3 career-killing communication habits

If you’re a longwinded ‘watchmaker,’ an ‘interrupter’ or an ‘arguer,’ you could be sabotaging any opportunities to win in the workplace. 

Career-killing communication habits

Your communication skills determine how successful and influential you are in the workplace.

Become an effective communicator and you’ll go far in your career. Fail to grow, learn or adapt, however, and you’ll thwart your professional potential.

Here are three communication styles that can derail your career progress:

1. You’re a watchmaker in a time-teller world.

Everyone knows someone who missed the memo on “keep it brief.” It’s the individual you dread seeing heading toward your cubicle—the person famous for cornering colleagues for long periods of time with one-sided conversations.

“Watchmakers” are individuals who communicate with deep context. Most mean well, but when you ask a watchmaker the time, he or she will tell you how to build a watch—at length and in detail.

There’s a time and place for deep context and long stories—for example, campfires. In the workplace, brevity is the watchword. Quickly communicate your core message, and let everyone move on in pursuit of their respective challenges.

Unfortunately, most watchmakers are unaware of the negative consequences their communication habits cause. This is no surprise, given the chronic shortage of honest, substantive feedback in many workplaces.

If you have watchmaker tendencies, ask for feedback from trusted colleagues on your communication style. Ask if you are known for sharing ideas in a crisp, transparent manner, or ask an open-ended question: “How can I do a better job communicating with you?”

2. You’re a chronic interrupter.

Many otherwise delightful people exhibit this obnoxious communication tic. If you’re a person who’s known for interrupting colleagues and finishing sentences, you stand very little chance of becoming influential—or respected—in the workplace.

“Interrupters” perceive finishing sentences as a positive sign of understanding what a person’s talking about, but this is extremely annoying. It is also disrespectful to the other person.

Thankfully, this poor habit is relatively easy to monitor and self-censor. Try this simple approach to reduce and eliminate this habit: Count to two in your mind after the other person’s comment, and only then begin speaking. The deliberate two-count pause forces you not to interrupt. If you struggle with interrupting people, keep a log of the number of times you violate the two-count rule during a day, and strive to keep reducing this number.

3. You’re the arguer.

I come from a family of arguers. We argued about everything, as if it were a sport.

This might be how you communicate at home, but being argumentative doesn’t fly at work. People might initially appreciate your enthusiasm and critical thinking, but a constant flow of contrarian takes will diminish your influence and drive people away.

I was an arguer early in my career, quick to take an opposing viewpoint and fast to suggest a different way forward. Thankfully, a mentor observed this behavior and encouraged me to develop as someone who drew out ideas from others instead of bludgeoning them with mine. This guidance proved priceless.

Arguers wear people down. Arguers also tend to shut down open-mindedness and collaboration. The mere presence of an arguer in the room tends to suppress ideas—especially from introverts or people who’d rather remain silent than potentially poke the bear.

If you’re an arguer, try to focus on listening. Learn to ask questions and let your colleagues express their opinions freely. Harness the power of positive persuasion in workplace conversations. Moving from critic to contributor is hard, but it is possible.

The bottom line

If you’re able to admit that you struggle with workplace communication, kudos on the recognition. Now, do something about it. Seek help from a colleague, a thoughtful manager or mentor or, if possible, an outside coach. Don’t let sloppy communication habits get in the way of your success.

A version of this post first appeared on Art Petty’s blog.


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