6 Mistakes That Will Screw Up Your Team's Communication
In just 10 minutes, you can accurately predict whether your team will perform well or badly on a certain project – and it's all to do with how they communicate. Here are six of the most destructive types of communication that may be hindering your performance, plus tips for what you can do to improve your communication skills across the board.
Communication Mistake 1: People Speak Without Knowing What They Want to Say
It sounds like the most natural thing in the world: whoever has nothing to say, shuts up and lets someone else take the stage. In practice, there are plenty of personalities who have no idea about what they want to say but they'll say it anyway because that's how they organize their thoughts: by speaking them out loud. I talked about "talk to think" types, notably ENTP, ENFP, ESTP and ESFP personalities, in another post, 7 Deadly Sins That Ruin Every Meeting. You can immediately see how the constant outpouring causes people of opposing types – those who think before talking, mostly introverts – to lose patience and not take their team members seriously anymore.
Solution: Be clear about what you want to communicate.
If people have nothing to say, they should not say anything – at least not yet. Make it clear to your team that it's perfectly fine to say, "Sorry, I'm not quite sure what I think about that," when they haven't had time to compose their thoughts. Where possible, give everyone the opportunity to do their thinking ahead of an important conversation
Communication Mistake 2: Allowing Space for Personal Criticism
There is a huge difference between giving constructive feedback to a work colleague and berating him with temper. When you allow team members to criticize each other, you are saying that it's okay to make people feel bad about themselves or their performance. By all means allow team members to suggest ways a work task could have been handled better, but do not allow them to judge people so others feel inferior.
Solution: Use concrete examples, not abstractions and generalizations.
When it's time to speak in terms of someone's shortcomings or weaknesses, address them in a positive way. Wrong words: "You're lazy! You never finished the report on time!" Right words: "I have a hard time getting the month-end financial statements done unless I have this report on time. It would help me tremendously if you could prioritize getting that to me by close of play on Thursday."
Communication Mistake 3: Preparing an Answer While the Other Person is Still Speaking
Ask around the office and you'll find a bunch of situations where people have suggested an idea, but had it ignored or rejected because the other person was so busy working on their own response, they never really perceived what was being said. Inevitably, they've missed the point of what the other person wanted to tell them and missed the opportunity to ask for clarification where certain points were unclear.
Solution: Listen and just be quiet!
Never speak just to please yourself or make yourself look better. Listening is not only a matter of respect, courtesy and consideration (who wants to be interrupted all the time?) but also they key to a successful exchange. When people talk past each other, great ideas are lost in miscommunication.
Communication Mistake 4: Refusing to Say Sorry
Some personalities, notably Thinker Judgers, have a hard time saying sorry because they see mistakes as learning opportunities, not as something they've done wrong. This can rub other personalities, notably Intuitive Feelers, the wrong way. In the absence of an express apology, these types can feel that they are being blamed for someone else's problem or that they are being controlled and manipulated in some way.
Solution: Encourage people to admit when they are wrong.
This one is tough because certain personalities will not always recognize a situation as one that warrants an apology, and they may not be tuned into the impact their behavior has on other people's feelings. You may have to do some nudging in this respect. You may get more traction here if you encourage your team members to focus more on the solution to a perceived transgression. Wrong words: "It's your fault that we missed the payment! Why don't you apologize?" Right words: "I notice we lost the payment. Maybe it could work better if we delegated our responsibilities."
Communication Mistake 5: Vague Instructions
"Just get it done." It sounds clear enough, but this phrase is an example of terrible communication. When you fail to give the recipient a clear understanding of the timeframe, desired outcome, or even the specific nature of the project they've been given, it's virtually impossible for them to do a good job. The most common mistake in communication ever – EVER! – is assuming that your conversation partner is with you, no matter what or how little you say. She almost never is, because everyone interprets information differently and has different experiences clouding their judgment.
Solution: Leave no room for second guessing.
There's no rule about how many (or few) words we need to formulate a message. But the goal of every conversation is to ensure that what is said reaches the recipient. If you don't say enough, then you've already shut the conversation off half way. For personalities with brevity as their natural style, it's good practice to wind up every conversation by asking if the other person has any questions. This allows for clarification so there's no room for doubt.
Communication Mistake 6: Not Being as Impartial as You Think You Are
Most of us believe that we're objective and impartial and have all the facts at our disposal. In reality, we all bring our personal biases to the table and are as prejudiced as the next person when it comes to interpreting the same facts. Have you ever mistakenly taken offence because someone made an off-the-cuff comment you didn't appreciate? Have you ever sent an email that was completely misinterpreted even though the message seemed perfectly obvious to you? None of us are as impartial as we think we are. Effective communicators understand this and keep it front of mind when they are trying to get their message across.
Solution: Assess your team.
You cannot keep a close watch on your communication style unless you understand your own communication style, and that of each other. That's why personality assessments are so useful: if we can fathom what's going on in our own communication, we can make better choices. How am I communicating? What kind of messages does the other person respond to? How can I say this differently so she will understand me better? The best bit about personality assessment is you don't have to go through years of hit and miss to get these powerful results. You can see improvements straight away.