Communication is one of those interesting things. Depending on what you read, up to 70% of job ads require excellent communication skills. However, communication is often mistaken for simply ‘good reading and writing skills’.
The reality is good communication is much broader than this and, done well, can genuinely form the foundation of excellence, regardless of the job you are in.
Done badly… it can quickly become your undoing. Literally. I’ve seen jobs end because of bad communication.
So with the hope of that not being something that happens to you, today I wanted to take a deep dive into 5 key communication fkups I regularly see and can so easily be avoided.
#1 – Failing to listen
A couple weeks ago I received a job application with a phrase that really pipped my attention. Instead of writing the usual ‘excellent communication skills’, they wrote the phrase ‘I’m an excellent listener.’
Listening (and then understanding) is literally half of the communication process, yet somehow, when we are talking about communication skills, it is always the things we say, or how we say them, that seems to get all the attention.
Your brain can only cope with doing so many things at once, and if you are too busy thinking about what you are going to say next, you stop listening.
Think about it – your boss wants you to work on a new marketing strategy at work. You realise that it’s similar to something you were discussing at uni last week and start racking your brain for what it was and what clever things you could possibly add to the discussion. Meanwhile, you have missed a heap of important things that your boss told you specific to the strategy you would be working on. So when you get back to your desk, you get on with the job but little do you know you aren’t actually working on the right things because you weren’t listening.
“Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.” ― Bernard M. Baruch
#2 – Using yes as an answer
“Yes” is not an answer.
I’d like you to do this and this and this …Yes
And we need to be mindful of this and this … Yes
And we can’t forget to do this … Yes
Do you understand … Yes
Whilst ‘Yes’ may technically work as a response in a discussion, it is the most passive and least satisfactory answer of them all. And when I have a team member that simply says yes over and over, it sends alarm bells off for me.
Do they really understand? Have they actually taken note of that thing I told them we can’t forget? I really don’t want to teach them to suck eggs, but I’m pretty sure they haven’t understood what they want them to do at all.
Instead, try engaging in the conversation. Repeat things back. Ask questions. Develop your response and communicate.
When you engage actively in the discussion with much more than a ‘yes’, as a manager, I am a lot more comfortable in letting go of the task and trusting you are okay to get on with the job at hand.
#3 – Not owning it when you fuck up
You make a mistake. It happens.
You instinctively respond with ‘it’s not my fault’ or ‘but I did what you told me’. You are scared to have gotten it wrong.
Here’s the news flash – mistakes happen and learning from them is what will drive you forward and make you grow the most. And the bigger the mistake, the bigger the opportunity to grow and learn.
But if you stay in the defensive communication mistake of ‘not my fault’, all those opportunities will be missed.
#4 – Not being direct with your boss
Having problems? Tell your boss.
Got some big stuff going on at home that’s impacting work? Tell your boss.
Want to take on more and chase that promotion? Tell your boss.
I can’t say this enough… Tell. Your. Boss.
Your boss isn’t a mind reader. If you want your boss to understand and help, or just be a bit compassionate, you need to communicate and give them context. Otherwise, you may find them grumpy with you because, from their perspective, they simply think you are underperforming.
But remember – when you talk to your boss, it’s not a one-way monologue where you air all your thoughts and feelings. Your boss has the right to reply, and when you are talking about problems at work, you have to remember they may have a different perspective on the situation. Which is where you need to exercise those excellent listening skills too!
#5 – Thinking you don’t need help
Everyone wants to be the hero. They want to have everything under control and be on top of it all. I get it… Mum insists that the first words out of my mouth were “Mummy, I can do it”.
But asking for help is one of the most powerful things you can do!
Learning something new? Ask questions.
Working through a process and find yourself stuck? Ask for help.
Something taking you longer than it probably should? Talk it through.
As a boss, there is nothing more frustrating than realising someone could have asked for help 3 days ago and you could have just given them the answer rather than having wasted all the time whilst they spun in circles.
And again, to draw back to the listening, if someone is taking the time to help you, don’t listen to the first 5 words of a sentence and then tune out. Listen actively, ask questions, engage in dialogue and be grateful for whatever help you are being given.
You got this.