Your written, verbal and nonverbal communication skills are instrumental, especially in today’s working environment. Nevertheless, many professionals make a number of common communication mistakes that damage their image and credibility, in addition to conveying an unintended and unclear message. The full expression of your message includes not only what you say, but also how you say it, and how you present yourself. You achieve true, accurate communication only when the other person understands what you mean exactly. Follow these 17 practical tips to overcome everyday speaking and presentation blunders. By removing these barriers, you will be able to work productively with people from different backgrounds, roles, and levels in the organization.
In their book “You Said What?!: The Biggest Communication Mistakes Professionals Make (A Confident Communicator’s Guide),” communication experts Kim Zoller and Kerry Preston identify the worst communication blunders and tell us how to correct them or avoid them. You can easily incorporate a few of these concepts into your daily routine.
- Be on Top of Your Game
It is essential that you maintain a positive mindset and a can-do attitude to perform your best. Since many things can be outside your control, all you can do is control your response. When something goes wrong, or someone irritates you, take a few deep breaths. You will be able to find better solutions when you are calm.
Also, don’t blame others. Instead, listen calmly and understand their perspective.
Foresee worst-case scenarios and do what you can to prevent them.
- Begin with the End in Mind
When someone does or says something you do not approve, avoid reacting with a negative response. Take a few deep breaths and think before you speak. Keep in mind your end objectives and then craft an answer that will gain your goal while maintaining a good relationship. Consider their agendas and the best timing for your response.
- Know Your Personal Brand
Everything you say or do, including the emails you write, the compliments you offer, what you post online, and your non-verbal communication, contributes to your image and personal brand. Be sure to support your brand with consistent communication, appearance, attitude, and authenticity. Select your clothing and words according to the image you want to project. Also, avoid negative chatter and gossip.
- Manage Perceptions
Analyze how you believe other people perceive you. Ask people you trust for constructive, objective feedback on how they see you and then make appropriate adjustments. To begin with, you can do the following:
- Make eye contact. Alternate your focus between each of the eyes, looking at each eye for two seconds at a time.
- Use a firm handshake.
- Stand tall with your head up.
- Listen and ask questions.
- On meetings, make contributions, stay focused, and avoid distractions.
- Dress professionally according to the company’s culture.
- Connect and Build Strong Relationships
Relationships are what being human is all about. We cannot succeed alone. We need personal and professional relationships to thrive. To establish your believability, likability, and trust, avoid speaking ill of others, even about rivals. Talk positively about your work. Complete your tasks to the best of your ability and do as you promise. Apologize if you make a mistake or miss a deadline while offering to correct the situation. Prepare a persuasive elevator speech to explain your expertise. Follow up with people you meet and connect people with each other as you see fit. Be sure to provide help when you can.
- Make Appropriate Small Talk
Small talk helps us establish connections and find some affinities. Allows people to feel comfortable and open up.
Ask open-ended questions, such as “How did you get involved in…?” and “How does that make you feel?”
Bring up topics these people find interesting, such as hobbies, sports, movies, current events, and family. Stay away from politics, religion, salaries, gossip and very controversial topics, such as abortion. Don’t reveal too many personal details, complain, interrupt or appear distracted.
- Use Technology only when it Enhances your Communication
People often misinterpret emails because they lack essential elements of communication, such as voice tone, inflection, and body language. Therefore, use email only for straightforward matters, when you want to document a conversation, when you want to copy other people after a discussion, or when you want to send an attachment. Be sure to spell-check.
If the subject is emotional or sensitive, it is better to call or meet the person.
- Manage your Social Networking
You can use social media to boost our brand, but you can also ruin your brand with an unprofessional post or picture. Treat online post as something written in stone, as it stays on the Internet forever. Keep in mind that recruiters do look at your social media. Therefore, use LinkedIn only for business networking. Posting timely comments and insights can position you as a thought leader. On Facebook, keep one professional profile and one personal. Use privacy settings to make sure that only the appropriate audience views your content.
- Be Aware of Communication Stallers and Stoppers
To ensure people would be happy to work with you, behave like a team player and avoid negative comments about other people or their ideas. Use proper grammar; if needed, use services like Grammarly.com. Don’t interrupt people, give unsolicited advice, speak too long, or go overtime on meetings. Avoid distractions during conversation and meetings, and keep eye contact.
- Recognize Your Assumptions
It is human nature to rely on assumptions. However, to be successful in business, you must be aware how your assumptions influence your communication. Understand which experiences and emotions make you react in particular ways. Share your perspective. Ask questions to validate your assumptions, and keep an open mind to alternative solutions and outcomes.
- Watch the Details
Create a tracking system to take notes, write down appointments and meet deadlines. Follow up as you promise. Write personalize thank-you notes.
Be sure to watch the details, such as calling a person by their correct preferred name, and adequately spelling names.
- Give and Receive Precise Feedback
Make a plan before you give constructive criticism. Wait for the best moment, when the other person can attentively listen to you and is not worried about other things. Focus on the behavior, rather than attacking the person. Be specific and clear. Provide recent examples, as people may not remember all relevant details of what happened a few months ago. If possible, frame your feedback to match the other person’s communication style. Indicate how this person can also benefit by following your suggestions. Set a timeline for continuous progress and agree on consequences if the other person does not meet the planned milestones.
Don’t assume that other people will give you regular feedback about your performance. Thus, make it a priority to meet with your supervisor regularly. The best approach is to meet soon after you complete a project. Ask three delving questions to get specific critiques. Then solicit advice on the next steps for your professional career. Lastly, set follow-up meetings to monitor your progress.
- Adapt to Different Communication Styles
When you communicate, it is your responsibility that the other person understands your message clearly. Therefore, you must know the person’s communication style and modify your style to align with it. For instance, if a person is very talkative, you might want to spend a few minutes in small talk before you get down to business. For people who are very task-oriented, it would be better to give them the bottom-line facts right away.
- Act Professionally
It is hard to act professionally in a tense situation, even for the well-intentioned and experienced people. Learn to identify your triggers; those situations that make you react emotionally. When you detect one of your triggers, make a pause and take at least one deep breath and count to 10 in your mind. Similarly, understand other people’s triggers so that you can prevent hostile interactions.
- Be Polite Even Outside the Office
We all have heard about people who argued with a stranger in traffic, or in the elevator, and later learning that that person is their new boss or their interviewer. Also, people have had heated discussions with a peer, who then becomes their supervisor. For this reason, it is crucial to be polite, even when things go wrong and the other person is to blame. You should be assertive, but also professional and courteous.
- Communicate Value
Make every action produce value and reinforce your brand positively. Here are a few behaviors that can uplift your value.
- Help other people reach their goals and develop their careers.
- Listen attentively.
- Pay attention to details.
- Do more than you are expected to do.
- Follow through on your promises.
- Be more personal on your interactions, such as calling instead of sending an email.
- Care genuinely.
- Follow a Plan and Practice
Commit to putting the above recommendations into action. The following steps will make it more manageable.
- Choose one to three communication goals that concern you the most, give you the most value and are easier to implement. For instance, speaking with more confidence during your sales calls, improving your relationship with a coworker, and avoiding or at least minimizing participation in gossip.
- Identify key people involved in achieving each goal and make a note of any hot buttons that might affect their perceptions of you.
- Monitor your progress on a weekly basis and make adjustments as needed.
- When you master the above goals, create a few more and repeat the process.
Now it is your turn to put these concepts into practice into your daily routine to dramatically improve your communication and success in your career and life. What other communication tips do you know? Please write a comment below.
About the Author: Art Torres is an IT Quality Champion and Change Agent in the Finance and Insurance industries. Builds high-performance, customer-centric teams that enable swift completion of strategic projects with zero critical defects; resulting in higher profits and enhanced customer and employee satisfaction. Improves processes by developing and implementing policies and procedures, best practices, standards, and methodologies.
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