What We Have Here Is A Failure To Communicate

After a workweek filled with some communication misfires, the topic of this week’s column became painstakingly apparent. Many of us are quick to pay lip service to the importance of “effective communication” in the workplace without really stopping to truly think about what we are (or aren’t) saying and how it’s being interpreted.

Meetings drag on with no meaningful progress, teams become frustrated while trying to make sense of little direction, colleagues avoid having to associate with each other, important issues are brushed to the side in hopes of miraculously disappearing, and people continue throughout their work day blissfully unaware of the panic they just evoked by dropping a bomb with what they’ve just said. Does any of this sound familiar?

We all know the tangible and intangible costs of ineffective communication. With this in mind, I’d like to offer a much needed refresher of some communication blunders to watch out for the next time you convey a message to somebody else.

Communication Blunder No. 1 – Avoiding difficult conversations: The only thing worse than having a difficult conversation, is not having one. By attempting to avoid saying what needs to be said, you will quickly grow a small situation into a big one. Nobody likes to find out after the fact, that there was a concern about something they already worked on. By directly addressing a concern head on, or asking important questions early on in the process, it will save unnecessary anguish and ensure everyone is on the same page from the get-go. Not doing so will eventually cause resentment, frustration, and tarnished work relationships which are difficult to mend.

Communication Blunder No. 2 – Assuming your message has been understood: Have you ever walked away feeling great about a conversation you just had, only to find out later on that the other person took offense to your exchange? We’ve all been caught off guard once or twice after finding out that what we thought we said was not what the other person heard. This type of situation can quickly drive a wedge between two people who’ve otherwise worked well together. To prevent this from happening, ask the other person to share their understanding of your main points and use open-ended questions that start with “how,” “why,” or “what.” Taking these simple extra steps will help you to learn what the other individual has personally taken away from your message.

Communication Blunder No. 3 – Asking someone else to do your dirty work: While this blunder is similar to the first one, there is a significant difference. By asking someone else to be your messenger, you may have rationalized that you are at least addressing the difficult issue. However, while the issue is being brought out into the open, another issue is being created. Even if you think you’re being slick in your attempts to ask a trusted boss or peer to discreetly speak on your behalf, I can promise you your secret is likely to be uncovered. Once this happens, it immediately creates a feeling of mistrust and disappointment towards you and the person who agreed to be your spokesperson. Don’t give in to the temptation of asking someone else to address your problem. Doing so will reinforce a perception of you being spineless and conniving.

Communication Blunder No. 4 – Clicking the “send” button too soon: We’ve all been on the receiving end of a rude email that has instantly caused a spike in our blood pressure. Each time we reread the email, we get angrier at the innuendos and ignorance it contains. Often times, we immediately want to react by firing off an emotional reply. However, it’s important to step back by closing the email and taking a breather. Even if you’ve already drafted your reply, do not click the send button until you’ve had some time to clear your mind. Replying in anger will cause long-term consequences with a written record of every angry exchange. The more emotionally charged you feel, the more important it is to sleep on your reply.

When all else fails, never underestimate the importance of shutting up. It’s easy to be so focused on trying to persuade others that you don’t tune into what they’re telling you with their nonverbal cues. Effective communicators know how to listen with their eyes and ears. Here’s to a blunder-free workweek.

Elizabeth P. Cipolla is a regional director and senior consultant with JL Nick and Associates Inc. She is a business communications professional specializing in the areas of leadership training, creative recruitment strategies, employment branding, professional development and executive coaching for nearly 15 years. Her leadership experience comes from various industries including marketing, mass media, apparel, education, manufacturing, non-profit agencies and insurance. To contact Elizabeth, email her at ecipolla@jlnick.com or visit JL Nick and Associates website at www.jlnick.com.