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The Do’s and Dont’s of Effective Communication

Good communicators understand that people may not always fully understand what they are trying to convey and are willing to put in the extra time and patience to clarify their message. 

Being an effective communicator can have many benefits within your workplace by;

  1. Increasing the opportunity for career advancement

  2. Improving confidence in communication with others

  3. Having the ability to take accountability when negative situations occur

  4. Becoming a person that others can go to for assistance

  5. Assisting in bringing clarity to a situation

  6. Taking on a leadership role within your team

  7. Becoming a representative to speak on behalf of your team

People can improve their ability to communicate effectively through training and experience, allowing them to express their intended message with the highest level of clarity.  This leads to lower stress in your relationships, both work and personal. By ensuring clear communication from the beginning, less time is spent on clarification, reducing the need to manage conflict that may stem from misunderstandings.

In order to effectively communicate with another individual, there must be the acknowledgment that each individual’s communication style, current situation, environment, personality traits, and past experiences will all affect how they receive your message. These factors may change from one day to the next. In order to most efficiently communicate our message, we must be in tune with how these changes will impact the other persons’ ability to take in the information we are trying to convey.

Not everyone has the confidence to be comfortable communicating with others. They may have concerns that their intended message will not be received as intended.

Everyone has the ability to become a successful communicator. This can be done through a growing self-awareness and understanding. With this, the willingness to try different methods and tools will improve the ability to communicate with people in the workplace, community, and personal relationships.

Everyone must continue to grow and learn. As I have personally experienced, just when you feel you have figured out your best methods and you know what you are doing, along comes a new individual that you struggle to communicate effectively with. They may not understand what you are saying or what your expectations are. It can become frustrating to navigate a new pathway towards communicating with this one unique individual.

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. – George Bernard Shaw

Tone and Body Language

People not only listen to words, but they also make assumptions and predictions about what is being thought and heard based upon the tone and body language of the other person. Often, these can have more impact on the success or failure of the conversation than the content of the interaction itself.

When you feel that someone is listening to you and engaged in what you are saying, you feel far more heard then if they appear to be distracted or look upset with you. By ensuring your tone, body and words convey your interest and openness to the conversation the other person will be much more comfortable conversing with you.

DoDon’tListen and stay focused on the conversation you are inAnswer or focus on your cell phoneShow you are engaged by maintaining appropriate eye contact and body languageGaze at your desk computer monitor, roll your eyes, yawn, or stare out the windowLean into the conversationInterrupt or point your fingerWatch the tone of your voiceRaise your voice or become terse

Ensure Clarity in Understanding

In order to validate what is being said and to ensure that there has been no miscommunication, both parties must be able to reflect back what the other is saying. Remember what they are saying has importance, truth, and validity. This process ensures that there will not be issues or conflicts down the line due to a lack of understanding.

DoDon’tReflect and summarize comments you have heard that you believe are important to the other personAssume you know what they are going to sayWrite down points you hear. This shows you are paying attention and their points are important to you.Wait until the end to try and remember what they have saidKeep comments framed in a positive senseJudge what they are sayingShare your story, perspective, and their impact on youDebate their perspectivePoint out your common interests and experiences based upon what they have saidCreate stronger positions by focusing on your differences

Know Who You are Speaking To

People from different cultures, work environments, educational backgrounds, and work experiences communicate in a variety of ways. Though we want to ensure we are not making broad or inflexible assumptions about anyone, it is important to know if you are speaking to a room of doctors vs patients or veteran employees vs those new to the industry. By first understanding our audience we can tailor how to set our conversations up for success.

DoDon’tThink about what you know about individual you are attempting to communicate withUse acronyms or technical terms that the person may not be familiar withBe cognizant of the level of language comprehension and understanding they may haveUse words that are far above the comprehension level of the other personBe sensitive to where they currently are emotionally (are they still in a heightened sense of frustration, anger or hurt),Assume that they are at the same place as you emotionallyBe aware of what is going on in their current working environment (overworked, changes happening, short staff, new staff)Talk as though the elements going on around them should be ignored or more easily handled

Keep the Conversation Focused

When dealing with highly emotional subjects it can become easy to get off topic and start bringing up issues that do not directly relate or can be impacted by the current conversation.

It is important to acknowledge and understand the impact past experiences have had on one another. Issues occur when we can not move out of our past experiences and look towards our future. We are unable to change or alter the past but what we can do is gain clarity and understanding of what happened for ourselves and others and how that impact has affected those involved. When we are able to recognize the effects of the past and look towards the future together, we create a path to move forward together.

DoDon’tStay on topicLet the conversation get sidetrackedFocus on what you are there to speak aboutEngage in issues that you are not a part of or can impactAffirm that by working together you have the ability to come up with a solutionGive into a negative or past focused mindsetWrite down issues that do not pertain to the current conversation, but still need to be discussed at a later date.Ignore issues that keep coming up or sidetracking the conversation

Some people are able to masterfully divert the conversation, as they do not want to talk about the issue at hand. If you are finding it difficult to keep them focused it may be best to reschedule the meeting for a later date or gain more information into what the history of the issue is from them, or other employees you know are involved.

Communicating by Email

Email communication has the lowest level for accuracy to convey the intended message, so be careful. As soon as you open the email you will impart whatever tone you choose at that moment to the content. The type of day you are having, your relationship with the sender, and how memory/experience of the last interaction you have with that person will all impact how you read the email.

If you get an email back, and for any reason you feel there is a misunderstanding or negative tone, pick up the phone or walk over to the person’s desk and clarify your intended message. More often than not it had nothing to do with the words, instead, it’s the assumptions made beyond face value.

Steps to Communicate via Email

  1. Use the subject line to give a quick picture of the content of your email

  2. Start with their name (ensure spelling is correct)

  3. Give as much detail as you feel is required, don’t go into too much background or detail

  4. Use positive language whenever possible, remember the receiver will impart their own tone. Don’t give them extra negative words to work with.

  5. End with a positive note, such as “Hope you have a great day”

Follow up with a phone call or in-person conversation if

  1. The information is time-sensitive

  2. The message you want to convey has an emotional element to it

For more information on this topic, view our When to Call vs Email Comprehensive Guide.

Final Thoughts

Understanding that communication has many facets, potentially causing our message to be misconstrued, is half the battle. The best way to resolve a misunderstanding is to speak directly with the individual; do not use email to try and diffuse an argument.  This applies to your manager, supervisor, co-worker, and spouse/family. The only person that can help clarify the intention behind the statement is the person that made the statement.

Remember to enter into conversations curious, clarifying if how you perceived the incident is the way that was intended by the other person. When we enter into a conversation and call out the person’s behaviors or assumed intent, expecting an apology or recognition of our reality, they may feel they have nothing to apologies for and don’t understand how we could feel that way.

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