The 6 worst employee communication mistakes

Email gaffes, verbosity, poor grammar, and the inability to read nonverbal cues are among the common plagues of workplace interaction.

Assuming you’ve done a good job of hiring, your employees have skills that contribute to the growth of your business—but that doesn’t mean they’re all great communicators.

Business owners often encounter difficulties in getting their employees to better express themselves and interact with others.

Here are six of the worst employee communication mistakes, with suggestions for improvement:

1. Vague emails, lacking a call to action

Email communications are so pervasive in our daily lives that it’s easy to forget basic business email etiquette. Among the most common errors:

  • Too wordy, with no clear substance
  • Vague or misleading title in the subject field
  • An unprofessional tone (joking, sarcastic, indignant, impolite)
  • No clear call to action

Consider holding a brief “refresher course” or send out helpful tips to get people on the same page. Remind employees to:

  • Keep messages concise.
  • Let the email recipient know whether the message is urgent or time-sensitive.
  • Be explicit about what you’re asking for, be it information or action.

2. Failure to double-check spelling and grammar

Emails with improper grammar and misspelled words are unacceptable when employees communicate with management or, most important, with your customers.

Make sure employees understand that spell-check alone doesn’t guarantee an error-free message. They must re-read their messages and ensure that spell-check hasn’t substituted an incorrect word for the one intended. Also, find and fix ambiguous language.

3. Lack of a prompt response to emails from others

Employers must also take responsibility for getting employees to respond to emails in a timely manner. Don’t indulge in a long-winded message forcing the recipient to puzzle out what to do next.

If you need answers, ask specific questions. Request a response by a certain time or date. And restrict the number of people receiving the email. Seeing a long list of recipients, any one employee may think others will respond instead of him or her.

4. Gossiping in the workplace

Every employer knows how destructive gossip can be. To cope with this human weakness, try these tactics:

  • If you learn about someone gossiping, speak directly to that individual and remind them about your company policy.
  • Share as much information about your business as possible, thus discouraging people’s tendency to speculate in a vacuum of knowledge.

5. Inability to read body language

Some are more adept than others at reading body language and picking up on nonverbal cues. If your business involves frequent face-to-face encounters, consider holding training sessions in how to read body language, with particular attention paid to:

  • How close or far another person stands while talking to you
  • The degree of eye contact made
  • Whether the other person has his or her arms crossed or open
  • Signs of fidgeting or nervousness (indicating defensiveness or resistance to the speaker’s message)

Encourage employees to concentrate more when interacting with co-workers or customers. Stay alert to facial expressions, hand gestures, and other types of body language.

6. Monopolizing meetings

Some employees are extroverts and tend to dominate meetings, to the detriment of others. How can you discourage this behavior?

  • Politely hold up your hand to indicate you’d like the person to stop speaking.
  • When the employee takes a breath, redirect the conversation to include others.
  • If the problem persists, take the offender aside in private and, while showing you appreciate their input, ask them to hold back or at least limit their comments so others can speak.

With positive guidance, employees can learn to avoid these common communication mistakes.

Peter LaMotte is a senior vice president at LEVICK and chair of the firm’s Digital Communications Practice. He is also a contributing author to LEVICK Daily.

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