10 communications errors that are ruining your career

To err might be human, but these mistakes are costing your organization no small amount of time and money. Make sure your team knows where these traps are and how to avoid them.

Everyone knows communication is key to a productive relationship—and yet everyone makes mistakes.

It’s all too common to send an email only to realize that it contained an embarrassing typo. In the professional world, a faux pas of that nature can lead to lost income, reduced business or a damaged reputation.

Even those who are ultra-conscientious may be doomed to fail if they unwittingly make communication mistakes, but fortunately, many of the most common issues can be easily identified and addressed. After all, knowing is half the battle.

Whether exchanging opinions and ideas with colleagues, employees, clients or contractors, an effective communication strategy is vital to business success.

Here are 10 common mistakes you should weed out of your communications ASAP:

1. You hide bad news.

It is human nature to avoid conflict, and while it might be easier to leave negative feedback unspoken, avoiding it will lead to greater problems in the future.

Instead of trying to sweep bad news under the rug, prepare for difficult conversations in advance. Decide what to say and present your ideas as clear, actionable feedback. If it is a criticism or coaching opportunity you are uncomfortable with, you may find it helpful to role-play the conversation first.

2. You burn your bridges.

Emotion drives even the most professional communicators from time-to-time.

When something seriously goes awry, it can be tempting to cut and run. Ending a business relationship may be the right choice, but it is important to end it with courtesy and professionalism.

Never underestimate the long-term impact burned bridges can have on future business endeavors. Not only will you be spoiling a professional reference, but you could miss out on future opportunities if the person changes companies or talks to potential clients or employers.

3. You micromanage your team.

People want to feel valued and trusted and communication mistakes will certainly make them feel anything but appreciation. By micromanaging the projects and tasks of your co-workers, you are sending the message that you do not trust them.

Unless colleagues have already proven themselves unworthy of your trust, give them the space they need to do their work. Constantly watching them and checking the status of a task in progress will only lead to resentment and demoralization.

Many professionals would be surprised to learn their micromanagement tendencies have more to do with lack of confidence in themselves than in their colleagues. A leadership course might be effective in overcoming this tendency.

4. You don’t respond; you react.

If you feel the impulse to react with frustration, shock, or anger, take a pause. Consider the facts and calmly respond to the situation instead of reacting to it. Emotional reactions, whether through shouting or tersely-worded emails, can damage reputations.

Instead, become an active listener and controlled communicator.

Employ the five principles of listening:

  • Receive – Hear the message.
  • Understand – Interpret the message and process the information.
  • Evaluate – Form your thoughts and opinions on the information you’ve just heard.
  • Remember – Store the information for future reference.
  • Respond – Provide feedback.

Recognize what your colleague is telling you, so they feel valued and heard. Even if the result of the conversation is the same, your delivery will set a positive tone.

5. Your messages lack clarity.

We all know what can happen when we assume, so why do we continue to do it on a regular basis?

If you have asked a colleague to complete a task for you, don’t immediately assume you are on the same page. Misinterpretations can have terrible consequences.

Instead of barking an order or sending off a request, explain its purpose. Make sure your associate understands how the task pertains to your goal.

The same philosophy pertains when taking a request. Try paraphrasing and restating the question to your colleague. Not only will you make sure you are taking the right direction, but you will instill confidence.

6. You don’t follow up.

We are all busy, but failing to follow-up can result in failed projects, missed deadlines and even lost relationships.

If you email a colleague, do not assume the email was received and understood. Make a note to follow-up if you do not receive confirmation by a certain date.

Of course, there is a fine line between follow-up and micromanagement. If you know a task is underway, do not send daily emails to check status. Set a reminder to follow-up halfway to the deadline, and then again on the final day—if you have not received a response by then.

7. You don’t ask questions.

Questions are vital to running a business, and not asking the right questions is one of the biggest communications mistakes you can make.

Any time a task or request is less than 100 percent clear, be sure to ask for clarification.

Closed questions, requiring a “yes” or “no” response or simple choice, can fail to provide additional clarity and may be construed as pressuring a colleague. Instead, try using open-ended questions beginning with, “how,” “why” or “what” which encourage further explanation.

For example, instead of asking, “Will you meet the deadline?” try using “How do you feel about the deadline?” and instead of “Do you understand?” try asking “How would you handle this?”

8. You rely too much on your email.

Electronic communication—emails, text messages, and instant messages—have dramatically helped hasten and streamline business communication. However, they can also be a crutch if too heavily relied upon, especially with sensitive subjects.

Any form of written communication—no matter how many emojis you use—will not soften a message in the same way body language and nonverbal cues do. Written messages may also be misconstrued, especially if the sender attempts to incorporate dry humor or sarcasm.

9. You apologize needlessly.

Too many pros have fallen into the over-apologizing trap by expressing regret in situations where there is no reason to be sorry.

For some it is a bad habit, but in other cases, that habit has grown into a reflexive reaction which is a form of self-deprecation.

Over-apologizing may convey a lack of confidence or even an acceptance of undeserved guilt. Additionally, the action may lead you to appear insincere when an apology is necessary.

10. You practice “one-size-fits-all” communication.

Just as there are multiple learning styles for a variety of personalities, different people also communicate in different ways.

While no communication style is superior to another, choosing the wrong style for your audience not only hinders active listening but can completely derail your communication efforts.

According to Leadership IQ’s Mark Murphy, nearly everyone falls into one of four communication styles, based on their needs and expectations:

  • Analytical – Thrives on hard data, real numbers, statistics and facts.
  • Intuitive – Cuts to the chase, avoids unnecessary details and focuses on the big picture.
  • Functional – Likes details, timelines, specific processes and thorough plans.
  • Personal – Values emotional language and human connections.

Professionals who use a “one-size-fits-all” communication approach can inadvertently overlook different colleagues’ personalities and needs.

What are some communications mistakes you often notice in the workplace, PR Daily readers? Are there some you would add to this list? Let us know in the comments.

Samantha Lile is a successful web-content creator with a journalism and mass media degree from Missouri State University. A version of this article originally appeared on the Spin Sucks blog.

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