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The 5 Biggest Communication Mistakes We Make

Everyone knows that the office can be a minefield of miscommunications, mishaps and misinterpretations. Most people think they personally do a great job of communicating but complain that their peers and managers are lousy at it—their boss never shares enough information, or shares too much. A manager barks orders endlessly or doesn’t give enough guidance. John from accounting goes on and on without getting to the point; Mary Ann in sales sends seven emails instead of picking up the phone just once. The truth is, most of us can improve our workplace effectiveness exponentially by becoming better communicators on the job. Effective communication is both an art and a science, but it can in fact be taught and learned. Here are some of the most common mistakes we make at work and how to fix them:

We don’t ask for help in a smart way

No one knows everything. At some point, everyone needs help with a project or task. But our fear of looking helpless or uninformed often precludes us from asking for and getting the help we need. Asking for help in a smart way, however, shows you to be thoughtful and have good judgment. If you’re given an assignment you don’t know how to do, ask your boss if she has any recent or good examples to take a look at, an outline or template in mind, or a recommendation of someone to speak with who may be able to help. The goal is to set yourself up for success by getting the resources and guidance you need upfront. If there are no resources available, then offer to put your initial thoughts down on paper and come back to your manager with a first draft, bullet points, or an outline. Get your manager invested in the process early on and make sure you have sign-off on your approach before going down the wrong path. You’ll avoid lots of wasted time and energy by making sure you and your boss are on the same page from the get-go.

We don’t communicate our expectations clearly

A group of young managers was recently asked if their subordinates knew how often they their managers wanted to hear from them. One manager replied that she liked to hear from one of her analysts daily (because she was new and needed guidance regularly) and from her other analysts on an as-needed basis when they had questions to ask or milestones to share. The manager was then asked her if her analysts knew which group they fell into. She sheepishly admitted that no, her analysts probably didn’t know. How are your employees supposed to meet and exceed your expectations if they don’t know what those expectations are? Whether it be timing or deadlines, information you want included in a report or the key outcomes you’re hoping to see in a strategic review, if you don’t tell people exactly what you’re looking for, you’re likely not going to get it. The quick and easy fix is to tell people what you want and when you want it. As a junior employee, ask the pointed questions to make sure you know what’s being expected of you.

We hide behind email when we have problems

When you have a problem at work, no good can come of sending someone a nasty note, voicing a complaint online or arguing a point via email. As anyone who’s been on the receiving end of a snarky email knows, you seldom (if ever) accomplish your goals without taking it offline and discussing it in person. Tone and tenor are lost in email and people are highly predisposed to misinterpret information without additional context. When something goes wrong, you’ve got to get up out of your seat and go to your boss’ office to raise the issue or pick up the phone and have a tough conversation live—so that you can explain your position and give your colleague a chance to voice his or hers. The back and forth is what solves problems—not the one-way email that makes people have to read between the lines or guess at your true meaning.

We Bury the Lead

Mark Twain famously quipped, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” Everyone is short on time these days. We’re all being asked to do more with fewer resources. So when you have to update your team or post your boss, make sure you’re thinking ahead about your message and leading with your punch line. Don’t make people guess at your meaning or listen to a five-minute voice mail when they could have gotten all of the information they needed in half that time. Ask yourself what is new, different or important about the information you’re sharing and then start off with that. If you can’t satisfy that requirement, you probably shouldn’t be taking up someone’s time in the first place.

We fail to focus on forward momentum

Business relationships are all about momentum. The best conversations we have are the ones that lead to another conversation. When you’re getting off the phone or taking leave of your manager’s office, keep him posted on next steps. Offer to keep him in the loop on what happens next or promise to apprise him of a change in the situation. Let your boss know that you’ll close the loop when the final report comes in or ask if there’s anything else he needs from you. Always be thinking two steps ahead so your boss doesn’t have to.

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2 Responses to The 5 Biggest Communication Mistakes We Make

  1. Leticia M. Hernandez says:

    Good afternoon, Ms Jodi!

    This will be my second time to ever comment on any site so I had to stop by and say thank you for a wonderful article/advice on the importance of communication. This will be some very important information to take with me when I graduate from Columbia Southern University in April, 2012, with a B.S. degree in Human Resource Management. Also being an older person, 47 yrs old, and earning a degree is something I will always be proud of and I want to be able to know all the current up to date information/advice I can get! I have subscribed to your e-newsletter and wanted to say ‘thank you’ again! You are priceless!

    Happy Saturday!

    • Jodi says:

      You are a doll Leticia, I’m so glad you found the post helpful! Please let me know if you have any issues/questions, I’d love to hear from you! all the best, jodi

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