Summer 2014 Edition
Avoid These Common Communication Mistakes
In both our personal and work lives, there are times when we connect with other people and make them happy to communicate with us. In these instances, there is a free flow of information where both parties leave the communication with positive feelings. Then, of course, there are times when obstacles get in the way of effective communication, and we leave with a mediocre or negative impression about what just took place.
To a large extent, your success as a communicator is a result of certain strategies that you may be employing, either consciously or without much thought. There's a lot at stake when you communicate. If you want positive personal relationships or a successful marriage, the effectiveness of your communication will likely determine the type of person you attract as well as the fulfillment you get from your marriage.
In business, the effective communicators are the ones who will be respected and promoted to leadership positions. In sales, good communicators are more persuasive, establish rapport and sell more than those with weak skills. To be effective, it's imperative to follow sound communication strategies.
However, even the most skilled among us sometimes communicate in ways that turn people off. The following are some communication "killers" to watch out for. By avoiding these traps, we can build rapport, leave a positive impression on others, and make communicating with us a valuable experience.
1. Making the other person "wrong." Too many people view communication as an argument, where the objective is to prove that they are "right" and that the other person is wrong. The other person will always resent your attempt to establish that he or she is wrong.
Think about it: how do YOU like it when someone tries to prove that you are wrong? I'll bet that you resent it when a co-worker or family member plays this game with you. Many times we assert that we are right in matters of opinion, where there really is no right or wrong. Even if you are quoting a statistic and you know the other person is mistaken, you gain little by insisting that he or she is wrong.
Granted, there are some instances where it is important to point out another person’s error - such as when someone insists the meeting is on Monday and you know it is on Tuesday. However, this is the exception and it's far better to make your point without setting up winners and losers.
2. Talking too much about yourself. Just about everyone falls into this trap. You get in a discussion with someone and you dominate the conversation by talking about yourself, while allowing the other party very little opportunity to speak. When you talk only about yourself without letting the other party participate, you give the message that you don't care about the other person.
This creates resentment and that person will not look forward to communicating with you in the future. On the other hand, when you listen to someone else, that individual feels validated and important. In your upcoming conversations, make a note of the percentage of time you are speaking, as opposed to listening.
Remember this illustration: we are born with two ears and one mouth, and should strive to use them in that proportion. When you listen twice as much as you speak, the other person will have a positive impression of you and will often feel that you are an interesting conversationalist, even though you did very little talking.
3. Interrupting. This is one of the most common communication blunders. We start out listening to someone but then we begin to think of what we're going to say next and we tune them out. When we have our thoughts ready to launch, we break into the discussion and start talking. This is insulting to the other party as you did not let that person complete his or her comments. Discipline yourself to let others finish their thoughts before you chime in with yours.
4. Changing the subject abruptly in a group discussion. This is a variation on interrupting. You're talking about your recent vacation with a group of friends when someone cuts you off and says something like, "Did you see the baseball game last night?" How does that make you feel?
In most cases, the person cutting you off wants to steer the discussion back to a topic where he or she can re-assume command of the discussion and dominate once again. Sometimes, the person who cut you off just has a limited attention span and needs to keep changing subjects. Regardless of the motive, it's rude.
5. Talking too much about the negative. People are bombarded with negative news from the media. Terrorism, violent crime and natural disasters are just a few of the topics that receive many hours of daily coverage. Then there's the negative "drama" in your personal life – your disappointing relationships, unfulfilling career, or bouts with illness.
While it's only natural to share your life experiences with others, especially friends and co-workers, you don’t need to tell them everything that's wrong. What makes you think they want to hear about your dysfunctional family or the fact that you’re not appreciated at work? People have enough troubles of their own without hearing your tales of woe. Keep your conversations uplifting and others will look forward to speaking with you.
6. Treating your cell phone as more important than the person you're speaking to. More and more people feel the need to be "connected" with the world 24/7. These individuals are slaves to their cell phones. It doesn't matter whether you're in the middle of a conversation or meeting with them. If their phone rings or shows a message coming in, they immediately divert their attention away from you. The message they're giving is that the incoming communication is more important than anything you have to offer. Unless you are expecting an emergency message (which is rarely the case), turn off or ignore your phone when meeting with others. You'll have plenty of time to examine those messages later.
7. Looking for more "important" people. This usually happens at networking events. You're engaged in a discussion with someone when you see a person you perceive as "more important" than the person you're currently talking to. Your eyes dart toward the "important" person and all you want to do is break away from the existing discussion and approach the person you perceive as more valuable. This is an insult to the person you're talking to.
If you feel you must interrupt the conversation to seize an opportunity to speak to someone else, explain the situation and promise the person that you will be back to resume your conversation with him or her. Then make sure to get back to that person after your other discussion is complete.
If you are guilty of any of the communication mistakes above, keep these in mind and work to improve your communication skills. These are not simple habits to break and you'll need to be vigilant. But you can become a more effective communicator and watch as other people respect you more – and your personal and professional relationships improve.