How to avoid the most common communication mistakes

Last Friday, I posted twice. In the second post, Do you make any of these common writing mistakes? we reviewed four common mistakes people make when writing. Here are some other common communication mistakes of the non-written kind and how to avoid them.

The first is cowardice. Cowardice may mean taking the easy way out and delivering bad news by email rather than in person, or it might be avoiding difficult conversations. Think about the best way to deliver bad news so you can deliver it sensitively. That usually means putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and thinking about how they will hear your words. It doesn’t mean not telling the truth, but it does mean telling the truth with tact. And, almost always, in person.

When the bad news entails negative feedback, which I prefer to call constructive information or corrective information (the latter being a bit stronger and more directive), the art of providing clear, actionable information is important in our personal as well as our professional lives. So think through what you want to say and practice a bit first, even if only in your head.

Even when the news isn’t bad, you often need to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. When you want to provide some information or instructions or ask a favour, for instance, you’re going to have a better result when you think about it from the other person’s perspective. What does she already know and think about the issue? How can he use the information you’re providing? What’s currently going on in her life? What tack is most likely to motivate him? And so on.

When good communicators have the same message or request for four different people, they invariably give it in four different ways, each tailored to the individual they’re speaking with. Everyone has different needs, life experiences and backgrounds which you can take into account to communicate more successfully.

Another mistake is not being clear about your own motives. What’s your real purpose in communicating? What assumptions are you basing your communication on? What action do you hope for from the other person? When you realise you’re about to communicate based on frustration or anger, for instance, you know it’s time to zip your lips.

Bottom line: Effective communication is about thinking through how best to put your message across, and that means using your empathy and emotional intelligence.