly listen in a way that makes others feel energized by your interest in them?
You probably recognize warmth in others. “Think about who you’re turned off by and who you’re inspired by,” says Herz. “Who do you want to hear more of and who do you want to hear less of? Think why you felt that way.”
Ask for Feedback
Being honest with your weaknesses is a start, but good communicators are like good athletes, says Herz. “Tom Brady is known to be a guy that wants to be coached hardest,” he says. “In society, high performers want to get feedback and get coached. But we live in a society where that is not the norm. You can benefit the way great athletes do if you seek out improvement through feedback and coaching.”
Seek out feedback from trusted friends, managers, and colleagues. Ask general questions, such as, “What kind of impression do I make?” You can also be specific, asking about the authority, warmth, and energy you exude. For feedback to be valuable, you must be ready to welcome the truth. You will need it to push past your blind spots.
“Feedback is an opportunity to grow,” says Herz. “Some people think it can be harsh, but what’s harsh is plateauing. You don’t do yourself any favors if you have an artificially inflated mindset. It could be limiting you from reaching your potential.”