Communication is the cornerstone of all relationships. From understanding what your boss expects from you to building strong family connections, having good communication skills can eliminate confusion and help build relationships in many aspects of life. If you are looking for concrete ways to improve your communication, avoid the following common communication mistakes.
Common Communication Mistakes
1. Making Unclear Requests
Making unclear requests is a common communication mistake made at home and in the workplace. Whether you are expecting your children to help with chores or asking your employees to expedite a project, making unclear requests may create confusion, defensive behavior, and undesirable results. Some common communication mistakes when making requests include:
- Making requests as statements rather than as questions. For example “it would be great if you could finish this project by Tuesday,” rather than “can you finish this project by Tuesday?” can create confusion and unclear expectations.
- Lacking clarity in what you are asking for. While some requests are short and simple, others require a detailed explanation in order to get the results you desire. For example, asking someone to “edit a document” can leave questions about the kind of edits you are hoping for. Asking someone to “proofread a document with attention to spelling, grammar, punctuation, and clarity” would give that person a clear call to action that fulfills your request.
How To Make Clear Requests:
Taking a few steps to make clear and direct requests is a great relationship building tool. Try some of the following best practices to avoid making unclear requests:
- Know what you want before asking: Have a clear idea of what you are seeking from another person before making a request. For example, say you are hoping one of your employees will help you with a project. Do you want that person to assist you with a few tasks, or manage the project fully? Assessing the project at hand, thinking through desired results, and being direct and specific can reduce discrepancies when making requests.
- Ask, do not tell: Telling your employees they must do something limits the conversation and creates resistance from your communication partner. Instead, phrase your requests as questions. Asking a person if they are able to help with something rather than telling them they must complete a task can limit resistance between both parties and foster open and honest discussion.
- Ask the right person: Who you ask to complete your request should also be considered. Are you asking a senior staff member to complete something the intern could do? Think about whether or not you are really asking the right person before making requests.
2. Reacting, Not Responding
Reacting, rather than responding, to something a person says or does, is one of the easiest communication mistakes to make. Specifically, reacting entails following an action with immediate words or behaviors, are typically emotionally-driven, and usually not premeditated. Responding, on the other hand, is a more controlled action after an event or behavior. For example, if your child misbehaves, immediately raising your voice and reprimanding them may be a reaction. Rather than yelling when your child misbehaves, responding might mean taking a few breaths and gathering your thoughts about your child’s behavior. You may ask why the child did what they did, explain why it was wrong, and suggest how that child should behave in the future, rather than jumping to a visceral reaction.
How to Respond, Rather Than React
Children and adults alike can benefit from responses rather than reactions. leadership coach Kevin Eikenberry recommends the following tips for responding rather than reacting in various communication situations:
- Remember the big picture: Think not only about how your response will affect this moment, but how your actions will affect the larger scheme of things. Will raising your voice at an employee de-motivate them to work on future projects? Taking some time to think about the best communication approach for the long term can help you respond rather than react.
- Put the situation into context: Is your employee underperforming because they have too much on their plate? Is your child acting out as a result of other stressors in their life? Evaluating environmental factors may help you build empathy for another person, and respond rather than react in a situation.
- Value logic and emotion: Blending logic and emotion may sound easier said than done, but taking both into account can help elicit a level-headed response. If your immediate reaction is to yell or cry, acknowledge that emotion but use logic in your decision-making process. This may mean telling another person that what they said upset you, but taking time to think through what you will say and why you feel the way you do, rather than approaching them right away with an emotional reaction.
- Give yourself some time: Take some time to gather your emotions and let them settle: this can help you respond rather than react. For example, if you receive an email that makes you angry, do not send back a reply right away. Instead, step away from your inbox, focus on something else, and revisit the email when your head has cleared. Then, you will be more likely to write a thoughtful response, rather than sending angry words you may regret later.
3. Forgetting That Listening is Part of the Communication Equation
Writing and speaking are crucial communication skills, but people tend to pay less attention to a crucial component of the communication equation: listening. Listening is vital to building relationships with friends, significant others, family members, and other people in your life. Some common signs of poor listening include:
- Interrupting someone while they are speaking
- Tolerating distractions such as talking over loud music or giving people other than the speaker your attention
- Listening for only phrases you want to hear, but not fully listening to the details of the other person’s speech.
How to Become A Better Listener
Honing your listening is an easy way to build stronger relationships and foster your communication skills. Try some of the following ways to become a better listener:
- Pause your own agenda: Oftentimes people are so focused on what they want to get out of the conversation that they do not actively listen to the other person. If you catch yourself doing this, try thinking less about what you are going to say next refocus your attention on what the other person is saying.
- Ask follow up questions: This reaffirms your interest in the conversation for the other person and can help clear up any misunderstandings in the conversation.
- Do not interrupt: Speaking over people while they are talking is another common communication mistake. Instead, let the other person finish speaking and hear their words rather than voicing your own right away.
- Practice listening with podcasts or radio shows: These are perfect opportunities to hone your listening comprehension. Audio programs give you an opportunity to practice following another voice without needing another person present.
Now that you’re in-tune to common communication mistakes, continue your growth with these tips for better small talk.