Communication with Elizabeth Woolf

Transcript from Friday May 19th, 2023

Elizabeth Woolf

Carl Vitullo: Thank you everyone for joining us for another Office Hours. I am Carl Vitullo, community manager of Reactiflux, here talking today with Elizabeth Woolf, who has recently started a new business doing communication coaching for engineers. Yeah. Elizabeth, can you introduce yourself a little bit? [00:00:16]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah. Hi everyone. It's awesome to see you, even if you're just bubbles. I will say I am just absolutely stoked to be here. I respect the hell out of engineers and I wouldn't be here unless I did. My day job is I work in product management, and then my company that I decided to start because I saw just a huge gap, is coaching engineers and not in the cheesy sense of like, let's help you get to your dreams and like sail above the clouds.[00:00:45]

"Soft skills"

Elizabeth Woolf: It's, I want to give people the skills to be damn good communicators because that helps accelerate a career and it's a skill. That's not talked about and it can be taught, it's tangible. So that's kind of why I decided to start this in January, and I hope you all learn like one or two things today. If 10, that's even better. [00:01:05]

Carl Vitullo: I think a lot of people talk about soft skills, but I, I think a lot of the time the conversation kind of stays right around that level of specificity. Yeah. And like it's not very specific, like when people talk soft skills in interviews, (laughter) I think a lot of it is left sort of unsaid as like cultural assumptions. [00:01:22]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah, right. Definitely. It's also like cultural and it assumed to be, like, almost emotional. So having this degree of, like, an EQ or being able to be soft and empathetic, but I think there's a lot of it on just the business side that makes you have a really kick ass team if you guys communicate well. [00:01:42]

And, yeah, the empathy part might be a part of it, but it's also so many other skill sets that come in it. [00:01:47]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, for sure. So like emotional side of things, sure, like empathizing, being able to read, read a room, read other individuals on the team. What, what are, what's some other skills that you think are important to develop around there? [00:01:59]

Elizabeth Woolf: So let's, we'll call it the pinnacle of like all things and it's also the scariest of all things. I think it's feedback. [00:02:06]

And there's two sides to it. There's like, you are giving the feedback and there's also you are receiving the feedback. And the people who are really good at this, and I've seen them in my career, they climb whatever ropes you want to assign to whatever role the fastest. [00:02:20]

And when I started my career, I knew nothing about it. I avoided it like the plague. It made me feel uncomfortable and scared. It was a fear of mine. And some days it still is, but I think because there's ways of actively practicing it, it becomes a lot easier. [00:02:35]

There's a site I used to, not used to, I still follow. It's called Lead Dev, if anyone's ever tried it. And there's a woman who spoke and she said, "fears are our best clues as to how we can be amazing." I was like, holy cow. And so it's just, fears aren't who we are. Feedback is scary and it's not something that's irrevocable. So it can be taught. [00:02:54]

And if you name 'em that, that was a big thing for me. Like name what your fears are. If they live in your head, they kind of explode and fester. But if you can write 'em down, make them conscious, make them real, you now have more power. [00:03:07]

So I think that would be a first step, is you name what your fears are with any, any type of talking that you're doing, cuz there's ways you can address them. You gotta know what they are first. [00:03:16]

Carl Vitullo: Right. Yeah. I think that that, that makes a lot of sense and is also super hard. I think. [00:03:20]

Elizabeth Woolf: Oh, yeah. [00:03:20]

Carl Vitullo: I think maybe another way of framing this is what you're afraid of is things that you're uncomfortable with. It's, you know, when people talk about getting out of your comfort zone, that means selecting to be uncomfortable. [00:03:32]

Yeah. So like what you said, you know, if you can, name your fear, take it from something subconscious, you, your, your mind is just sort of pushing you away from it, helping you to avoid because it's uncomfortable. [00:03:44]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah. [00:03:44]

Carl Vitullo: By naming it, you can begin to understand it, and as you understand it, you can figure out how to adapt to it or, or to use it, you know, use it to your favor. [00:03:53]

Elizabeth Woolf: Definitely. It's all like you, you now have ownership over it. It doesn't control you. You control it, which is the best point to get to, and I'm not gonna sit here and tell you it's like sunshine and rainbows. It's not, it's a lot of growth, but it's, God, is it worth it? It's so worth it. [00:04:08]

Fear of feedback

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. So you mentioned fear of feedback. Fear around feedback is something that you've had to overcome. So like if you, if you don't mind, like, well, how did that sort of manifest? [00:04:18]

Elizabeth Woolf: And I hope all of you here with us can also think through how your fear of, fear of feedback manifests. That way you can hopefully go on the journey with us of conquering it. [00:04:29]

My fear of feedback started when I probably was, like consciously started, when I started my career. I started as a people pleaser where if someone said a task, it was now mine, regardless of time, energy, anything. And before you know it, you are burnt to a crisp. [00:04:46]

And so I got feedback of, "you take too much on." And then it grew to, because I had so much, "your self-confidence is shot. Like you, you don't have any anymore." And that lit a fire in my head. I'd never have someone told me that to my face. It also was delivered pretty poorly. And that's another part we can talk about. [00:05:06]

Carl Vitullo: Okay. So in this case you, you've received feedback that received, you had taken on too much. Yeah. Okay. [00:05:11]

Elizabeth Woolf: Which I think a lot of us start our careers that way. You start being like, experience is great. I'm gonna take it all on (laughter). Sure. Then it's like, "oh God, what have I done?" [00:05:21]

Carl Vitullo: Sure. You take too much on, you get a, you get your first dose of, oh God, I can't do all of this. [00:05:26]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah. I also know I have colleagues who they can be afraid of their own selves. So in the beginning of their career, it can be you're afraid to take on anything. You don't trust your gut, you don't trust that growth, or the opportunity is scary. And because of this, people can notice. [00:05:40]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. I've definitely felt that in my own career. I think, yeah. I, something I've really had to fight to overcome is sort of feeling like, "oh, I don't know how to do this, so I can't." (laughter). [00:05:51]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah. [00:05:53]

Carl Vitullo: And just, and like recognizing that and realizing like, oh no, I'm just scared to do this because learning something new and trying something hard is just an intimidating prospect and pushing through that fear. Yeah. [00:06:03]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah. And think of, you can also insert that fear with, and I'm gonna use the word again, feedback. For anyone on this call who is in an engineering role, and you want to continue to excel at that role. I will stress that this skill is gonna be a powerhouse for you. And the earlier you learn it, the earlier you get comfortable with it, the more you can grow through it. [00:06:24]

And so if earlier in your career you find yourself stepping back from different projects, it's, it's that similar feeling. But um, as we talked about fears, name 'em, and then find someone to help you step into them. And I promise you those people, that the ones that speak are the ones who like, grow through their career [00:06:42]

Carl Vitullo: Speak as in, provides that feedback? [00:06:45]

Elizabeth Woolf: Mm-hmm. [00:06:46]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. For sure. [00:06:47]

Deciding whether to give feedback

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, so how would you, how do you go about deciding whether something is worth giving feedback about? You know, say you have maybe a fraught situation on a team, like you think somebody overstepped their bounds. Like what, do you have any sort of tools for evaluating that? [00:07:02]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah. Something that, it's gonna sound probably funnier than it should, but like your gut is gonna punch you (laughs), you're gonna see it. Our observational skills are impeccable. Like we really do have really good observational skills. [00:07:14]

It's just that voice of fear is gonna help shut it down, and also try and keep you safe. If you don't say anything, it's so much more comfortable that way. And I've been there many times. [00:07:24]

The thing is though, once you hear that voice, it's like… it's retraining yourself. It's almost like driving on the opposite side of the road. Like, wait, I need, and I now need to be on the opposite side. It's a conscious response. [00:07:35]

Carl Vitullo: Okay, sure. Where the, the comfortable side is, the people pleaser, you, you just wanna make everyone happy and smile and you just, buckle down and like, okay, I can ignore this. This is fine. [00:07:45]

Elizabeth Woolf: Which is actually a form, and it's just, this is also ironic, like that's a, you just chose feedback, you chose inaction, you chose silence. [00:07:52]

And I would encourage you in those moments to think about, if I said something and it landed well, cause I knew how to say it, like, what would happen. I just know a lot of, I've worked with engineering teams where they chose that silence, and I've also worked with engineers who are so good at giving feedback, and I just, the ones that were the teams, their output was just bananas. [00:08:12]

Like, (laughs) you just, you move faster and you move differently, and hiccups aren't the same. So yeah. That's why I, I love it like a celebrity. [00:08:21]

Trusting your gut

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, haha. Yeah. Okay. So trusting your gut feeling. [00:08:25]

Elizabeth Woolf: Mm-hmm. You'll, you'll observe it, you'll know it. [00:08:27]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. I, I, I can definitely think of a couple times where I had a genuine physical gut feeling in my career when I, one of the, one of them, one of the ones that stands out most strongly in my mind, I woke up one morning with this pit of dread in my chest before going to work, it, it had been a, a, a rough couple of weeks at work, and it, the trajectory didn't look good. And I remember I said to my, uh, my partner at the time, I said, I think I have to quit. And so I, I drafted and printed out a letter of resignation, like on my way to work, and I quit that day. [00:09:01]

Elizabeth Woolf: Holy cow. [00:09:01]

Carl Vitullo: So, yeah, that was, that was a pretty, that was a notable gut feeling. [00:09:05]

Elizabeth Woolf: Was the pit growing? Did the pit grow or was it like you [00:09:08]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, and it was some, this was some, this was like a couple of weeks of like, giving feedback. You know, I would go on one-on-one walks with my manager and I would try to talk through this issue and just like kept hitting these walls where it's like, okay, my feedback is being rejected. [00:09:21]

I'm, I'm trying to be very like, diplomatic and like navigate tough waters because it is hard to give feedback. [00:09:28]

Elizabeth Woolf: A million percent. [00:09:29]

Building feedback into team culture

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah. I, I will say too, um, it's also gonna be really hard if you're in a culture that's like super positive feedback focused or if you're in a culture who just doesn't say anything. [00:09:39]

Like those are definitely barriers. If you're an a leader, an engineering leader, like I cannot encourage you more. You have a great, now, platform to do this, cuz the people who, people will follow you. So if you decide that you want this as part of your culture, it's gonna happen by osmosis. You just lead by example. [00:09:57]

But it's really hard, especially if it doesn't start from the culture from day one, which is not normal. [00:10:03]

Carl Vitullo: Right. Building a culture is hard, changing a culture is harder. [00:10:07]

Elizabeth Woolf: Oh yeah. Yeah. And there's like, very few greats, that have been built on feedback. Like I know Google is especially good at it. I've talked to people who, they get like a 360 experience. [00:10:19]

And then also your managers, your coach, I've watched before. And then I know Netflix, one of their values is around feedback. So I mean, they've done some good, they grew pretty fast. So it's not completely painful, it's just you gotta get used to it. Like learning a new language, which is kind of how I like to equate it to. [00:10:38]

Carl Vitullo: Sure. It's, it is, it is a new form of communicating. Yeah. Yeah, definitely. [00:10:43]

Giving upward feedback

Carl Vitullo: Question in the chat about the context for feedback. Yeah. Feedback to managers, colleagues. I think that's, I think that's a really important distinction. Let's, let's narrow down to giving upward feedback. Let's say you're talking to your manager or to, to your skip level boss. [00:10:58]

Yeah. How would you think about whether to give feedback, and some specific ways to structure that? [00:11:05]

Elizabeth Woolf: A hundred percent. The first thing is do not in any way, shape, or form, I would never recommend like just come out of the blue and spurt it. And also don't do it in a public setting. Like I would keep feedback, always keep it private. [00:11:16]

Something that helps a lot for human beings is if you quote-unquote, "set the stage," so if they know it's coming, you can have their emotions get heightened, and then release. Because there's something beautiful about humans is our emotions. They feel intensely, but 12 to 24 hours later, they're not the same as they once were. [00:11:34]

So if you can tell someone the feedback's coming, it just helps a lot for their brains to be in the right place. And then when it comes to delivering it, I want, this is the stuff I'd probably want you to write down is like, You gotta make it specific and tangible, and you can't call out the human person, you gotta call out the behavior. [00:11:52]

And the way I want you to structure it that has worked really well for me, and again, I've done this to people who are CFOs, so it worked really well, and they are people who are very methodical. All the numbers need to add up. [00:12:02]

So the first step, start with the behavior. What specifically did they do? One sentence. And then you gotta tell them the outcome cuz something happened because of it. So what outcome did that specific behavior cause? And then the most important thing is, ask for their perspective. [00:12:21]

There's a whole book about this too. Like if you had this kind of conversation, you never ask for their perspective, the number one thing people wish that had happened was they just asked like, "what was my perspective? How did I perceive it?" So now we're at three, we're at behavior, outcome, perspective. And the last one that you get to do together and it's, think of it as like a Q&A. It's like what are the positive results you wanna see later? How can you make that happen. [00:12:45]

And when you manage up, they're a good manager, you just looked incredible. I'm not kidding. Like it, yeah, it's so like, I feel like as human beings, we wanna grow, we wanna learn, that that's pretty normal. You wanna do good work, you wanna have meaningful work, and this is a big part of it. [00:13:03]

So I hope those steps help. I have other ones too, if that didn't help at all. But [00:13:09]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, no, I think that, I think that those are really good points. You know, I've read a couple of books on communication as you know, community manager type, that's definitely a, a large part of my role. Those reverse people books.[00:13:20]

Communication as personal improvement

Carl Vitullo: Yes. Yeah. That, that, that book you just held up, Difficult Conversations. It's, it's on our, you know, recommended reading list on the website and I recommend it to everyone, not just professionally, cuz it, I think it made a huge difference in my personal life too, just cuz feedback is universal. [00:13:36]

Elizabeth Woolf: Oh yeah. It's to your mom, it's to a grieving friend. It's in a relationship that's gone sour. Like, that's why— I'm gonna tell you a secret. It's why I fricking love this stuff. Ha ha. Because yeah, I might help someone be a better teammate, and that's wonderful, don't get me wrong. But then they get to turn around and have an incredible relationship with their kid, just cuz they learned this one thing. [00:13:56]

It's just, sure. It's, it's powerful and it's not just in one area. [00:14:00]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, definitely cuz, right. I mean, soft skills, communication. Yeah. That's, you know, that's a, that's a dimension of professional life, but it's also just, you know, we live in, we exist in a social context. We are always in contact with other people. [00:14:14]

Elizabeth Woolf: I will say when I started this journey, there was a podcast I found called Soft Skills Engineering. And if anyone's ever listened to that, if you like to laugh and you like to hear just real things, Jameson and Dave are the host and they are hilarious. And they just talk, people submit questions and they're just engineers at every level. [00:14:33]

So I would definitely recommend it. And they're 30 minutes, so it's a little blip and you feel very smart. [00:14:38]

Carl Vitullo: Nice. Yeah. I, I really liked how you framed giving feedback around the behavior and the outcome. I think you, I think what you said about their perspectives, actively soliciting them to provide their perspective on it. [00:14:52]

Yeah. [00:14:53]

Importance of listening

Carl Vitullo: I think, and I, I think something else I wanna emphasize is it's not, it's not enough to just, you know, like paint by numbers through these conversations. Like, these are the ingredients. Like if you ask for their perspective and don't authentically listen to them and have it inform your own perspective, then it doesn't actually, it does, you know, that doesn't actually do anything, right? [00:15:12]

Elizabeth Woolf: Beautifully said. So, in college, I helped professors and students give presentations. We were a public speaking lab, and the first thing we were taught on day one is, how you listen is gonna be far more important than anything you ever say. [00:15:26]

And I can't tell you how many conversations I've been in where the person's talking and you're like, "okay, okay, okay, okay, okay. I got this. I know what I'm gonna say. Here it comes. Here it comes, here it comes." And then you, you, you're off the mark. You didn't actually hear what they said. [00:15:39]

Carl Vitullo: Right? Right. Oh man, there's a quote from a movie or a show that I'm, I, I wish I could remember where it was from or exactly what the quote is, but it's, "so many people, they don't listen, they just wait for their turn to talk." [00:15:52]

Carl (editing): The quote is from Fight Club and actually it's a little bit darker than I remembered. [00:15:57]

Movie quote: When people think you're dying, man, they really, really listen to you instead of just," "instead of just waiting for their turn to speak." [00:16:04]

Elizabeth Woolf: yeah. That's exactly it. [00:16:06]

Carl Vitullo: Right? Yeah. And authentically listening to someone, I think is all, you know, that's also a skill that's also not easy. Yeah. Something else I wanted to, you know, that I have in my notes that I wanted to emphasize is avoiding the appearance of passing judgment. [00:16:18]

I think that so much of like social interaction is a lot, you know, nobody likes to feel judged. It doesn't feel nice to No have it feel like somebody else is saying "you are a bad person." And I, I think what you said about focusing on behavior is, it's a, it's a pretty subtle adjustment from talking about "the person" to "the behavior." Yeah. But it, it helps avoid it being, it's a powerful adjustment to frame it around something that can be changed rather than something that feels like immutable. [00:16:48]

Elizabeth Woolf: It's part of you, it's like intrinsicly part of you. Yeah. [00:16:51]

Carl Vitullo: Right. It's external. [00:16:51]

It's not, yeah. It's not hard to change something that you do, but it is psychologically, you know, almost insurmountable to change a part of your, who you are. [00:17:00]

Elizabeth Woolf: Definitely. Yeah. And powerful for your brain to think, like, let's say you're about to get feedback, which also is hard, but totally learnable and like, you wanna assume that the person who's giving you the feedback, they're coming from a place of, I wanna help this person grow. [00:17:14]

I want them, I wanna help them be badass at their job. Oh, I'm gonna tell you this cause I'm invested in you. And then if you're giving it like, you have to assume like the actions that someone took, they had best intent. It's just you're now here to help them because if they're coming, it's coming from that point of malice or like anger again, emotions when they're heightened. [00:17:32]

Right. It's just not gonna be constructive. You're gonna just swirl and yeah, you'll turn into like melted ice cream at that point, but just su assume positive intent helps a lot too. Right, [00:17:43]

Separating tone and content

Carl Vitullo: right. Yeah. So is, can you think of an example quickly just off the top of your head of like, two comments, one about a person and one about a behavior? Like, you know, what, given one situation, how could that be described in each? [00:17:56]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah, I had one that I can actually break down for you that I, okay. For one of my clients, they, they received this as feedback and I'm gonna tell you now, they're also a toxic teammate, but they still got this feedback. [00:18:07]

Ah, it's, "your code reviews are terrible. You're a broken link on the team." And, oof. Getting that is just a, I'm not it, it's a smack in the face. Like I'm not, I'm not gonna sugarcoat that. [00:18:19]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. [00:18:19]

Elizabeth Woolf: So when they receive this feedback, something that I wanted to walk them through is, you are, one, you're not the feedback, you are not. The feedback is supposed to be there for a purpose, to help you grow. [00:18:29]

The second thing is that's a tone thing and a content thing. And I'm gonna explain that so that you guys, whenever you get hard feedback, just listen to this. You wanna separate tone from content. So the tone of this, it's negative and it is rude. The content is the code reviews. So take the code reviews out and then turn that in on yourself and say like, how are my code reviews? [00:18:51]

And normally there's merit in that part, but the rest of it was just hard to receive. And yeah, so one of those things is you have to separate the two and also realize that a lot of people aren't trained on the skill. And that's an example of someone just not trained at all on the skill and then receiving it. [00:19:07]

Yeah. [00:19:08]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. You are a broken link on the team is even if it's, [00:19:11]

Elizabeth Woolf: and it was sent over Slack. Yeah. So like, and that's the other thing is like you, if you send it virtually, it's like, oh, I'm not there. I'm not the person saying it. It's now through someone, it's new, through another medium, but it's all the same, holds the same weight. [00:19:23]

It's still a perspective. So yeah, I just would encourage people, cuz you're gonna come across harder individuals in your life who've never been trained on it. So just separate the tone from the content. What is the content? Pull it out. Tone, throw it away. [00:19:36]

Carl Vitullo: Sure. Right. Okay. So "you're a broken link on the team, your code reviews are terrible." [00:19:43]

What would be, what do you think would be a more effective way to deliver that feedback? So, okay, receiving the feedback, you ignore the name calling. Just block that out if you want to have a constructive conversation. "Oh, I'm sorry. What about my code reviews are terrible." Yeah, but, but let's, let's flip that and if you're the person giving that feedback, how could it have been done more constructively? [00:20:05]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah. So if you're the person giving the feedback, I think to help everyone practice the skill and we can go through the behavior outcome, those two parts. So sure. The behavior is, "what specifically did you want the employee to do?" You wanted them to conduct a much better code review, period. But I wouldn't say it that way. [00:20:23]

I would want you to be specific. So can you point to a part in the code? Like can you point to a time, can you point to an instance? So that's the behavior, make it specific. And the outcome. "Wait, so you did this thing, but what happened because of that?" There has to be, it's almost like a snowball effect because you did this, this has now happened. [00:20:43]

Again, both are external to the person, I did not talk about anything that had to do with who they are as a human being. But I talked about the behavior. So what outcome did a bad code review cause? Did you break production? I've seen it happen. [00:20:57]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. Right. I can, I can think of a couple categories of bad code reviews, you know, so like, let's say this person is delivering 50 code style nit comments, but then misses, you know, the, the obvious huge bug in the logic. [00:21:10]

Elizabeth Woolf: Fired. Oh, gone. [00:21:12]

Carl Vitullo: Sure. Or, you know, or, or you know, the opposite. They just "looks good to me" on everything without thinking about it. Yeah. So, you know, like those could be like, both of those could be, could constitute terrible code reviews. Yeah. But you know, it's, that's not actionable feedback. It, it requires making that secondary connection to this is terrible. [00:21:30]

I know the specific behaviors I've been doing are X, Y, Z, so. [00:21:33]

Elizabeth Woolf: Mm-hmm. [00:21:34]

Carl Vitullo: Sure. So yeah, that's the content of feedback. [00:21:38]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah. And something that helps. Hopefully help all of you is, since all this stuff can sometimes be brand new, it was brand new to me in my career. If you start early with your manager, with a mentor, with anyone really, and you just create a place that's, I call it like permission for discussion. [00:21:56]

So if you created as part of your norms, you created a place where it can exist and it's not uncomfortable, then it's just a place that it can actually, it's a safe space. We're gonna call it that. It's a safe space. So I just encourage all of you create permission for discussion. Ask people how do you like to receive feedback. [00:22:13]

Yeah, some people want an email 72 hours in advance if it's gonna be a hard one. So they can process it and then you can meet about it. Some people want it the same day, they want to get it done and they wanna go think about it and everyone's gonna be different. So you gotta respect that. And you also have to know what it is if this is a relationship that you want to both give and receive feedback from. [00:22:32]

So that helps a lot for just, again, priming our emotions, cuz they're real and they're just normal. [00:22:37]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. Priming emotions. I think that's a, that's a good way to say it. Yeah. [00:22:41]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah. I will say like, I feel like my mom is like a wise owl, and she has just, I feel like you could tell her anything and she could be totally realistic about her emotions, but I, on the other hand, like I've gotten news at work and like I just take a step. [00:22:54]

I have to take a step back just because it's been like I've been turned down for a promotion before that, I just was like, so, I mean, I'm not gonna lie, I worked my ass off for it and I had all the little cards lined up and it didn't happen and my emotions got in the way of my work. So just learning how to take a step back I think helps a lot. [00:23:11]

Especially when you feel like it's an attack on you. [00:23:13]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, definitely. Work can be so personal because you put so much time and energy. [00:23:19]

Yeah. [00:23:19]

You know, energy in the form of actually doing the work, but also I think emotional energy of getting yourself hyped up for it and connecting it to something that is meaningful for you. Yeah. Being aware of your emotional experience, I think, yeah. That's really important. [00:23:35]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah. And you want, it's only human. You want your work to have meaning. Like you wanna wake up and know that if you're working those eight hours, like you did something, you created change. And that's perfectly allowed. And so feeling things at work also so perfectly allowed. [00:23:48]

And if people don't give you that space, that's a red flag. Yeah, definitely. [00:23:51]


Carl Vitullo: We also wanted to touch a little bit on negotiation. Do you have any tips [00:23:55]

for… [00:23:56]

Elizabeth Woolf: The fun one! I can tell you what not to do. [00:23:58]

Carl Vitullo: Okay. Okay. So I am, I, you know, say I have two years of experience as an engineer. Yeah. And I am switching jobs, and I get asked, what, what, "what's my expected salary?" [00:24:11]

Elizabeth Woolf: Nice. Uh, don't answer. [00:24:13]

Carl Vitullo: Don't answer. [00:24:14]

Elizabeth Woolf: Not kidding. [00:24:15]

Carl Vitullo: Why not? [00:24:16]

Elizabeth Woolf: So when you, and again, these are, these are gonna be my tips. I've seen them work. And again, you might be given other tips that work, but these are the ones that I've seen work. And also I'm gonna, I can send you guys an article that was actually posted in this channel and it's transformed how I think about negotiations. [00:24:33]

So you are, you have two job offers and, okay. They've now asked you for, are we at the offer stage or are we at the, uh, interviewing stage? [00:24:42]

Carl Vitullo: Let's start all the way back at interviewing. Yeah. Let's you know, let's start from that first contact of, "what do you expect?" [00:24:48]

Elizabeth Woolf: Okay. So in the very beginning, and they ask you for the range, you gotta turn it back on them. [00:24:54]

And I know that sounds weird and funky and odd, but the moment that you give a number, you've either completely limited yourself or you've exceeded where they're willing to go. They need to tell you the range. And for anyone who is any company that's not comfortable telling me the range, I am not comfortable continuing to interview because it's my time and my effort and. [00:25:17]

I just think that salaries need to be talked about more transparently. Like in Washington now, it's a pay transparency law. Like you can't even post a job unless there's transparency around it. So like we're moving towards that. But if they don't give you a range red flag, and again, don't give them a number. Okay, I want you to read this article, I'm gonna send you guys cuz that's like the number one thing they stress. [00:25:36]

And then the other thing that I had to learn, so I got my first job if I'm hot outta college, you're 21 years old, you think you're the, you know, the coolest thing to walk the earth. And they paid me less than an administrative assistant in the state of Washington, and I thought if I negotiated, I would lose the job. That's wrong. Like that is actually when you have your most power is once they offer you the job. [00:25:57]

We're taught, there's a stigma in America that if you negotiate, it's like this view of negotiation as you are now intrinsically poor. Like you're not grateful for what you have. I also had that like, beaten into all me and my friends because our parents were like, "no, you take that and you be grateful. It's a growing and learning experience." No. [00:26:15]

There's something that I learned in that article, a hundred percent of your gross profit is now subject to that negotiation. So if you go through all those interviews and you're offered the job, take the negotiation seriously and make sure you negotiate. [00:26:28]

So when you're sitting in that seat, something I would recommend if you're at the last interview and they've offered you the job, say you look forward to seeing the formal offer via email, because I cannot encourage enough doing the negotiation over email. It gives you time to mock up your words, make them look the way you want them to. Again, it gives you more power to not just be like talking off the cuff, which can be really hard. Negotiation is really hard. [00:26:53]

Hopefully while you're going through this, you've done a lot of research, and I'm not talking about Glassdoor (laughs), like get your booty on LinkedIn and talk to people who have worked there, which I have found so helpful. Who have worked there and have chosen to leave. Why'd they leave? What were they paid? What was the culture like that made them want to go? Like what, what were those motivators? [00:27:16]

And then I would also talk to someone who works there, who doesn't work on the team, who works with the team, cuz they'll probably be a lot more transparent about the team dynamics. And they also just have a different perspective. And once you have your range, I always encourage people just to go higher than you feel comfortable. [00:27:37]

Because the worst that happens is you land around, you land among the stars. I have a friend who negotiated going into the same job that I have, and he makes 40,000 more dollars than me. That's just the way it goes. So negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. [00:27:49]

Carl Vitullo: Right. And is that, so you, you've referenced an article a couple times. [00:27:54]

Yeah. Is that the Patrick Mackenzie, salary negotiations? [00:27:57]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah, salary negotiation. Make more money, be more Valued. [00:28:00]

Carl Vitullo: I thought it might be that one. Yeah. That is such a classic. [00:28:04]

Elizabeth Woolf: It's such a classic. And he has like a greatest hits part of his website and like, this article alone is responsible for 9 million dollars. Like that's amazing. Yeah. That's amazing. [00:28:14]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, definitely. Okay, so more information is valuable going into a negotiation. Yeah. [00:28:22]

Elizabeth Woolf: Something that you could do is, so let's say you have all that information, you've researched the company, you know the job description really well. Now that you know those two things, especially the job description, I would like, I would use their words in everything you talk about. [00:28:36]

People love to hear what their voice has said. It's a large part of validation. It's just a large part of, "oh, they get it. They get this role. They'd be great in this role." Like take your language and make it theirs. Gotcha. Strong point for leverage. [00:28:50]

Carl Vitullo: Interesting. So this information gathering you've talked about. [00:28:53]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah. [00:28:54]

Carl Vitullo: That's a lot of cold contact on LinkedIn. [00:28:56]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah. [00:28:56]

Carl Vitullo: Especially on like a smaller, like I, most of the companies I've worked for are fewer than 50 people, teams I'm joining are like, less than five. [00:29:03]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah. [00:29:03]

What if you can't connect with anyone at the company?

Carl Vitullo: So like let's say I'm not able to make any contact. I give my shot, I don't get anything else. I still have to respond to this email. What then? [00:29:11]

Elizabeth Woolf: What then is, you are now gonna turn it back around onto your life. So know what, what do you need in the next 10 to 15 years? Because this negotiation is going to help that. Again, we're talking about your literal gross profit you're gonna bring into your own life. If you need to buy a home, if you are supporting a family, if you wanna get that dog. [00:29:31]

If you just wanna have really cool tech equipment or if you wanna be able to travel, like do the math on what you can do to live comfortably and do not be willing to give that up. I think for our, my first two jobs, I gave it up and I regret it. I settled and I just, I don't encourage that for people once you know your value. [00:29:51]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, for sure. [00:29:52]

Yeah. I think that's, I think that recommending that people do the information gathering in their own lives. Yeah. Take stock of what's valuable to them. What do they, you know, what would they use that money for? Yeah. And how much would be better? Yeah. [00:30:06]

Elizabeth Woolf: Some people— [00:30:07]

Carl Vitullo: I think that also— [00:30:07]

Elizabeth Woolf: make boatloads, but don't use the boatloads. [00:30:09]

Like some people make boatloads and are so unhappy and some people don't make boatloads and they are. Some of the happiest people I've ever met because they find value and merit in their work and they're also work on a team that really respects them. There's so much value in that too. [00:30:25]

Different dimensions of value to negotiate

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. What are some different dimensions of value that you could negotiate on in a, in this situation? [00:30:32]

Elizabeth Woolf: Great question. So my best friend did not get exactly what she wanted in terms of pay. So she negotiated stock options and more PTO. I know of some people who have families have negotiated different types of benefits just for themselves in terms of coverage, life insurance. Mm-hmm. So I think those are the two. [00:30:51]

Like, so if it's not gonna be the dollar amount, what is the next best thing? Especially if you, you're like, "oh my God, I love the company." Like "this is the role I need, this is the kind of growth I wanna have in my arsenal of experience." Then it's what else is gonna be valuable for you? Because your counterparty, whoever that is, whatever company, they just don't share that same model of negotiation. [00:31:11]

Like 10,000 more dollars normally is a drop in the water. So that's why I encourage people to negotiate and I encourage you to know like, what do you need in those 10 to 15 more years? What do you need right now to be super happy? It's always gonna change, don't get me wrong, but like once you're in the company, making those like hoops and jumps of getting more pay is gonna be much harder. [00:31:32]

Carl Vitullo: Definitely. Yeah. And even if you change companies, it's rare to take a pay cut. Companies, once you have a salary, that tends to be the floor. Yeah. For any similar role going forward. So it, it really, yeah. I think thinking of it over 10 or 15 years is absolutely correct, even if you don't plan on staying with that company for 10 years. [00:31:52]

Yeah. Because, the next job will index off of your current salary. Exactly. Whether you, or even if you don't share that number, they'll base it off similar roles. So, you know, you can at least be a data point for higher compensation in there. [00:32:05]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah, I, and I would read the article cuz he gives you so many different scenarios of where they're gonna ask you what your previous pay was and he gives you the literal words to say, to be like, no, I wa I wanna know the range. [00:32:20]

Because if the range isn't where you need to be, then that's not fair to your time. It's not fair to theirs either. So you can call it a wash. Also a great learning experience. Cause now you just know, [00:32:29]

Carl Vitullo: right, yeah, I think that's, I think that's very true. It's, I feel like it's one of those, you know, maybe going back to the, existing in a social environment, a social context, like being unwilling to share that information, I think goes, it speaks to a level of guardedness and, and maybe even, you know, it's… [00:32:48]

The most likely motivators I can think for not, for being aggressive about protecting the salary range for a job, you know, not sharing it, and, secondarily, aggressively pursuing the candidate sharing their range first. Like the only interest I can really think of for both of the, for pursuing both of those lines of action is trying to get the candidate to undersell themselves. [00:33:11]

It's saying, we know the range is up here, if we do these things, we think we can get at the very bottom of that. [00:33:17]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah. And I've talked to leaders who, like, people have given their number that they want and it's significantly lower than the range, and they take them on because they just, they're happy. They made who's happy, they made a great business deal. [00:33:31]

They just got a wonderful employee who didn't know what the range was, said, what they're worth and like, that's my just greatest fear is I wouldn't want that for someone. And so that's why hold that so close to your chest until you have like a pretty good understanding of what might the range be. Yeah, definitely. [00:33:47]

And you don't owe it to them. There's no (laughs), like, there's no script in the world where like you, and if there is, that's shady. I'm gonna say that right now. But you just, you don't owe that to them. That can also be your private information. [00:34:02]

Information asymmetry in negotiating

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, most definitely. Yeah. I, I think that goes back to something that I have heard it spoken about in salary negotiations. [00:34:09]

There is so much information asymmetry. I actually, yeah, no, that's something that Patrick McKenzie talks about in his, in his salary negotiation blog post, is you are negotiating with someone who is probably gonna negoti, [00:34:23]

you know, let's say you're, you're, you're being recruited by a reasonably large company, 500 people. They have a professional recruiter staff. Like they're going to, they are probably going to negotiate offers several times a week. Yeah. [00:34:38]

Elizabeth Woolf: Oh, they're good at it too. Whereas, yeah, [00:34:39]

Carl Vitullo: they're good at it. Right? They're practiced at it. Yeah. Whereas [00:34:42]

Elizabeth Woolf: we do it like once every three to four years maybe. [00:34:45]

Carl Vitullo: Right. I have done it. [00:34:47]

I have had more opportunities than most to do it because I've job hopped a lot. I've had probably 10 jobs in my 10 years as an engineer, and that's still, you know, that's only 10. These distinct instances. That's like two months as a recruiter over 10 years as an engineer. Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. [00:35:02]

And I'll say, I'm a terrible negotiator! I have learned this over many years in many opportunities. I do not take the opportunities presented to me. [00:35:09]

Elizabeth Woolf: We're born terrible negotiators. We're not. Yeah. You don't go to elementary school and you're like, "all right, kids, sit down. We're gonna learn some" — "to drive a hard bargain." Yeah. We're gonna learn some good stuff today. [00:35:19]

It's not normal, but like again, I'm gonna stress this till the cows come home. Like it's learned and you can learn it and you can be good at it. I would, um, So my brother, he sat down with an engineering manager or an engineering leader cuz he was going for engineering jobs and he negotiated with them fake setting. [00:35:38]

Again, nothing was really on the line, but the manager who's the one normally offering the job has all the context of all the jobs they've offered so they can easily like snap back or throw you off your rails and like you can practice those different situations of how to negotiate what you're worth. [00:35:54]

So I would encourage find someone in your life you could practice that with. And even if it's like a friend, give 'em a script like, get yourself comfortable. And again, that's why I say if you can get it to email, you can get all the feedback in the world you want on it. Cuz now it's written word. [00:36:08]

Carl Vitullo: Right? Right. Being able to take an hour to solicit feedback from a couple of people. Yeah. Total game changer. [00:36:15]

Elizabeth Woolf: It is. (whispers) I love feedback. [00:36:17]

Finding and knowing your worth

Carl Vitullo: I guess, so you touched on a little bit, knowing your range, knowing your worth. That is so hard to do early in your career. How, how would, what advice would you give to people who are at that stage where they, you know, maybe have some idea, they've read things online, they have an idea of salary range for engineers, but how do they determine where they are on that scale? [00:36:41]

Elizabeth Woolf: I'd say it's a lot of knowing. Okay. You can think of it this way. What do people come to you for questions about? Hmm. All the time. That means that is worth that you hold that others don't. So that's a really great thing. Sure. I'd also say people who are passionate about something, you can pay someone a gajillion dollars, but they don't have the passion for it. [00:37:03]

You, it's just falling flat on their face. So what, like what do you Google search for? What do you, what books are you reading? Like what is something that you are just so like hungry for? Because that, you'll learn if there's hurdles, you'll learn them. And so those are just two big things of like, what do people naturally come to you, come to you for that's validating that you're good at it. [00:37:24]

It's an external validation. Then what are something that you are just like completely insatiable for? And those two things are huge value adds for who you are. [00:37:34]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. Yeah. I think that's, I think that's a really good point is seeking some kind of relatively objective sort of feedback on what are your skills? [00:37:46]

Elizabeth Woolf: Oh yeah. [00:37:46]

Carl Vitullo: What you, what are, what are you good at? And. How good are you at it compared to your peers? [00:37:52]

Value of a genuine mentor figure

Elizabeth Woolf: I had a fantastic mentor, her name was Janice, and she was working at my previous company with me and she gave me just an entire, it was like a four page note sheet about like what I'm good at, what roles I could look at. [00:38:05]

Wow. And it just comes to my mind every time. And she like even linked, hyperlinked me to like 25 different jobs that I could apply to right now based on my skills. Like fine mentors like this. Cause they're, [00:38:17]

Carl Vitullo: That is so validating. [00:38:18]

Elizabeth Woolf: They're game changers. I know. But it was like, she also told me like, what do I need to work on? And then like also, what are you really good at right now that you could do? And I love that. Cause I was going for, I was two years into my life, or two years into my career, excuse me, not a two year old. And I'm going for like, I think I could be a director. And she's just like (laughs), " no, but here's what you're good at and here's where you could be." [00:38:43]

So, yeah, finding those people, they're gems. Don't lose them. I still talk to her. The people who give it to you straight, they're fantastic. [00:38:51]

Finding a mentor

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. Yeah. That's, you know, I, let's chase that thought down. Yeah. So finding, finding a mentor. Oh, I think we get that. We get questions around that in the community pretty frequently. [00:39:02]

Mm-hmm. And I'll, I'll give my, so I have a bookmarked tweet from like eight years ago (laughter) where, cause somebody just said it so concisely, it said like, how to find a mentor. Point one, don't ask them to be a mentor. [00:39:16]

Elizabeth Woolf: (laughs) So true. [00:39:17]

Carl Vitullo: Point two, ask them specific questions. Mm-hmm. And then follow up with the results. [00:39:22]

So just like, and that has been such, it's such my experience. Like I've never participated in a formal mentorship program. Like I have never been a mentor, a. Or a mentee through one of those things. But I have found people in my career where it's like, " I'm trying to do this thing. I think you have already done this in a way that I would like to learn from." Yeah. And then, and I, I guess just continuing to chase it down a little bit, like the specific questions, I think is such a challenging thing for a lot of people. [00:39:53]

Like it's not enough to say like, "Hey, I'm trying to start my career. How can, how can I get my first job?" Yeah. Like, that is so broad. Like that take, that would take like an hour long monologue, what we're doing here. [00:40:03]

Asking good questions to a mentor

Elizabeth Woolf: Again, like we can go back to those skills we talked about for feedback. Like, so the questions, yeah. If you make them specific, and this one's gonna sound ironic, make them selfish. So they were in your shoes once, they most likely navigated these same waters and were applying for jobs, were getting rejected, felt lost, felt no purpose. So ask them specifically, like, what did you do in this situation? [00:40:27]

And type out your experience that you're feeling right now, and then if they can respond to it and give you advice to that, they're a mentor. And mentors don't have, like, they, it's not like you're swapping titles. Like mentors can come in anything. Like I have people I admire, I have people who will never know that they're my mentor just cuz I've studied their careers. [00:40:46]

So it can be, it doesn't have to be someone you physically talk to, to, although that tremendously helps. And so I'd make the questions just super specific and like selfishly about what you're going through and then you get guidance immediately just cuz it's now it's your own experience versus like, how would you do a job hunt? [00:41:05]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. Right. Because like, "how would you do a job hunt?" That's a very broad open-ended question. [00:41:10]

Elizabeth Woolf: Mm-hmm. [00:41:10]

Carl Vitullo: That even if they gave, you know, let's say they spent an hour writing an answer to it. It may not apply to your situation. [00:41:16]

Elizabeth Woolf: No. Yeah. [00:41:18]

Carl Vitullo: Uh, whereas anchoring it around your personal experience more could be like, "Hey, I've applied to 40 jobs and I haven't gotten any responses." [00:41:27]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah. [00:41:28]

Carl Vitullo: "What problem am I, am I, am I having, how do I get past this?" Yeah. Like, th that is, yeah. Those are two entirely different questions. [00:41:34]

Elizabeth Woolf: Definitely. And they can be more specific in their answer too. So you're getting the result that you need. And I'm, it's just the, it's the truth of human beings. Like, if you get them in a good place, like they're gonna love talking about themselves. [00:41:47]

Like it's some, it's, sometimes it's the easiest thing you can talk about is your own experience. Right. So I found more, I've never been turned down for an informational interview. Yes, they might have gotten pushed out, but not in my career. And I will say, these are people I have known or interacted with that makes it easier. [00:42:05]

The cold ask is always hard. Yeah. So, They're people that are around you that you admire, but I've never been turned down for it. I've also not, never learned something. So that even made any English sense. Yeah. I've always left with like one tiny nugget. You don't believe it at all, but it's just a compilation of nuggets. [00:42:22]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. Right. Life is just incremental improvement. Every 3% makes a difference. [00:42:27]

Elizabeth Woolf: It does! Do the math on that. [00:42:29]

Mentors and genuine networking

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. Right. Yeah. I like your point about, I feel like it went very sort of incidentally, but your point about informational interviews from people you've interacted with and know in real life. [00:42:40]

Yeah. Or in, maybe not in real life, but know and have interacted with in a meaningful way. Yeah. I think that's, I think that's so important because like that's real networking, you know? Reaching out to a stranger and saying, "hello, I would like to learn from you. Please give me your knowledge." [00:42:54]

Elizabeth Woolf: Like there's no, I, I think there's no tie. There's like, there's that chasm, like you're just like, why? [00:43:00]

Carl Vitullo: Why? Right. And I think this is a point that I've made before on, on another event, but I think that for a lot of experienced people, like their knowledge is in demand. Like there are totally many people who would love to know what they know. [00:43:12]

Yeah. And I think in those situations there's a, you know, maybe even a, a subconscious measure of, is this person worth the effort of me going, providing the answer they want. [00:43:25]

Elizabeth Woolf: A hundred percent. Time is, time is the only thing you cannot get back. Like that is the one resource you cannot get back. It's more fragile than money ever will be. [00:43:33]

So some people take that very seriously and sometimes it sucks to be on the other side of that. That's why having that tie or like I would say, so if you meet someone and they said something really cool or they've lived an experience that you just want to know about, ask in that moment because yeah, the connection was just made. [00:43:51]

And like, so ask as soon as you feel it. And if they say no, it's normally for a reason of like, busy, don't have time, or just like they're not doing that at the moment. And then, you know, but I find just monopolizing on that moment is so helpful for getting the information that you think is gonna help yourself. [00:44:08]

Yeah. [00:44:08]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. I think that's absolutely correct. You gotta, you have to, oh, this feels like a, um, a bit of a catchphrase I've had of, it's a way of cultivating serendipity. Like, you know, it is, it is just sort of a magic moment that you couldn't have planned for, but by approaching a, a situation, by putting yourself in an environment where it's more likely that events like that will happen. Yeah, you can, you can take advantage of it. You can cultivate it. [00:44:36]

Elizabeth Woolf: Definitely. Definitely. And again, putting the power back in your own shoes, right? Yeah, [00:44:42]

Carl Vitullo: Definitely. Yeah. I, I, I want, I want to connect it to another, another. Thought in my head a little bit, how much of networking, how much of connecting with people is really just showing up. [00:44:51]

Like the, the people who are met with the most skepticism when they make an ask, [00:44:56]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah. [00:44:57]

Carl Vitullo: Are like the cold contacts. If you've never met or heard of someone and they show up out of the gate asking for something. Yeah. Like the default response is like defensiveness and just, and suspicion. Just like, who are you? [00:45:10]

Let me like, are you, yeah. Why are you asking for this? What, what's your motivation? Whereas if you can come at it from a warm, you've already met them, you've already spent time, they know you a little bit. They know your background and your motivation, then yeah. You can get a lot, you can get a warmer reception. [00:45:25]

Elizabeth Woolf: Mm-hmm. Most times, always. Yeah. [00:45:27]

Networking effectively

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. You know, we, we hadn't, I, we hadn't like discussed this in advance, but I think networking is a, another big part of communication. Yeah. So it's, it's maybe a, before you start your first job as you're just trying to figure out how to get that first role, connecting with people in the field and yeah, understanding it. [00:45:44]

Elizabeth Woolf: I'm not gonna lie, when I started my career networking, I mean sometimes I feel it now it feels gross. Like, it's like, why do I have to go out there and talk about myself to other people who are just talking about themselves? It sometimes it feels just like a very shallow pool. [00:45:58]

But the ways I was able to change that is, I found events that, first and foremost, that benefited me. And something that really helps is if you go to like speaking events, cuz then you're not just talking about your lives, now you're talking about someone who went up there and talked about something cool, and then now it's basically free game to anyone. Cause now you all have that event in common. [00:46:22]

So I would highly recommend base it around an event where you get to go learn something and then make connections from there. I've also been a bit of a freak for this, but anytime I've gone to those events, mosey your way up to the front and just say hi to the speaker and tell them one thing you learned. [00:46:39]

Rarely as speakers do we get that opportunity to just hear what you learned. And that's also a really good connection point. They're on the stage for a reason. So that's something I would say try. It might take a few sessions. That's okay. Yeah. But transformational. [00:46:54]

Carl Vitullo: Talk about scary situations. [00:46:56]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah. Yeah (laughs) [00:46:57]

The power of showing up consistently

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, I like that a lot. I think, yeah, just going, showing up to something that is of interest to you. I, I, I think I, this is something I've tried to, you know, put to words a couple times and never really succeeded very well at, but there's so much underrated power in just showing up consistently. [00:47:15]

Like, as you know, for networking for, for developing these kind of skills Yeah. That we're talking about communication skills, just showing up and being in the same space, forming community with a group of people around a shared interest. Yeah. Is so un it, it sounds so like trite and obvious and I don't know, I, I think it gets taken for granted that like, the hardest part of it doing anything is just showing up for consistently. And when you do that, yeah. It's just, it's so powerful. [00:47:45]

Elizabeth Woolf: That's why I would throw anyone who's struggling with it, I would just, I wouldn't even say anything. I would just throw the book Atomic Habits at their face. [00:47:51]

Just make it part of your identity. Make it part of how you wanna show up in the world. Don't make it a goal. Don't make it a New Year's resolution. Make it part of who you are and it makes it so much easier. Then it's like, "I, I can't, I can't skip. It's part of how, who Elizabeth is, she's gotta go. I'm sorry." [00:48:09]

Carl Vitullo: Right, right. I think something else that I have learned over my years of becoming an older human is, I think I had gotten that part of it, like, you know, make it part of your identity, and I think something that was hard for me was cutting out parts of my identity that were no longer serving me. [00:48:26]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah. How'd you figure those out? [00:48:28]

Carl Vitullo: I think it, it goes back a little bit to what you said about like, the gut feeling. Yeah. Like, just occasionally taking an inventory of your life, like what's in your life and why is it there? You know, may maybe a Marie Kondo kind of vibe. Ah, but like, you know, okay. [00:48:43]

If part of your identity is, "I am someone who goes to JavaScript meetups in my community," that was something that I kind of experienced myself. May maybe why I'm bringing it up as an, as an example. I went to meetups, I went to conferences, pretty consistently for three or four years and at some point at a conference, I had the, I had this moment of like, "oh, like I've seen this talk before." [00:49:05]

Like, "oh, I, I know how to use the, all of these technologies that are being talked about." I don't know if I need to keep coming to these. Yeah. And yeah, so just sort of that sort of introspection and self-awareness of what am I showing up to and what am I getting out of it? [00:49:21]

Elizabeth Woolf: Mm-hmm. And what do you want out of it? [00:49:23]

Yeah. Like before you choose anything, what do you want out of it? I've been doing this thing lately, I feel like. So the world is starting to open up again. There's so many new events and a lot of 'em are starting to be in person. And when someone asks me about an event, and maybe you guys can try this too, and this protects you if your head does not go, "hell yes," it's a no. [00:49:44]

And then I'm gonna tell you, lean towards that feedback loop. And figure out ways of removing yourself from the things that just are not making you feel like "hell yes," this is what I want to be at. I mean, not to be morbid, but life so short. Yeah. Choose the hell yeses I God, you'll smile so much more (laughs). [00:50:02]

Learning to trust your gut

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. Well that's, tying it back to something you said earlier that, you know, balancing that "go with the hell Yes" and following your gut. [00:50:11]

Elizabeth Woolf: Mm-hmm. [00:50:12]

Carl Vitullo: That's where I think the hard part of it comes in, because like so many times you're like, hell yes, this is awesome. Let's get, let's go for it. Yeah. And then as it gets closer and it gets real, there's that moment of anxiety of like, oh God is this, is this, it is. [00:50:25]

Right. Yeah. Is this for me? So yeah. I, I I think that's, that's where, that's where it's so hard. You have to actually, that's where I think that like taking mental inventory and self-awareness of figuring out is this, is this a hell yes that I'm anxious about or is this not a hell yes. [00:50:41]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah. " Is this not hell yes." (laughs) I'm glad that none of that was like, bleeped just been bleep. Yes, bleep yes (laughs). [00:50:51]

Carl Vitullo: No, this is, uh, this is an adult's only podcast. We can swear here. Love it. [00:50:56]

Yeah. In chat, "find a goal and enjoy the process." I think that, I think that's right. [00:51:02]

Looking backwards to find what gives you joy

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah. And you'll, you know what feels like I had this talk with my brother, like, it's wild how even some of the things you were curious about as a kid, like they will, they will come and they'll pop their heads, like they'll come back into your life in your twenties and your thirties and your forties. [00:51:17]

Like, they're not something that just leaves you, it's part of, it's just how you're wired and don't fight it. Like you're really gonna have things that just light you on fire. And I, I would encourage anyone to like, choose those. It's, I mean, it's not gonna be like sunshine and rainbows because you choose the things that motivate you. [00:51:34]

You have to give up to get what you want. But I'm always gonna lean towards. Choose the hell yeses, cuz, I don't know, it's easier to sleep at night (laughs). [00:51:43]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, for sure. Or drain. Yeah. I love, I love what you just said about like looking at what excited you as a kid. Mm-hmm. Or as you were growing up because I think there is something so true to that. [00:51:54]

Yeah. You know, given as you're just learning what the world is, what excites you, I think it never really stops exciting you like, you know, maybe other things take priority but looking backwards to see trends. Yeah. It's so I think that is so powerful for orienting what you want your life to be based around. [00:52:13]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah. When I was 16 I was obsessed with communication and like, I'm 27 now and it's just grown exponentially and if I look back to who I was at 12 and 11, there were like peeps of it and it, I just look at the trends. You've made decisions in your life for a reason. I did this thing where I wrote out, you can call me insane, and I will probably accept that I wrote out all my decisions I've made since I was like five. [00:52:38]

And that taught me so much. Huh? About how I make decisions in my life and how they've changed. So it's the decision you made and why and Okay. It was like I had, I had to call my mom and be like, is this this? Is this normal? Am I okay? She's like, yeah, but it's wild to see how your decision making changes, but your reasoning stays pretty grounded. [00:53:00]

Mm-hmm. Yeah. Reflection's huge. It's a good, it's a very good trait to have. [00:53:05]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. And that, you know, that reminds me of something I did relatively recently. So over the last year and a half I've been focusing more on community and really, really kind of making a career shift from software engineer into developer community human. [00:53:19]

And one of the, one of the reasons… maybe sort of a post-facto explanation, not, I'm not sure how much decision making, how much this went in as an input to the decision making. [00:53:28]

Elizabeth Woolf: Mm-hmm. [00:53:28]

Carl Vitullo: But as I've reflected on it, after having made the decision to go harder into community work, I realized, like I've been, I've had a natural inclination to do that my whole life. [00:53:39]

Like high school teams, I set up forums when I was an incoming freshman, I set up an IRC chat for incoming freshmen. So like, I think there is something so powerful about that. Like looking at what has consistently attracted your attention and, and energy through your whole life. [00:53:54]

Elizabeth Woolf: Mm-hmm. [00:53:54]

Yeah. I'd say also to like, yeah, I'm gonna say the term, to also trim the fat. Like if you're not sure if it's a hell yes or not, that's okay. But if you go to the event and you leave and you're drained or you go to that anything X, Y, Z, whatever's on your calendar and you're, you don't leave with a part of you rejuvenated. Yeah. [00:54:13]

Now, you know, and at the beginning of like my twenties, I did not know what anything was that fueled me. Like I just, I had a smorgasboard of things. I thought it was on behalf of other people, but once I was told that, it was a lot easier to figure out, oh wait, I'm exhausted and I want to sleep for nine years. Maybe this is not what I should ever do again. And it's just easier that way. So you might not know going in. [00:54:36]

Yeah. You just know later. [00:54:38]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. You gotta play around a little bit. Mm-hmm. Play in different parts of the world and see what gives you energy. Yeah. I think that's so right about leaving something, feeling rejuvenated. Like all of the best events I've gone to or something. Or you know, events I've gone to, like celebrations, parties, networking events, one-on-one conversations. [00:54:57]

The best ones are the ones where I, at the end of it, my brain is whirring with new, new ideas and new thoughts. Yeah. Making new connections. And it's just been like, You know, it almost feel a little manic like, like, "oh man, this is so great. I'm gonna do all this thing." You know? [00:55:13]

Elizabeth Woolf: When when you leave and you have a to-do list like this, it's a great day. [00:55:16]

Like, yeah, right. And tomorrow I'm gonna cure cancer. And then the day after that, I'm gonna solve world hunger. It's gonna be a great week. [00:55:22]

Carl Vitullo: Right? Day two is for editing. You know, it's then you, then you pare it back into accomplishable things. But yeah. [00:55:29]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah, I can completely relate. Damn is it a beautiful feeling. [00:55:32]

That's why I encourage you to figure it out early rather than later. I know people who were in their fifties and they didn't figure out what really fires them up until they were like 57. Hmm. And they blinked and they're 57. And then figuring out then what it is, and I'm gonna be really honest here and say like, the reason I am so absolutely. [00:55:53]

Just like this is the only place I would wanna work is with engineers, is because they're the people who are literally building the future. Look around, like it just speaks for itself. Right. And that's why like giving anyone those skills of like knowing what to like, say, do move forward with how to choose things in your life. [00:56:11]

So important to do now you're just gonna be that much better. 5, 10, 15 years, it compounds quickly. [00:56:17]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. Yeah. [00:56:19]

What if your no could have taught you more than yes?

Carl Vitullo: Before we go too far, I see questioning from the chat. Yeah. What if your "No" could have taught you more than your "hell Yes." Cuz you could find so much, so many interesting things at a hell no event. [00:56:28]

Yeah. What do you, what do you think about that? I, I have some thoughts. [00:56:33]

Elizabeth Woolf: That's a really good one. Um, that makes you think of when you're managing, like when you have a bunch of things to do and you put the hardest things at the bottom. [00:56:40]

Carl Vitullo: Mmm [00:56:41]

Elizabeth Woolf: and you're just avoiding them, um, yeah. Be really clear, so if it's an event that you're just not sure about or you dunno what the output's gonna be, go into it knowing what you want to get out of it. [00:56:52]

Like for me, I'm lucky at the stage in my life where I don't have kids or a marriage I need to build or an entire family of little peoples that I'm responsible for. So if you wanna experiment with those events that you think might be a hell no, do it, cuz you'll have the time to rejuvenate yourself. As long as those other priorities that you have in your life, you're not completely just shutting down, but also keep track of if you did get drained. [00:57:18]

Me personally, yeah, the filter has gotten better as I practiced it more so that's why I can sit here and say like, here's the advice. But definitely I would say try it out and if those "no"s start to come up, listen to them. [00:57:30]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, I like that because I think there can be several different types of hell no. [00:57:34]

Like is it (laughter), I think the wrong hell no is something based out of fear. [00:57:40]

Elizabeth Woolf: Mm-hmm. [00:57:40]

Carl Vitullo: You know, like if it's a hell no. Like I, I'm, I would, would not be comfortable doing that. Then that's something that you should maybe think twice about avoiding, like maybe that's just an avoidant behavior. Yeah. If it, if it's hell no, like that's not worth my time. [00:57:55]

I, you know, may maybe do some double checks to make sure that you have a, an accurate gauge of your read on something that you might do. Mm-hmm. But yeah, it's like you, like you were saying, as you develop your gut feel mm-hmm. I think you can trust in your "hell no"s a little more. But I think, especially early when you're evaluating things, considering what, what about it is a hell no. [00:58:17]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah. I completely agree. Because I have some nights where it's just like, " I'm pooped and I can't bring any kind of Elizabeth that I want to this event," whatever it may be. Yeah. That's allowed, like it actually is, and it took me a long time to learn that. That you don't have to exhaust yourself just to like get to some point. You just, you don't. [00:58:39]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. Yeah. Not everything has to be an exhausting journey. [00:58:42]

Elizabeth Woolf: No. Cuz there will be the exhausting journeys. Like that's part of, that's just part of waking up, breathing, sleeping, eating. That's just, there's gonna be exhausting journeys in this thing we call life, but filter. Filter as much as you can. [00:58:55]

Carl Vitullo: Sure. Yeah. Make sure you're selecting the best exhausting opportunities. [00:58:59]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah (laughs). [00:59:02]

Yeah. And if it's one, if it's an event that you're afraid of, a hell no that you're afraid of, I'd lean back to, it's that fears are your best clues into how you can be amazing. So if you're afraid of it, try it. Not even kidding. Try it. You will shock yourself every time. And if you're still there and you feel uncomfortable, you tried it. You are incredible for trying it. [00:59:23]

Carl Vitullo: Now, you know, to try something else. Yeah. Well, I I love that. I think that's really great. [00:59:27]

I see we have, we've gotten another question out outta the chat that I think is worth bringing up. [00:59:31]

Elizabeth Woolf: Love it. [00:59:32]

Handling being underleveled when hired

Carl Vitullo: Uh, "how do you handle being placed in a position that you feel is below what you're capable of? [00:59:37]

Elizabeth Woolf: That's a phenomenal question. Doesn't get asked enough. [00:59:39]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. That's a really hard situation to communicate in. I think there's, when you think that you are, you've been indexed too low versus your actual skills, there's a lot of Yeah. A lot of fine communication work. [00:59:53]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah. You are now giving difficult feedback, period. [00:59:56]

Carl Vitullo: Yes. [00:59:56]

Elizabeth Woolf: So like, let's say you are, you're two positions below, below where you should be. Your counterparts are doing more of the work that you know you can do. [01:00:05]

If you are in an environment where you are allowed, where your voice has weight and God do I hope it does. Those people that are doing that work, I would figure out ways of either sitting in on or being able to watch or even be a part of those projects they're responsible for. Cuz there's gotta be a light role that you can play. So that's just one part of it. [01:00:25]

Figure out what responsibilities you can take on next to those people who are holding those roles, because now you're with them by association. Those are some of the largest growth moments I've had in my career, is when I ask someone a question, they brought me in and then all of a sudden I'm the one managing the work like six months later. [01:00:40]

So that's like best case, worst case is a team is continually saying no and like they're protective of their work. They're protective of their growth cuz there are people who are like that. And, that's a sad environment to be in, but it's also a real one. This is when I would lean on your manager, and I know some people don't advocate for that, but I just, that's why I believe managers are there. That's why we have them. [01:01:04]

And telling them your skills where they're aligned and asking them the why and then having them also advocate for you. Their voice might hold more weight. It might look different in this different setting. I hate political powers cuz they're stupid. Right. But like it's real. Having their voice speak on your behalf can also hold a lot of weight and give them the words you want them to use. [01:01:26]

Not even kidding. Write it in an email. Say like, I can do this, this and this. Here's me doing that. I'd love the opportunity to try it and I'm sorry that's happening. Yeah, that's really hard. I've been there too. [01:01:37]

Carl Vitullo: I, I, I, I a hundred percent endorse everything you've just said. I think leaning on your manager, trying to get in a position where you are peers with other people at the level you believe yourself to be. [01:01:49]

What if your manager under-leveled you?

Carl Vitullo: What about the case where your manager is the one who under leveled you? [01:01:53]

Elizabeth Woolf: So good and, oh yeah. [01:01:56]

Carl Vitullo: That's hard. That's, my, my first thought is start looking for a new job. [01:02:01]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah. And I laugh cuz the podcast I listen to, they like try and avoid saying that because they're, they're both like, and new job and, but No, no, no, no. [01:02:08]

Right. So if it's your manager, ugh, okay. I'll be so blunt. I've had that in my career. I love them now because they're not my manager, but they were, and I felt small. What I chose to do, which I would never endorse, is I always chose silence. Because it was comfortable because I was early career and I thought I would receive punishment for it. [01:02:30]

Now that I am where I am and I think a voice is so powerful, I would use it to your advantage. The first thing I would do is probably like write out your logic if you have it documented. Oh my God, that's even better. Like either if it's been things that are said that are keeping you small, if it's decisions they've made that are keeping you small, but you know you're capable. [01:02:50]

And then a few different routes are your skip level, so who manages them. And also if it's a whole level of managers, it's someone near them. And I wouldn't go at those conversations being like, "I was undermined." [01:03:05]

"This is why," I would say, "this is how I want to grow. How can I get there?" If they outline the steps, say "These are my barriers." And if the one of the barriers is what your manager is doing, it's come up naturally now and then you can address it. But I'd never just walk into a conversation as the blame game. I would have it come up organically, explain your why, and then they can help navigate that with you. Not just you telling it, cuz it's just the tone is so different. [01:03:33]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. I think, what that's making me think of is, I think in situations like that, if you know you're, you're, let's say you're talking to your manager, you're talking to your skip level, you're talking to your peers. Yeah. The default assumption I think in most cases is going to be that, that the manager is correct. There's a lot of people who have an inaccurate judge of their own skills and, [01:03:53]

Elizabeth Woolf: too often too. [01:03:54]

Carl Vitullo: Right. So, you know, e- even not assuming that to be the situation here, I think that the perception of most situations where someone is claiming to be under leveled is, "well prove it." And, actually, I think one of the ways you can prove that is through navigating that situation effectively. [01:04:10]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah. [01:04:11]

Carl Vitullo: Like what we're talking about now. [01:04:12]

Elizabeth Woolf: Mm-hmm. [01:04:12]

Carl Vitullo: Because soft skills are one measure of seniority. [01:04:15]

Elizabeth Woolf: Oh my God. Yeah. [01:04:16]

Carl Vitullo: Navigating a difficult conversation like "I've been under leveled," that takes a lot of soft skills. Yeah. [01:04:21]

Elizabeth Woolf: I interviewed a CTO and he's like, "if you can't communicate, you can't get promoted." [01:04:24]

it's terrifying. But it can, it's, it's learned. Yeah. It's the same way you learned React, and I, I know it might sound different and look different, but it's, it's gonna take the same level of learning and practicing. It's not innate, you weren't born knowing how to do this, you know. [01:04:41]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. And I think one of the other constraints around trying to become properly leveled is going to be whatever performance cycle you're a part of now. [01:04:52]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah. [01:04:53]

Carl Vitullo: Like I think that there's, I think there's a lot of, there's so many ways to, to fail that set of interactions. There's only really one way to succeed. Ultimately you're asking for a promotion. [01:05:03]

Elizabeth Woolf: Mm-hmm. But you should ask for it a year before you want it. [01:05:05]

Carl Vitullo: Right. Which I, I think that's another way of saying, it will take a year to get what you want. [01:05:10]

Elizabeth Woolf: It will, you're never gonna be promoted unless you're doing the work. It's just, that's the way it works. They have to trust you so much in that role. And I get it, cause it's a business decision. It's hard emotionally though. So I have always advocated for people if, like, if you, if this is the year you wanna get promoted, say it. [01:05:26]

And then you have a manager who has that authority to get you there because now they know if you're telling them a month before the promotion cycle, I'm so sorry, Sweet P, but like that's gonna be real hard. [01:05:38]

And you know, like if you tell 'em a year beforehand, now you have the benchmarks you gotta hit. Now you can, now you know, like, where do I need to be? What do I have to do? Which makes it so much easier on both sides, especially when they have to go tell your case. [01:05:49]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, definitely. All right, Elizabeth, thank you so much for coming out. [01:05:53]

Elizabeth Woolf: Oh my God. Are you kidding? This was great. [01:05:55]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, it was very fun talking communication and soft skills. Anything you'd like to plug? Any, any worry we can find you on socials or anything you want to wanna share with us? [01:06:05]

Elizabeth Woolf: Yeah. Um, if anyone, so we talked lightly today about feedback, different ways of doing it. I'm doing a webinar next week if you just wanna learn more. And the reason I'm doing it is so you can enter the webinar, and then after it you can leave and literally go to your next meeting and know how to do it. I am not one to do fluff. If you just wanna learn it, get out and start practicing your skill. I'm here for you on that. [01:06:27]

And then I'm also doing, so let's be honest, communication is hard and it hurts sometimes, so I'm doing just live sessions. So Q&A sessions, you just take a time, you book it and we can practice it. It is free. It is just you and me or other people, and we can just practice or talk about things you're facing. So the threshold for entry is really small, but making sure that you get what you want to just be a badass engineer, which is the goal. [01:06:54]

Carl Vitullo: Heck yeah. All right. Well thank you so much for coming out. This was an absolute blast. [01:06:59]

See ya. [01:07:00]

Elizabeth Woolf: Bye all.