Communication Blunders – Recipe for Disaster

As humans, we are generally pretty good at creating communication tools. The reality is that we are actually not great communicators. There are two main reasons for this: not sufficiently exercising the will or ability to understand things from the perspective of the person we’re talking to; and making assumptions – assuming we are being understood, or that we understand the other person.

Communication is key in any relationship. But in the workplace, miscommunication can be deadly to a professional relationship — and more so, to an organization overall. Some of these common communication mistakes can lead to bigger issues if not addressed.  All it takes is a few techniques and a little practice. Here are some common communication pitfalls and tips on how to navigate around them in the workplace.

Dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s

Being poorly prepared is a recipe for a career disaster as much as it is for anything in life. Good communication can only be achieved when the material is worthy of communication in the first place. Poorly prepared materials only frustrate and allow greater opportunity for miscommunication. Crafting presentations, reports, arguments or even meetings effectively is the only way to avoid this trap. There are many online tools that offer assistance in crafting the impactful and efficient, for example the Rhetorical Triangle and Monroe’s Motivating Sequence.

Check and check again

Despite being well prepared, mistakes can happen to the best of us. Most definitely, prevention is better than cure. About one-third of all miscommunication that occurs in a corporate setting can be attributed to typos, spelling errors and improper presentation; all of which can be easily avoided with a simple scan through.  Such mistakes often give the impression of being sloppy and careless. It is often difficult for the person completing the task to completely track all his mistakes. Having a friend or colleague proof read your work can help to spot and correct common mistakes and errors.

Take nothing for granted

Considered one of the most common reasons for miscommunication, assuming the audience has understood a message backs 43% of miscommunication at work. It is necessary to follow-up and take the time to ensure that people have understood your message, Simple things like following-up with an email or phone call or a short question and answer session after a meeting goes a long way in avoiding a stressful and frustrating situation.

Short and sweet

Keep messages succinct and coherent weakens the power and impacts the points made. Seventy percent of emails that are more than 250 words long are misinterpreted and that is a startling number! Similarly, meetings that go on for more than half an hour lose 63% of the audience’s attention.

These tips focus on the ‘hard’ skills such as content and delivery.  Yet a significant component of any type of communication involves ‘soft’ skills which contrary to popular belief, can be learnt too. These ‘soft’ skills are extremely important in today’s globalized corporate setting.

Don’t shy away

As the world increasingly gets more connected, we seem to have, ironically, lost the ability to have difficult conversations face to face. Sixty-seven percent of respondents in a recent survey said they would prefer to face a sticky conversation via text or email versus in person, and over video or voice call. At some point, you will need to give negative feedback. It is tempting to try to avoid these conversations, but this can cause further problems – in particular, you may let small problems grow into big ones. Role-play is a great way to familiarize yourself in an uncomfortable situation. Again, preparation is key, alongside sensitivity and maturity.

Don’t judge a book by its cover

Today’s workplace is a melting pot of ethnicities, religions, ages, sexual orientations, and viewpoints. These differences create a rich and meaningful tapestry of experiences and opinions while being extremely difficult to balance. It can be tempting to stereotype new colleagues or clients, or to make assumptions about them based on little information you have. This is especially true if you have not had much time to get to know them well. Assumptions inhibit open communication, because you don’t consider the other person’s own unique background, personality, and experience. Over time, this can jeopardize your relationship with them.

Humor me right

Many individuals deal with awkward situations by peppering them with humor. Humor done right is brilliant; humor done wrong leaves an unpleasant aftertaste. Of executives surveyed, 72% said racially biased comments are a major blunder for men and 70% said the same for women. These remarks easily offend or insult, reflect poor judgment and reveal low emotional intelligence, according to the researchers. This second worst communication mistake is similar to the first. Telling inappropriate jokes makes people uncomfortable, revealing an inability to gauge the environment. On the flip side, 61% of executives believe that being able to sense the mood of others and effectively adjust your language, tone and content is one of the top skills required to advance.

These are not unknown skills and nor are they particularly difficult. Yet, they are often neglected in the hustle and bustle of corporate life. Good communication requires a very attainable combination of ‘hard’ skills and ‘soft’ skills; it is as important to be effective and impactful as it is to be sensitive and appropriate. All this combination requires, is a conscious effort to be aware of what the situation calls for.

Posted by Tara Kishin, PR Executive, Corporate Media

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1 Comment

  1. You’ve brilliantly demonstrated your own point in the sentence, “Keep messages succinct and coherent weakens the power and impacts the points made.” Given the context of the paragraph, I’m sure that was supposed to read “strengthens the power and impacts…”

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