10 Biggest Communication Blunders

by Jessica Zartler / June 17, 2016

We’ve all been there. A typo on the resume, forwarding an email to the wrong person, avoiding a confrontational talk or accidentally melting down in front of a colleague - or all of the above. It is part of the sometimes steep learning curve that we all face, to be more mindful in our communications.

At the least harmful, communication gaffes can make us feel embarrassed, look sloppy and unprofessional. At the worst, they can tarnish our reputation, upset clients, lead to lost revenue or get us fired.

Here are The 10 Biggest Communication Blunders and how to avoid them.

1.   Failing to Edit

Spell check is not a cure-all for communications. It doesn’t pick up many grammar mistakes or homophones like your/you’re, affect/effect. Always proofread and when in doubt, look it up.

It may also be helpful to read your writing aloud to catch an error or something that doesn’t sound quite right. Even better, ask a colleague or friend to look over your work as it is sometimes difficult to catch our own mistakes.

Make sure you allow yourself the gift of time, especially if you are in discussions with a potential employer, boss or client. This allows you to really reflect on what you are saying and make sure it reflects only professionalism and courtesy.

2.   Giving Bad or Big News Over Email

Just because template emails like this exist, doesn’t mean you should use them. Announcing layoffs, performance criticism or any other big or bad news is best done in person. Written communications can seem hard and without nonverbal cues like body language, there is no softening the blow.

When you deliver negative news in person you can be more sensitive, minimize long-term upset and clarify information that may be confusing. When you allow this space, it is more respectful, considerate and allows you the opportunity to empathize or help people deal with the shock or potential emotions.

3.   Ignoring Difficult Conversations

Whether you need to talk to your boss about taking a leave, HR about a salary issue or you are a manager and have to give some not so positive feedback to a colleague, it can be a daunting task to face head on.

The best thing you can do to make that tough talk happen, is to prepare. Role play with a friend or trusted colleague and practice what you are going to say. Write down some phrases and responses in case of difficult push back.

Learn to be clear about what it is that you want and give actionable feedback for the other party.

4.   Being Passive-Aggressive

This communication no-no goes hand in hand with #3. It’s okay. Not everyone was gifted the ability to fearlessly handle confrontation. Acknowledge first that it is not your best attribute but work to slowly change your communications to more clear and assertive (but courteous) tones.

Assertiveness is about stating what you want while being considerate of others’ needs and wants. It’s about speaking your truth and letting your voice be heard. It doesn’t always mean you are going to get what you want, but you have a much bigger chance because how can your job/boss/colleague give you what you want, if you don’t ask for it?

Better still, is letting your job/boss/colleague know what you don’t want - i.e. saying “no.” You can be a lot happier and feel more fulfilled at work when you can do this.

5.   Reacting Emotionally

We can’t control our hormones but we can control our emotions. Have you ever shouted at a colleague or manager in frustration? Have you ever sent an abrupt email reply quickly without thinking?

Reacting, instead of responding, in an emotional way can last well beyond the moment it happened. You can apologize but this kind of behavior at work can earn you a quick and damaging reputation. If it happens often, your colleagues or managers may think you have low emotional intelligence or a lack of self-control.

If you find yourself feeling angry, frustrated or upset, stop, observe, breathe and if you need to, remove yourself from the situation and go for a walk or go to the restroom to take a few moments to yourself and calm down. Coming from a calm, level-headed and logical place is the best thing you can do for yourself in the workplace.

6.   Lack of Preparation

“I forgot the adaptor cord for this projector,” is the adult equivalent of saying, “My dog ate my homework.” Don’t be that guy or gal. Prepare your reports, presentations and pitches well in advance and give yourself time the day of, to work out all of the technical kinks at least 15 to 30 minutes before a presentation. Rehearse thoroughly and anticipate questions so you can be not only informative but inspirational.

7.   Communicating to Everyone in the Same Fashion

The most important thing about communicating a message is knowing your audience. Everyone comes from different backgrounds so make sure your message suits their “language” and tone. You wouldn’t say, “What’s up?” to address the board members of a company you’re seeking investment from. If you are teaching something, make sure you can cater to different learning styles (i.e. visual, kinesthetic, etc.).

This ability means the difference between a fully engaged and inspired audience and the picture above.

8.   Being Closed Minded

It can be tempting to stereotype or judge a situation based on past experienced but in today’s global workplace, you never know who you may encounter and what their belief system will be. Different religions, sexual orientations, ages, abilities and viewpoints are thrown together and expected to not only coexist, but to innovate together.

Listen first when you meet someone new and give them space and time to share what is important to them and give it some time to sink in. For more tips on how to work with different cultures, peruse our article 14 Quick Tips on Cultural Intelligence.

9.   Assuming Anything

You know the old saying here. Assuming… it does not help anything. Always ask politely and then you can decide what is appropriate. This goes for not just behavior but communications. Make sure that people have understood the message you are trying to relay and give a suggestion for action items or allow time for a proper response, i.e. building in time for questions in a presentation or tell them what is expected next.

10.   Email Forwarding Faux Pas

We have all had this nightmare. Somehow, it is just way too easy to forward emails and messages. If you are sending sensitive information or anything else for that matter, write it first before selecting a recipient. Once you have written and edited the confidential email, double and triple check it is going to the correct person. You can even write a sensitive message in a blank email or word document so no forwarded email information gets accidentally passed on.

Accidentally violating privacy or sharing trade secrets can cause commercial problems or lead to embarrassment and confusion. When in doubt, start fresh!

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