communication mistakes

Everyone knows communication is key to a productive relationship.

And everyone makes communication mistakes.

We have all sent an email only to realize after hitting ‘send’ that it contained an embarrassing typo.

But in the professional world, a faux pas can lead to lost income, business, or a damaged reputation.

Even those who are ultra-conscientious may be doomed to fail if they unwittingly make communication mistakes.

Fortunately, many of the most common issues can be easily identified and addressed.

After all, knowing is half the battle.

Whether communicating with colleagues, employees, clients, or contractors, an effective communication strategy is vital to business success.

Avoid These Common Communication Mistakes

1. Hiding Bad News

It is human nature to avoid conflict.

And while it might be easier to leave negativity unsaid, avoiding it will lead to greater problems in the future.

Instead of trying to sweep bad news under the rug, prepare for difficult conversations in advance.

Decide what to say and present your ideas as clear, actionable feedback.

If it is a criticism or coaching opportunity you are uncomfortable with, you may find it helpful to role-play the conversation first.

You will boost your confidence and learn to avoid emotion.

2. Burning Bridges

Emotion drives even the most professional communicators from time-to-time.

When something seriously runs amuck, it can be tempting to cut and run.

Sometimes ending a business relationship may be the right choice, but it is important to end it with courtesy and professionalism.

Never underestimate the long-term impact burned bridges can have on future business endeavors.

Not only will you be spoiling a professional reference, but you could miss out on future opportunities if the person changes companies or talks to potential clients or employers.

It is a small world, and it is hard to overcome a bad reputation.

3. Micromanaging

People want to feel valued and trusted and communication mistakes will certainly make them feel anything but appreciation.

By micromanaging the projects and tasks of your co-workers, you are sending the message that you do not trust them.

Micromanaging will lead to increased stress and decreased job satisfaction.

Unless colleagues have already proven themselves unworthy of your trust, give them the space they need to do their work.

Constantly watching them and checking the status of a task in progress will only lead to resentment and demoralization.

Many professionals would be surprised to learn their micromanagement tendencies have more to do with lack of confidence in themselves than in their colleagues.

A leadership course might be effective in overcoming this tendency.

4. Reacting Instead of Responding

If you feel the impulse to react with frustration, shock, or anger, take pause.

Consider the facts and calmly respond to the situation instead of reacting to it.

Emotional reactions, whether through shouting or tersely-worded emails, can damage reputations.

They also upset colleagues and leave the impression that you lack self-control.

Instead, become an active listener and controlled communicator.

Employ the five principles of listening:

  • Receive – Hear the message.
  • Understand – Interpret the message and process the information.
  • Evaluate – Form your thoughts and opinions on the information you’ve just heard.
  • Remember – Store the information for future reference.
  • Respond – Provide feedback.

Recognize what your colleague is telling you, so they feel valued and heard.

Even if the result of the conversation is the same, your delivery will set a positive tone.

5. Lack of Clarity

We all know what can happen when we assume, right?

So why do we continue to do it on a regular basis?

If you have asked a colleague to complete a task for you, do not immediately assume you are on the same page.

Misinterpretations can have terrible consequences.

Instead of barking an order or sending off a request, explain its purpose.

Make sure your associate understands how the task pertains to your goal.

The same philosophy pertains when taking a request.

Don’t assume you understand what is needed.

Paraphrase and restate the question to your colleague.

Not only will you make sure you are taking the right direction, but you will instill confidence.

By letting them know you heard them correctly, you also show that you care enough to demonstrate your understanding.

6. Lack of Follow-up

We are all busy, but not doing a follow-up can result in failed projects, missed deadlines, and even lost relationships.

If you email a colleague, do not assume the email was received and understood.

Make a note to follow-up if you do not receive confirmation by a certain date.

Of course, there is a fine line between follow-up and micromanagement.

If you know a task is underway, do not send daily emails to check status.

Set a reminder to follow-up midway to the deadline, and then again on the final day if you have not received a response by then.

If you are waiting for a reply, pick up the phone or make a personal appearance to get resolution.

Follow-up is also key to general correspondence.

Don’t accept a project or offer assistance and then fail to follow through.

You will leave a negative impression on your colleague, and you could even lose a client or business opportunity.

7. Lack of Questions

Questions are vital to running a business, and not asking the right questions is one of the biggest communications mistakes you can make.

Any time a task or request is less than 100 percent clear, be sure to ask for clarification.

Failure to understand can lead to wasted time and resources.

It is just as important to ask the right questions.

Closed questions, requiring a “yes” or “no” response or simple choice, can fail to provide additional clarity and may be construed as pressuring a colleague.

Try using open-ended questions beginning with, “how,” “why,” or “what” which encourage further explanation.

For example, instead of asking, “Will you meet the deadline?” try using “How do you feel about the deadline?”

And instead of, “Do you understand?” try asking “How would you handle this?”

8. Relying on Email

Electronic communication—emails, text messages, and instant messages—have dramatically helped hasten and streamline business communication.

But it can also be a crutch relied upon far too heavily, especially with sensitive subjects.

And it is one of the top communication mistakes people frequently make.

Any form of written communication—no matter how many emojis you use—will not soften a message in the same way body language and nonverbal cues do.

Written messages may also be misconstrued, especially if the sender attempts to incorporate dry humor or sarcasm.

When you deliver a message personally, the sender and receiver can ensure they understand the conversation as it is happening.

They use body language and tone to soften difficult messages and provide clarity.

In most cases, problems can be addressed immediately rather than allowing negativity to fester.

9. Needlessly Apologizing

Too many of us have fallen into the over-apologizing trap by expressing regret in situations where there is no reason to be sorry.

For some, it is a bad habit, but in other cases, that habit has grown into a reflex reaction which is a form of self-deprecation.

But what is wrong with apologizing unnecessarily?

Isn’t it better than failing to apologize when appropriate?

After all, it is often done out of a well-intentioned desire to please and show respect.

Over-apologizing may convey a lack of confidence or even an acceptance of undeserved guilt.

If nothing else, the action may lead you to an appear insincere when an apology is necessary.

Think of it as the boy who cried wolf.

10. One-size-fits-all Communication

Just as there are multiple learning styles for those who process visually, auditorily, and tactilely, different people communicate in different ways.

And while no communication style is superior to another, choosing the wrong style for your audience not only hinders listening but can completely shut down communication efforts.

According to Leadership IQ’s Mark Murphy, nearly everyone falls into one of four communication styles, based on their needs and expectations:

  • Analytical – Thrives on hard data, real numbers, statistics, and facts.
  • Intuitive – Cuts to the chase, avoids unnecessary details and focuses on the big picture.
  • Functional – Likes details, timelines, specific processes, and thorough plans.
  • Personal – Values emotional language and human connections.

Professionals who use a “one-size-fits-all” communication approach can inadvertently overlook different colleagues’ personalities, needs, and understandings.

Even when addressing a group, it is important to cater to each communication style so everyone can equally benefit from the exchange.

Are you making any of these communication mistakes? What is your communication style?

Please share in the comments below.

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Samantha Lile

A native of Missouri's scenic and historic Arcadia Valley, Samantha Lile is a successful web-content creator with a journalism and mass media degree from Missouri State University. She contributes to various web publications from her home in the beautiful Ozarks, where she resides with her husband, four dogs, and three cats.

View all posts by Samantha Lile