Communication: What You May Be Doing Wrong Without Even Realizing

As a professional, you certainly know the importance of effective communication. Being an effective communicator is not only about the message, it’s also about the mode of communication and the opportunities you provide for feedback.

Your inability to get the point across thwarts your efforts at effective communication. You can’t just send out a company-wide email and assume everything is copacetic if no one replies. The truth may be that you were ineffective as a communicator, and people didn’t understand—or even pay attention—to your message.

There are some things you might be doing to undermine your effectiveness as a communicator, and you may not even know you’re doing them. Here are some communication pitfalls you should try to avoid:


You’re not an effective communicator if you just repeat the same message over and over. If you want to remind your employees about an important deadline, sending out a single reminder would be appropriate. Sending out multiple reminders, however, is overkill—and possibly even an insult to your employees’ ability to remember information. Redundancy in your messages is not only unnecessary, but it’s also counterproductive and a waste of time—for you and your employees. Whenever you send out communication on an ongoing subject, make sure it offers added information and is not merely a reiteration of the material you already shared.

Relying Too Much on One Channel (Or the Wrong Channel)

Today’s technology makes it possible to communicate in many different ways. While it’s easy to do, you shouldn’t get stuck in one particular communication mode. There are so many digital communication channels that work really well these days. Email is a popular tactic and can work well, but people are inundated with email today and often suffer from “in-box overload.” So, you may want to consider using a combination of tactics for impactful news, such as the announcement of a merger or a high-level addition to the company management.

Consider a web-based meeting when you really want to make an impact. According to “The Evolution of Work—The Changing Nature of the Global Workplace,” a study by ADP Research Institute®, nearly 80 percent of employees regard technology positively for allowing deeper connections across distance and time. It just makes sense to consider other forms of digital communication, such as mobile apps or an internal company website.

Being Indirect

Nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news, but it doesn’t help the situation to be vague or unclear. You should try to deliver important news in person—and the more complicated or easily misunderstood the message is likely to be, the more it makes sense for you to sit down across from the person—or team—to convey the message. A direct, in-person approach adds an important component to your communication: The ability to observe others’ facial expressions and body language, which allows you to ensure your message has been understood.

Ignoring Nonverbal Cues

If you listen only to a person words and ignore their nonverbal cues your direct communication may not be successful. Research conducted by Dr. Albert Mehrabian indicates that 55 percent of our intent is delivered through nonverbal elements, such as facial expressions, gestures, and postures. If employees seem to express agreement with a new policy, non verbal cues such as hunched shoulders, crossed arms, and lack of eye contact may indicate that you still have some work to do in order to get buy-in from your team.

Not Being Open

Secrecy in the workplace often erodes trust in leadership and foments gossip. By being more transparent in your communication, you foster a sense of belonging and trust. Knowledge replaces speculation, and can help reduce gossip and rumors.

Not Listening

Remember—communication is a two-way street. Soliciting feedback is one of the greatest ways for you to know what employees are truly thinking. If you want to improve your communication skills, heed this advice: Speak less, listen more. After you’ve had the opportunity to listen, you can fine-tune your communication skills to be more effective than before.

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Three Principles Of Good Communication

Communication is the bedrock of all relationships, whether professional or personal. Getting it right can be particularly hard in the workplace, where people with wildly different ways of thinking and talking are all heavily invested in the topics under discussion. We risk causing offence or difficulties, and fear of that risk can be just as damaging, leading people to hold back key information.

So what can you do to ensure good communication?

Have Courage

We often hold back from communicating what we mean out of fear. Particularly with bad or awkward news, this can be because we fear facing the emotional consequences, because we don’t want to face the argument or disappointment our words will bring. But putting communication off for this reason only delays the inevitable, and can make the message harder to receive. If bad news has consequences then people are better off knowing it soon, so that they can plan for it.

Holding back can also come because we fear appearing stupid or being ignored. We doubt the value of our own opinions, and so keep them back. But this can be equally damaging. It can stop your best ideas from being acted on. It can lead to venting your frustration in other ways, unconsciously showing your discomfort and so creating bad feelings.

Have the courage of your convictions. You are in the position you are in because your ideas and opinions add to that role, so don’t be afraid to express them.

Have Substance

Recent experience of marketers has shown that sponsored content works better than adverts in drawing customers’ attention. This isn’t just useful for marketing departments – it contains a deeper lesson for all of us.

People prefer to have something to get their teeth into. A short, shallow message, while having advantages in punchiness, risks losing all meaning. Real people don’t like to be communicated to through soundbites, no matter what the politicians think. So make sure that you understand your core message, that it is something that matters to your audience, and that your words get that message across.

This isn’t a recommendation that you run on at extra length, but that, if you’re being brief, you still make sure that you’re meaningful.

Have Quiet

Good communication isn’t all about the parts where you’re speaking or writing – it’s about the bits in between as well.

Taking the time to pause and to think, not rushing from one task to another, is valuable in getting anything right. Good communication isn’t about putting out a huge barrage of words, battering your audience into submission. It’s about the right words, in the right place, at the right time.

So take some quiet time to plan your words, to dream about how to make them better, to analyze your past attempts and improve on them.

Include some quiet time in your communications too. Pause after key points so that the message has time to sink in. Space between the stages in a communications plan allows for your audience to reflect on what you’ve said, internalize it, act on it.

Sometimes it feels like we have so much to say that we need to keep up a constant barrage of words, especially when we’re nervous or uncertain of the outcome. But think about how it sounds to you when someone just babbles on – does that make their message any clearer, or does it undermine their intent?

Have courage in the value of your message. Have substance that will give people a reason to care. And have enough quiet for a clear message. Have the heart for truly great communication.

Image credit: Snapwire Snap zak suhar // // free under CC0 1.0

Better Communication: Sharing Yourself

There’s a repression that still runs deep in the way we communicate, even in our relatively open and liberated age. We fear that what we think doesn’t matter; that we are less right or less valuable in our opinions than the other people around us.

But this isn’t humility. It isn’t a careful, diplomatic silence that will advance our careers. It’s something that will hold you back, in work and in finding satisfaction in your own life.

Oh Captain My Captain

Many of the people we most admire as leaders are the most outspoken. Whether it’s a real life figure such as Abraham Lincoln or Steve Jobs, or a fictional leader like the plethora of upstanding captains who fill pop culture, those who use communication to stand up and are counted draw our praise.

Sharing your views with the world, even with your co-workers, can be daunting. But it can also show people that you have integrity, that you stand for something, that you are a leader worth getting behind.

Escaping Obscurity

One of the most valuable lessons to come from recent changes in the publishing industry is the importance of attention. Like musicians before them, authors at first feared that e-books piracy would damage their sales and so their income.

The reality is that the opposite is true. Independent authors have found that giving books away for free is one of the best ways to increase their audience and so their income. Award winning author Neil Gaiman saw a sharp rise in sales in Russia after his books were pirated there.

The broader lesson is clear – few things are as damaging as obscurity. Even if your idea is not followed, even if people disagree with your opinions, someone will value what you have to say and come back to you in future. Make your voice heard or have it forever ignored.

Stopping The Rot

Hiding your opinion doesn’t just hold you back, it can be bad for others and for your relationships with them.

We often hold back from offering our opinions because we fear that they will hurt others’ feelings. Perhaps you need to give negative feedback to someone you manage. Perhaps a project isn’t going ahead and you dread telling the team who’ve poured their hearts into planning for it.

But putting it off won’t make the news any easier to hear. In fact it will make it harder, allowing false hope to grow and then be crushed, or fostering an uneasy atmosphere through the discrepancy between what you say and what you know. Walking on eggshells does no-one any favors, so be tactful in speaking up on difficult subjects, but also be prompt.

Think About Your Words

This isn’t to say that you should just blurt out the first thing that comes into your head. You should plan what you intend to say, where possible grounding your opinions in a sound basis of facts and trial and error.

Nor should you make the talking all about you. Self-centeredness, trying to make every word and every situation about you and your achievements, is a toxic sort of leadership that’s ultimately self-defeating. You should speak up, but that should be as much to support others in their opinions as to put forward your own, and far more to sing the praises of others than to flaunt your own worth.

As long as you think about what your communication, as long as you balance your own interest with that of others, then there is no reason to hold back your opinions. Be loud, be proud, be yourself, and watch as others follow.

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When the Boss Touches Our Hearts and Not Our Butts

“You know, your butt looks so bad in the outfit you’re wearing, that I was surprised when I touched it, it felt good.”

Imagine hearing that on a date, or in the office, or on a date at your office party, or even your boss hitting on you at the office or at a party. Pretty horrible don’t you think, especially if you were the one experiencing it. This was actually a real dating story referenced in one of my favorite podcasts called StartUp from Gimlet Media. It’s actually from their season two opener about a new dating/matchmaking startup called Dating Ring.

Unfortunately there are too many horrible true stories about how crappy we actually treat each other on the job, especially when we’re the boss. This is the stuff employees never forget. We talked about this at length on the TalentCulture #TChat Show with Tony Deblauwe, Founder of consulting firm HR4Change.

It doesn’t help that we’re still faced with a difficult and complex economic landscape, one we’ve never before seen in the modern world. Regardless of the job growth of late and unemployment plummeting, wages are still pretty flat and employers and workers are under a great deal of strain to produce. That combined with those who have limited to no impulse control, and those with no boundary-setting skills, and you’ve got thousands of annual EEOC sexual harassment complaints and more.

But according to Gallup employee engagement inched up a bit over the past three years. However, 7 out of 10 employees are still unhappy overall. Managers, executives and officers faired a little better, but there’s still 6 out of 10 unhappy bosses out there.

So much for empowering the workplace.

But if you flip the numbers and think about, we can and do empower, and there are happier and engaged employees and business leaders out there. I work with them; I am them. Maybe you are, too. Sure we make stupid mistakes and maybe do the occasional inappropriate thing (but not the egregious ones). No one is perfect.

Sometimes what simply makes a good boss great is the consistent ability to listen and provide appropriate responses for even the most seemingly benign of comments. To sharing insight with his or her team, department and company that is heartfelt and true and yet not divergent from growing a successful business.

Since I work remotely, I only get to see the PeopleFluent marketing team one every month or two. Recently we had an offsite to brainstorm and team build and strategize and all the things you do when you have an offsite. Invaluable bonding and planning time as always, our boss said something to us all that really resonated, something I’ve said in similar ways to teams of my own.

She told us that while the big “L” leadership (executive management) is important to business success, the little “l” leadership is what’s critical – for each of us to strive to be leaders of self and leaders among peers, to be the truest empowerment of the workplace, one where we all can reap both the intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.

This is also the stuff we never forget and the part we wish the other 60 percent of disengaged managers aspired to, the part when the boss touches our hearts and not our butts.