By Paola Pascual on Nov 24, 2021 10:00:09 AM
Effective communication skills are a crucial aspect of most modern jobs, but if you are a manager of any kind, even more so. We met Nimrod Aldaag, Senior Product Manager at Microsoft, to discuss the role that communication plays in his day-to-day job. Read the interview notes and the full interview below to get his advice on effective communication for Product Managers.
Effective Communication for Product Managers - Interview Takeaways
Nimrod Aldaag is a Senior Product Manager at Azure IoT Security (Microsoft). He’s based in Israel and has worked in product management for over a decade. He has touched on different aspects of security and intelligence, and has worked at both Israeli and multinational companies. Nimrod has experienced first-hand what it takes to be a good product manager and the crucial role of effective English communication in the high tech industry. Read the 14 takeaways of this amazing conversation we had with him.
1. Simplify complex information to ensure effective communication. Start by agreeing on the more obvious aspects and set common ground to build up on it.
2. Soft skills and emotional intelligence are essential for Product Managers.
3. Set clear expectations by being straightforward (though not rude). Use phrases like “let’s summarize this” or “this is our plan moving forward,” “this is what we’ve agreed on, is everybody on board?” “Does anyone have any reservations?”
4. Communicate for alignment by checking in with the different team members one by one. For example, “Lisa, you are in charge of this. Are you okay with it?” “John, you need to do this and this - does that work?”
5. Get verbal validation from team members, especially if you are communicating virtually. With digital communication, you may be missing important input (e.g. body language, atmosphere, or vibe) that you would receive in person.
6. Favor calls or face-to-face meetings. It is often easier to get through to the other person when you talk to them directly.
7. With written communication, try to be as concise and clear as possible (without being harsh or rude).
8. Learn to communicate across cultures. Being culturally aware will spare you miscommunication and a few headaches.
9. When managing up, always give others the benefit of the doubt, trust them, and try to get them on board as much as possible. Stay respectful and pragmatic.
10. Set priorities. Accept that some things are not important enough and move on. Other times, you need to put your foot down and reinforce that something needs to be done.
11. Build strong relationships with your managers. That will allow you to have more open and honest conversations with them and help you figure out where they stand and what the next steps should be.
12. Work on your business English communication skills. Proficient English is a fundamental skill in the high tech industry. Improve your fluency by trying to push your native language aside and focus on English. One-to-one/literal translations don’t always work. Explore our English programs.
13. If you are a native-English speaker, help your non-native English peers feel more comfortable with their communication skills. Embrace the diversity and favor inclusion, as that will help your organization stride forward and think outside of the box.
Read The Full Interview
Read the whole conversation we had with Nimrod and scroll until the last question to find out about an incredibly inspiring initiative he started two years ago.
Paola: Nimrod, it is a true pleasure to get to talk to you. Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Can you tell us a bit about you? What do you do and what role does English communication play in it?
Nimrod: The pleasure is mine, Paola. Sure! I've been in product management for over a decade now, I worked in a lot of different roles in several companies. And I touched on different aspects of security and intelligence. I started in the military where I think English wasn't really very big. I mean, it was not as necessary because it was kind of a closed ecosystem.
When I started working in private companies, English became more and more cardinal for my role. And it is still true for my current job. Here in Israel, all business written communication happens in English, even among Hebrew speakers. This means that, in general, you don’t need to be super precise or have perfect grammar, but you really need to communicate your ideas and thoughts in a way that makes sense.
Paola: How about the communication across cultures?
Nimrod: That’s the hard part –to work with people from different parts of the world with different cultures and different understandings. I personally feel more comfortable speaking with people from Europe and Asia whose native language is not English. I feel they’re more understanding, or perhaps they’re less sensitive to mistakes in English. As long as you’re able to express your ideas, it's all good.
However, when I communicate with native-English speakers, I feel more pressure. This happens with customers, with partners, and with colleagues. I feel I need to live up to a higher standard, I guess. They are nice about it and try to be patient. However, I’ve had several cases where I felt that because my English was not perfect, or I wasn’t always able to find the exact word, it resulted in some sort of miscommunication. Does that make sense?
Paola: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Do you think it was more because you couldn't find the right word or was it more the cultural aspect that was different from Israel?
Nimrod: Well, it depends. Sometimes, when I speak in English, I think about it in Hebrew, in my head. And then, I try to translate into English on the fly. And that doesn’t always work, because these are two different languages, they have different structures, and it's not a one to one translation.
If I'm thinking about a complicated matter in English, I try to simplify it, and usually the outcome is better. But it's not always easy to do it when you're in the middle of a conversation or a meeting. Sometimes you need to pause for a minute and invest more effort and resources, compared to just thinking about it in Hebrew.
Paola: Talking about simplifying complex information - do you have any tips?
Nimrod: I think pushing Hebrew aside and just focusing on English usually helps to communicate the idea in a better way. What I usually do is I start from the bottom, as in, let’s agree on the fundamentals. Start by agreeing on the more obvious aspects and set common ground to build up on it. That way, you create a sequence or a story that evolves and becomes more and more elaborate. Instead of tackling a complex problem as a whole, break it down into smaller parts, from more simple to more complex.
I do the same in Hebrew, but because it’s my native language, I don’t need to put so much effort into it. But when I do it in English, it’s like climbing two different mountains at the same time (the mountain of simplifying something complex, and the mountain of doing it in English).
Paola: As a Product Manager, how do you communicate for alignment and set clear expectations?
Nimrod: That's a very good question. So I think specifically for Product Managers, there's a lot of soft skills and emotional intelligence that can really help you. But even more for those who are not necessarily very gifted in that area, I think you can be direct about it, not rude, but direct.
For example, using phrases like “Let’s summarize this,” or “This is what we can do,” “This is what we’ve agreed on, is everybody on board?” “Does anyone have any reservations?” It usually works well to check in with the different team members one by one. For example, “Lisa, you are in charge of this. Are you okay with it?” “John, you need to do this and this - does that work?”
Making sure everyone is aligned is crucial but it is not easy, especially now that a lot of the communication has gone digital. You don’t necessarily get all the same input, all the body language, atmosphere, and vibe that you receive in person. That’s why it is important to get verbal validation to make sure you’re all walking in the same direction.
Paola: Very good point. It can be challenging not to see each other when you communicate. When you’re not in the same room, you may not know if they’re smiling or frowning. Do you think virtual communication is still a challenge or have we all gotten used to it by now?
Nimrod: I think it's still a challenge. I think people have gotten more used to it, and have developed techniques or little tricks to help them navigate virtual communication. But definitely, it is still challenging. I can tell you I’ve been talking with customers on the phone for 45 minutes, trying to be as specific and elaborate as possible, and when I hung up, I wasn’t sure whether we were on the same page or not. In some cases, I was worried for nothing, but in others there was indeed some sort of barrier or miscommunication. It just takes more time to make sure all the parts are totally aligned.
Paola: When you need to clarify something, do you feel it works better in writing or on a call?
Nimrod: Personally, I prefer calls or face-to-face meetings. I feel that in written communication you miss a lot of the magic. Because you have much more time to think about how to word a message, pick the right words, and perhaps even be more formal, there are additional secret layers. By this I mean that it is often easier to get through to the other person when you talk to them directly.
That being said, you cannot have thousands of calls every day to explain things to people, one by one. Definitely, you need to resort to written communication in many cases and try to be as concise and to the point as possible (without being harsh or rude). This part is easy for us, Israelis. We usually communicate in a very direct way, that is just our culture. The tricky part is when you communicate with other cultures. People from Britain or the US, for example, tend to be more subtle, and we can come across as rude or insensitive. It’s so important these days to have cultural awareness and adapt your message so that it’s ‘internationally acceptable’, so to say.
Paola: Do you have any examples where the cultural differences were the source of a misunderstanding?
Nimrod: Yeah, I’ve had several cases where I was communicating with a colleague or a customer from the US and I had to ask them to do something. Here in Israel, if you can’t do it, you just say it frankly, “Sorry, I can’t do it”. However, in the US they have a more subtle way of communicating that, and I don’t always catch that hidden message. So I may think the other person is still on board when, in fact, it’s the total opposite. This has happened on several occasions.
Paola: I can totally see that happening. Another interesting aspect of being a Product Manager is being a bit in between having to manage a lot of people but also not being the absolute decision maker. Do you find that challenging?
Nimrod: That is truly a great question. Definitely, it can be very challenging to motivate people who do not report to you or their managers. I’ve tried to create means of communication to have people who do not report to me work on something I need them to do. In my experience, it works to always give them the benefit of the doubt, trust them, and try to get them on board as much as possible. I always try to be very respectful and pragmatic.
The goal is that we are all happy while getting things done. It’s an art, I guess. There are a lot of fine details and a lot of emotional intelligence involved. Sometimes you need to accept that some things are not important enough and move on. Other times, you need to put your foot down and reinforce that something needs to be done. The idea is to find a way of doing it, and if the person who should be doing this is not doing it and your manager is also not cooperating, you need to find a way to go upwards.
When talking to managers, it’s important to build strong relationships with them. That way, you can be more open and honest with them and figure out where they stand and how we can all go about it.
I’m still learning how to do it better, and doing it in English is an additional challenge. You need to think about many different aspects –personal, professional, cultural, and also language-wise. It can get very complex.
Paola: Excellent point. Hopefully after working with Talaera, professionals have one less hurdle when communicating in tricky situations. Which takes us to my last question. You started a great initiative to help the trans community access jobs in the high tech industry. Can you tell me a bit more about Transpose?
Nimrod: Sure! So Transpose is a project that started a bit over two years ago. I was still working at Cybereason, which is my previous company (I currently work for Microsoft), and I had a colleague there who lived in Boston. She is a super inspiring person, very knowledgeable, and very confident, and she came out as trans while we were both working at Cybereason. We connected immediately and became friends. I then started wondering why I hadn’t met any other trans people in the high tech community, especially considering it’s supposed to be a very open and accepting environment (at least in startups or more young and modern companies).
In short, she was the first transgender person I met working in high tech, and she’s not even from Israel. This got me thinking and I started to consider offering ad-hoc training for the trans community to become cyber analysts. I thought of this mainly because that was my field of expertise, but also because it can be a great start for people who have felt rejected because of their appearance, since most of the job is done behind a computer. What matters is what you are able to do.
I started meeting with several organizations that focus on helping the trans community here in Israel, and I understood that I was aiming too high too quickly. I found out that there is a fundamental gap that needs to be closed for many people in the trans community for them to be able to join the high tech ecosystem. Many of them do not have a higher education. Some of them did not even finish high school, because they started their transition or their personal journey at an early age, and that kind of diverted them from the more traditional path. By that, I mean that here in Israel most young people finish high school, they go to the military, they get a degree, and they find a job. For many trans people, there are so many things going on in their lives, that the opportunity is not really there for them.
That’s how I came up with Transpose. It would be the first step for trans people to make their way into high tech. Our first promotion involved in-depth meetings with each participant and lots of training on the basics they needed to access a job in high tech. We taught them how to create formal documents in Hebrew and in English, how to give good presentations, how to communicate in English (business English is crucial in this industry)... And this is when Talaera came in. Anita was incredibly generous and offered to help with the business communication aspect.
The workshop that Talaera put together for Transpose was amazing. And Keren, the instructor, was truly amazing. She’s so inspiring and lovable. The whole class fell in love with her immediately. In this workshop, they learned how to write an effective email, how to write formal letters, how to write a CV, how to communicate in professional situations, etc.
This first promotion finished almost a year ago. It was a small class of 16, 10 of which graduated, and 4 of them are already working in a high tech company, doing different roles. For me, this is a huge, huge success. We’re still working with the other graduates on helping them find their path, and I hope we can bring together a new group soon.
Paola: This story gave me goosebumps! This is such a great opportunity for the trans community, but also for the companies, right? We all know all the great advantages of diversity and inclusion, right?
Nimrod: Exactly. High tech companies also have a lot to earn from employing people from the trans community. Diversity and inclusion are key to making sure that your company is striding forward and thinking outside of the box. Having employees who are not the same, who do not look the same, who do not think the same way, ensures creativity and innovation.
Paola: I couldn't agree more. Truly great initiative, Nimrod. This was such a great conversation. I really appreciate your time.
Nimrod: Thank you! Absolutely. I hope that I was able to help even just a little bit.
If you are a Product Manager, a Project Manager, or a Tech Lead in the high tech industry, Nimrod provides interesting insights into what will help you thrive. This interview works as supporting content for our free webinar for Product Managers. We will host it again soon –if you are interested in attending the next one, stay in the loop here.
If you would like to improve your communication skills for the workplace or help any of your colleagues, get in touch with Talaera and we will create a business communication program tailored to your needs and interests.
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