16 Success-Killing Communication Mistakes You Have to Stop Making
At some point, every single one of us has made communication mistakes that cost us, either socially or professionally (or both). While the faux pas will come, it is important to keep your eyes on the prize and work to improve how you communicate every day.
That goes for written and oral as well as nonverbal communication strategies. To help you out with this, we’ve put together a list of the 16 success killers most common for students and new graduates. Let’s get started!
1. Using ‘I’ or ‘You’
One of the most important things you can do is to use team language. No one likes to hear you talk about yourself constantly (“I” this, “me” that). By the same note, too much use of “you need to do this-or-that” can make you come across as preachy or arrogant. A better way to communicate is to include yourself with the group. Think “we” and “our.” That way you strike a necessary balance of sounding inclusive while taking responsibility along with the rest of the group.
2. Not Checking Yourself Before Wrecking Yourself
Checking your work may not sound very fun or glamorous, but it will ensure you’re communicating in the very best ways possible, whether orally or through writing. From a writing perspective, focus your attention away from what’s in your head to what’s on the page.
For example, you may start a sentence with “There” when you really mean “They are,” or “They’re.” Don’t let the brain deceive you into thinking it’s right just because it sounds that way. The act of slowing down and doing this will spill over into your personal communications as well.
If you make a habit of carefully scrutinizing and choosing your words in writing, you’ll do the same when speaking. And that will make you a more careful communicator.
3. Avoiding Eye Contact
This is one of the communication mistakes that pertain directly to in-person communications. Eye contact is a tricky business because not enough of it creates the impression you’re unsure of yourself. That’s a turnoff to employers and potential mates. However, too much eye contact can be a problem, too, because it might be seen as challenging or aggressive.
As a general rule, you should seek eye contact but do so for reasonable periods of time. Find different focal points when talking to an individual, group of individuals, or the audience. This will allow you to give an appropriate amount of eye contact with the person or people you’re talking to without coming across as creepy or nervous.
4. Avoiding Direct Communication
We know difficult conversations are difficult to warm up to, but you’ll go much further being direct and honest about such matters than beating around the bush. That’s why medical personnel and law enforcement officers agree that the best and most appreciated way of informing individuals about a loved one’s death is to address it immediately in an appropriate environment and with direct language.
While you may think you’re helping a situation by “easing into it,” you’re really prolonging uncomfortable situations and amping up the level of panic or distress in the other party’s mind.
5. Interrupting Others
Any parent worth their salt will break their children of interrupting others by the time the child has turned five years old (preferably sooner). That doesn’t mean the kid will always do what he or she is supposed to, but he’ll at least know the interruption is unacceptable whenever slipping up.
No one likes an interrupter, and if you’re still doing it, it will eventually cost you. Friends, family, significant others, jobs. You can lose it all by exhibiting this unpleasant communication mistake. It’s easier to avoid interrupting others if you stick to this one basic reality: people love to talk about themselves, but they hate people who won’t let them do it.
This sounds hypocritical, and it can be. But what we’ve found is that when you focus on other people’s ability to be heard and communicate, they often reciprocate. Essentially, you set the guidelines for good communication, and they like you for it and want to know more about you or what you have to say on a given topic.
6. Letting Others Lead All the Time
So much of avoiding communication mistakes like those presented on this list is finding balance. As with the eye contact example, people want you to look at them, but they can have an unpleasant experience if you look at them too much. You have to determine what is right for the situation and the person.
The same holds true here. No one wants to be pushed out of the conversation by a bossy communicator, but they don’t want to feel like they’re doing all the work either. Avoid this communication mistake by stepping up and making suggestions when you sense lag time in the conversation. Students who master this are seen as valuable parts of their work groups and classrooms.
7. Not Minding Your Body Language
It’s long been repeated in political circles that Richard Nixon mopped the floor with John F. Kennedy during their 1960 presidential debates when it came to content. At least, that’s what the people thought who listened on the radio. The problem for Nixon, however, was that most Americans watched the debate on a then-widely-adopted format called television. When it came to the body language, poise, and confidence, Kennedy was the clear winner.
It translated on election night, too, as Kennedy would become the 35th President of the United States.
This reality holds true in day-to-day communication as well, and it could mean the difference between landing the job of your dreams or being stuck in mediocrity.
Great body language starts with standing up or sitting up straight and maintaining good posture. Eliminate the slouch! Also, let your hands go. Control any tremors or nervous habits. And don’t just jump right into an answer if you haven’t yet formulated what you want to say. You’ll end up with a ton of vocalized pauses (um, uh, y’know), and it will screech the conversation to a halt while producing a nervous effect on your body.
8. Not Responding
There are two ways you can address someone who first addresses you. You can either react or respond. You want to respond. Responding focuses on addressing the meat of their inquiry or comment. Reacting, on the other hand, is a communication strategy that lacks poise, control, and, oftentimes, honesty. It is the language of defensiveness, and you need to scrap it from your communication vocabulary.
Address the argument. Address the question. Address the criticism or concern. Do not react because all that will signal to the other party is your unwillingness to take responsibility, charge, or ownership. No one wants to do business with or be around that type of person.
9. Not Paraphrasing or Repeating
This is a particularly big mistake when you’re trying to take instruction or clarify the purpose behind something. Yours truly once wrote an article on steel fabrication manufacturing for a business journal. You can bet that I was paraphrasing and repeating back words the subject said to me to make sure that I understood in a way that I could explain it to someone who had no idea about industry lingo meant.
I also did this for my own understanding because the story would have ended up getting something wrong and making me look like an idiot had I not. For more complex communication strategies, rephrase what the other person is telling you in a way that makes sense to you. If it makes sense to them in the rephrased form, then you’re gold.
10. Improper Planning and Preparation
This is a big one for job-seekers. If you are going into an interview and you don’t know anything about the company or industry, you might as well not even show up. Improper planning and preparation is a force multiplier when it comes to wasting people’s time.
Not only does it waste the interviewer (or interviewers in panel interviews), it wastes yours as well because you will not be getting that job.
Before speaking to anyone about a topic, take time to research it and brainstorm questions. Also, do your investigative work on the person. This will ensure a conversation that flows freely from one topic to the other with few stops for clarification necessary.
11. Assuming Too Much
A side effect of improper planning and preparation is that you end up assuming too much. This is a defense mechanism that you try to use in order to save face. However, it ends up exploding in your face when you start a job with an improper understanding of what you’re actually supposed to be doing.
There is a cliché about what assuming does to people. No sense repeating it here. But we’ll just say clichés often become that way for a good reason.
12. Not Valuing the Uniqueness of the Other Person
“Snowflake” is a term that often gets thrown around to describe a person who falls apart at the first sign of disagreement or adversity. But snowflakes also are unique. No one is the same, in other words. Effective communicators understand this about the individuals with whom they are speaking.
Even in shared groups of people where values seem the same across the board, you’ll find outliers. Consider conservative podcaster and journalist Dave Rubin, who tends to side with conservatives over liberals, at least in relation to free speech on college campuses.
On the surface, Rubin, a married gay man, is not the type of person you would think could find common ground with conservatives on anything. Yet he has.
By the same token, you’ll find gun-toting Democrats on the political left. You cannot be an effective communicator if all you ever do is pigeonhole people. And these unique differences can make for some interesting conversation points, so be open to them.
13. Avoiding the Probe
While there’s nothing wrong with asking tough questions, you should also know when to lay off. It’s not always easy knowing when you’ve gone too far, but that’s where watching the other person’s mannerisms and studying their previous answers can provide some much-needed context.
Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions in the right situation (and with the right subject), but don’t be the kind of person who thinks they’re entitled to have answers to probing questions every time and from every person.
14. Closing Your Mind to Others
Having one’s mind made up before entering into a conversation is how we get arguments. Train yourself to the possibility that you could be wrong even if you don’t believe you are, and it will result in a livelier debate. You also will come across as the more persuasive person, which is good if you have a point you’d like to make.
But beyond arguments, having a closed mind can cut off a number of opportunities. That goes for the personal and the professional areas of life.
15. Attacking Character
People who find themselves launching personal attacks instead of arguments that address relevant points have already lost the debate as well as followers. Attacking one’s character is a crutch for when you no longer have substantive points.
Before succumbing to this communication mistake, ask yourself whether what you’re about to say is addressing the points made or whether it’s simply an attempt to tear down the other person.
16. Violating the Privacy of Others
This can occur in obvious and malevolent ways or it can occur by accidentally divulging something in a setting where it wasn’t meant to be divulged. If you respect the other person and are attentive to your environment, it’s largely avoidable.
Avoiding These Communication Mistakes Will Change Your Life
By eliminating these communication mistakes from your interactions with others, you’ll find yourself more liked and more successful. Now, what are some of the communication issues you struggle with the most? Sound off in the comments section below!
[Featured Image by MaxPixel]