Communicating Like a Boss
How do our communication techniques play a role in the trajectory of our success?
At every turn, we’re given opportunities to amplify others, speak our truth, and provide honest feedback.
Elisabeth Diana, Vice President of Communications at Instagram, shares how practicing “real talk”, being concise, and owning moments of redemption pave the way for a more rewarding professional journey. Listen now to experience the full episode!
Read on for a few of my favorite parts of our conversation:
What does "real talk" mean to you? And how have you channeled that in your career and in your life?
I think people want to hear it straight. I think we always want to get to the heart of the matter. And sometimes we too often dance around the thing that everyone knows is there, front and center, but we just want to acknowledge it. And so, I think first of all, just to be completely—almost like tactical, it’s just more efficient, right? If you get to the thing that is on people’s mind, you go straight to it. Yeah, sure. You have to give some setup and some context as to why you’re doing that. But I think it’s just more efficient. So, you’re going to get things done quicker if you can make sure you’re addressing the thing that really people want to talk about.
But then it also as I mentioned before, it’s just about credibility. It’s acknowledging the "thing" that people know is the thing. And so, if you don’t acknowledge it, it’s almost like you’re spinning people.
In PR, we always talk about PR spin, but I really think the best PR is when you’re actually very honest and open about the things that are really important and relevant to people, even if they’re hard.
And yeah, I mean, sure, you can figure out a way to position it in the best way possible. But as long as it’s like truthful, and it resonates, I think, and it feels real and authentic, then that’s what real talk is.
You clearly excel in the realm of communications. You have built a phenomenal career, which requires a lot of strategic thinking and planning and connecting with the right people and certainly advocating for your ideas, your values and communicating what you bring to the table. I’m curious, have you ever struggled with speaking up for yourself? And if you have, how did you work through it or overcome it? And what can other women do to make sure that they’re heard?
Yeah, oh, yeah. I still struggle with it. I think it’s really hard. There are certain meetings that I’m in and that I just like, I don’t feel comfortable saying the thing that’s on my mind, even though I have a thought, you know? I think we all get a little like, ‘Oh, is this comment, is this thought, is this idea worthy of speaking up?’ And it’s really, really hard, so I don’t have a really good answer for it.
I do think that if you think you have something to say, you should always try to say it. And if you feel like it’s uncomfortable, and it’s not a place where it just feels natural to say it, one thing that I think is really important is building allies. So, whoever that ally may be, is it someone who can prompt you with a question? Is it someone who can transition to a topic that you feel more comfortable either asking a question about or saying something?
Really, I think, building relationships with the people around you that can help you—provide you with an opening in a meeting, and that’s a pretty specific example about one meeting. But I do think actually it comes down to the meeting setting where you’re sort of like, I don’t know what’s going on.
So, one thing that I try to do is an ally to people on my team who may feel like they want to say things and don’t feel like maybe they want to speak up, is really just asking more questions. ‘Hey, what do you think?’ Like, I want to make sure what I’m saying is tracking with the people in the room.
And actually, in this world of working from home, it’s harder to see people’s faces and see their reaction. So, I really try to sit with a thought after I make it and say to someone like this morning, ‘I see that you’re smiling. What are you laughing about? What is bringing up for you? What are you thinking about?’ And just getting people—prompting people a little bit more is something that I try to do, and I encourage others to do. That’s one tip I think that helps.
I would kick myself if I didn’t ask this question: What was it like working with Sheryl Sandberg? What did you learn from her? I’m so curious!
I worked with her in my old job because she oversees the business part of Facebook and Instagram and all of our apps, and so that’s part of the job is working with her. She’s an amazing spokesperson.
Working with her is inspiring. She’s always really pushing, ‘Okay, what can we do to make this bigger, better?’ Right? I think I learned that from her. And, ‘Okay, this announcement is great or this thing is wonderful. But how can we take it from a 10 to an 11?’ Always thinking about how we can go bigger and how you can push yourself, which I think is really important that we should all take that advice to heart.
The other thing is just like how much she cares about small businesses. I think that’s something that I think some of you may have seen our work around COVID and the recovery, trying to get businesses back, because that’s something that’s been super hard hit from COVID-19 unfortunately is small business owners.
And so, the work that she does there and that she champions is just incredible, really just understanding the needs of small business owners. She spends so much time with them. She understands what they need, how technology can help them. And so, that’s something that she was a huge champion for when I was working with her. So, that was really inspiring too.
If you could start all over again, your career, even the path that you took, or decisions that you’ve made, mentors you’ve had, what would you do differently?
Such a good question. What would I do differently? I think back to your question about speaking up, I think I would have told my younger self, ‘It’s okay to speak up and not always have all the answers.’ I think it’s sort of like when you’re just younger and you just care a lot about what people think of you—at least I did—although maybe not so much since I wore what I did when I was eight or nine, but...
I think we care too much, especially I would say women in particular care a lot about what other people think of us. And sometimes we make decisions too much based on that.
So, I think what I would tell my younger self is,
‘Just say the thing that’s on your mind, it’s okay, if you don’t always get it right. It’s okay to not internalize every single move you make, or every email you send or... we’re gonna make mistakes, and that’s okay.’
And I think, honestly, the people that I work with now, it’s really in how they pick themselves up after a mistake, how they react to crises, how they react to things that don’t go their way, that is actually the defining thing versus things that go well. Because let’s be honest, nothing goes well all the time. And it’s really those moments in which we could say, ‘Okay, I made a mistake, or I didn’t handle that the best way possible, or this thing happened that shouldn’t have gone this way.’ And it’s really how you react to that and how you pick yourself up and how you do better the next time, how you learn from those mistakes.
And I know people say that all the time, but it’s really like, it just did not resonate with me as a younger person starting out in my career.
I just wish I had had a little bit tougher skin and realize that like, everyone’s gonna make mistakes and no one cares in the long run. It’s really just how you keep going.
What do you want your legacy to be?
I think I just like to keep things as light as possible. I think I want people to think and these are I mean, mentors and good bosses that I’ve had before me, I hope imbued this in me, but I think just like making work not just work and making work fun and more of like a family in the sense of look like times will not be always rosy. And we all are going to give each other hard but constructive feedback and advice and push each other to be better.
But you learned something, and you laughed, I think would be my things that I would want to leave my team with, that my team feels like they’re super supported by me. They’ve learned a ton, I’m going to be hard on them when I think they can be doing better, but they’ve learned, and they’ve laughed like not everything is stressful. I would say those would be the things I would leave with my team.
I think a lot of people struggle with not just receiving feedback, but with giving feedback.
Yep. But sometimes you’re hurting them by not giving them the feedback, because then they—it’s almost like when someone is saying something about you, everyone’s saying, and no one will tell you. You wouldn’t want that. I certainly wouldn’t. I would want to know the thing as long as it’s something that I think I can improve upon, and you can give me the tools to do it.
So, yeah, and it’s nice now it’s become when you get into a routine of giving that feedback too, people ask you for it more before you even give it. So, like for prepping someone for an interview. So then someone will say, how did that go? What did you think? What could I have done better? You know, and like, it’s so awesome to hear that because it’s like, oh, well, there’s always little things, pieces of feedback I can give you. And then it makes it easier for them to also say to me, Hey, here’s something for you that you could be doing better, like giving that upward feedback too, is super important.
What your advice would be to other women who are looking to really excel in their careers?
I think in the earlier stages of your career, I tell people, it’s more about what you don’t want to do not what you do want to do. I think no one unless they’re writing an application for getting into college or getting into a graduate program pretends to know exactly what they want to do, it’s really hard to know early on. And so, you just got to kind of do it and eliminate the things that you don’t like to do. I think that’s part of the earlier stages of figuring out your career.
For me it was figuring out okay, I really like the writing blog posts and prepping executives to what they should say in interviews, and I was sort of like, okay, that steers me more towards PR versus like marketing, straight up marketing. Figuring that out is important, kind of crossing things off the list. I think it’s important.
There’s an exercise called Love and Loathe. I don’t know if you’ve heard of this, but sometimes you take inventory of your entire week for a week, and you write down during the day what gives you the most energy and what doesn’t give you the most energy. Now a lot of people will say like expense reports don’t give me energy. Totally get that. But we’re talking more about like, I get really excited when I go into a meeting about x.
And then you can sort of start picking together or weaving together the themes and seeing what you really love and what you don’t love as much. Like, what do you look forward to? What don’t you look forward to? And I think it’s pretty telling. So, that’s another piece of advice of like, figure out what gives you energy and what draws energy from you.
And then when it comes to just advice, just in general, I think the theme of really having a tough skin and understanding that there are going to be days where you’re gonna think everything is permanent and prevalent and everything is awful and terrible and oh my gosh, and it’s really about picking yourself up and pushing through those things and pushing those things aside that really define where can go and just know that everyone has them.
And it’s just taking those moments and trying to learn from them and trying to trying to push through them. Because it’s gonna happen to everyone. And I would say, as you get more senior, it happens even more. So, get used to doing those things and pushing through them is just super important. So, I think the best people, the people that I admire in my career are the people that can do that really well, who can say, ‘Look, this was tough. This really stunk, and I’m learning these things from it. And I’m going to do better next time.’
I think it’s so important to talk about the comeback and the way that you pick yourself up and your perseverance and I truly do believe that those are the things that will propel you to the next level. And I know you and I talked offline about how this year has shaped up and how it’s been such a different year than I imagined, than other people imagined and it truly is in those moments of you’ve been knocked down, you could even be at rock bottom, it’s in those moments where you realize that you do have a choice, you can get up, you can push forward, you can learn, you can grow, you can win, or you can stay stuck and it’s totally up to you. Nobody else is going to pick you up.
The other very, very specific thing that I would give to people starting out is really understand how to be —because I think this is this is true of many fields—try it to be really succinct in the way that you summarize, synthesize. I think too often we get so reliant on lots of words instead of fewer words. And I would just say, the art of a good succinct, well-framed email, or a memo, or blog post, it’s super important or just the way you talk. ‘We have three options. Here are the three.’ Or ‘These things have changed since last we chatted.’
Really being able to synthesize and summarize in a succinct way is I just find it those the people who can do that, well, it’s like a rare art form. And I cannot stress how important that is. It doesn’t matter if you’re going into communications or not. It’s actually just something that’s just important. It’s like how do you serve up the problem and serve up the solutions in a way that’s palatable and understandable to people?
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