No matter how smart, talented, or experienced you are, there are communication mistakes that can change the way people see you. At TalentSmart, stories shared with us in our training programs and coaching work suggest poor communication habits can even hold you back from reaching your full potential. Here are nine common communication blunders that hold people back. Take a close look at each of these mistakes to see where you might be missing the mark:
Letting your emotions dictate what you say
“Let’s not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives and we obey them without realizing it.” -Vincent van Gogh
When you react to your emotions in the moment, you are more likely to say something impulsive, half-baked, or not true to your values and beliefs. You can’t learn to prevent your emotions from happening (nor would you want to), but with a bit of practice you can teach yourself to slow down, recognize your emotions as they come, and prevent your emotions from hijacking your words. In fact, the very foundation of emotional intelligence (EQ) is your ability to recognize, understand, and manage your emotions so that you can work and live with them, instead of around or against them.
Using language of uncertainty. Small turns of phrase can make a big difference when you communicate. Over-using phrases like “I think” instead of “I believe,” or “I might” instead of “I will,” can detract from your core message. Similarly, ticks in our communication—such as saying “like” or “uhm” too often—can make you sound unsure of yourself.
Saying too much. “Wise people speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.” –Plato
When it comes to consuming information these days, people have access to way more content than they could ever want or need. To keep people engaged in what you have to say, you have to make every word count. At its worst, saying too much can sound like a spoken stream of consciousness, jumping topics at random and never getting to your point.
Saying too little. We listen to our own thoughts constantly. So much so, we tend to think that people have access to our thoughts. They don’t. The result is you can easily leave gaps between your intentions and what you say. Another way you could be saying too little is by holding back important feelings that you can’t muster the courage to bring up.
Thinking you already communicated. A Stanford study found that people naturally overestimate how well other people understand what they say and what they mean. Because of this tendency, it’s especially important to slow down and really get your ideas across to others. The way people respond in body language, questions, and comments can tell you a lot about how your message is coming across—or if it is coming across at all for that matter.
Not connecting on a personal level. Communication is a two-way street, and read from the script delivery cuts your audience out of the message. Whether you’re communicating with one person or an auditorium full of people, why does what you have to say matter to them?
Trying too hard to persuade. People are by nature reactive, and they shut down if you barrage them with critical comments and opinions. You’re better off sharing key ideas, interesting stories, and examples, then letting your audience connect the dots.
Getting your tone wrong. If you’re interviewing for a job, it’s important to demonstrate how passionate and excited you are about the work you will be doing. If you’re giving a lecture, it’s probably a good idea to demonstrate a high degree of passion about your topic. If you’re a doctor, you need to convey professionalism, a sense of calm, and trustworthiness. When tone misaligns with message, communication breaks down.
A weak close. People naturally pay extra attention to how you finish. Research shows that people remember your closing better than other parts of your message, and even attribute more value to it than the rest of what you said. Whether it’s a presentation, making a sale, or finishing up an interview, people will pay an inordinate amount of attention to how you close the conversation. Try to make it memorable, whether that means adding a nice personal touch in a one-on-one or a dramatic last story to cap off your presentation.
From Insights to Action. Do you know which communication blunders you make? Post this list at your work station and try to spot as many as you can in your conversations and emails. Instead of seeing each slip-up as a “problem,” make them your targets to correct in the coming year.
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