Communication is at the heart of everything we do. It’s how we understand our clients’ needs and goals. It’s how we work together as a team to put those needs and goals into a cohesive and actionable strategy. Finally, it’s how we generate revenue for both our clients and ourselves. Communication is the oil which lubricates the engine of our business as well as every other successful business in the modern marketplace.
At the same time, communication can be a double-edged sword. It’s capable of demotivating and alienating employees, as well as building an atmosphere of distrust and enmity. Here are some simple mistakes we should all avoid.
Lack of awareness/ignorance: Different people have different needs and expectations or may work in an environment that gives a different context to their message. This can be a different country with different laws, currency, customs, holidays, time zone or just a different department in their own office. It pays to be aware of who your audience is and possibly try to understand them before you start.
Tone is important at any time, but especially in times of challenge or change. No matter what the circumstances, learn to pay attention to the tone of your message.
Email: The internet has transformed the way business is conducted and email has become the standard communication channel. A 2005 study found that although 50 percent of all online communication is misunderstood, senders believe that their message is being received clearly. This becomes an even greater challenge when combined with a lack of interpersonal nuances like body language and tone (again) to give context.
Avoiding the difficult conversation: We all face conflict. Unfortunately, avoiding it doesn’t make it go away. We need to learn how to plan for and carry out these situations by providing clear and actionable feedback, even when it’s not the easiest path.
Speaking more and listening less: To stay on top of any situation, occasionally stop speaking and listen. When you listen, you open yourself up to learning more about a given situation and gaining empathy for what is happening. You may even accomplish more.
Reacting instead of responding: When it’s your impulse to react with anger and frustration, just wait. Take a deep breath, engage your brain and consider all the facts (even those you may not know yet). When you pause to reflect, you respond instead of reacting.
Using communication as a weapon: This is especially true in the case of email where threatening or passive aggressive communication may go unanswered at the time of receipt but are sure to have a longer term negative effect.
Underestimating your audience: It can be tempting to gloss over issues because “people won’t understand.” Why explain goals when you can simply say, “This is what we need to do”? Your colleagues may not be masters of strategy and business planning, but they deserve to know the rationale behind changes that affect their lives and their careers. Many managers like to gloss over problems when motivating their teams. If things aren’t going well, those teams are probably aware of the problems. In fact, they probably knew about them first. Rather than avoiding the situation, enlist the skills at hand to help find solutions.
These are a few of the pitfalls surrounding communication in today’s workplace. If each of us were to be a little more mindful and take a bit more care in how we communicate, we could make sure to not only avoid them, but also take advantage of one of the most powerful tools at our disposal: each other.