Communication and leadership go hand in hand. Good communication can motivate people, keep people informed and gain you credibility and respect. When we make communication mistakes, we might find exactly the opposite happens.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the common communication mistakes that I see (and have made myself!) in the workplace.
Communication Mistake #1. Failing to Be Concise and Clear
One of the most common communication mistakes I see is leaders failing to communicate concisely and clearly. Being concise means basically just getting to the point.
If you’re using twenty words where ten will do, then you’re not being concise. If you’re including ten bullet points when you really only care about the top three, then that’s not concise either.
Note: In the interests of being concise, I could stop here … but I feel that it’s beneficial to explain this point further.
When You’re Not Concise, Your Message Takes Longer to Consume
If you send a five page email which contains every single thing you can think of, then you’re probably wasting a lot of people’s time.
The first step is to understand the purpose of your communication.
Why are you communicating? What are you trying to achieve? In general, there are a few main reasons for communicating:
- To inform people about something, to raise awareness
- You want people to take action or make a decision based on what you’re communicating; or
- To gather feedback about something you’re proposing.
Once you know the purpose of your communication, you can then think of the main points that you are trying to communicate, that will help to achieve the outcome you need.
Then you need to communicate these points as simply as possible. Then, people can consume your message quickly, because you’re only communicating the essentials.
Don’t underestimate the multiplier effect of verbose communication. In our example below, you can see that taking an extra 20 minutes to communicate concisely results in an overall reduction of 80 minutes of effort.
This example has been constructed to illustrate the point, but I can assure you that I’ve observed exactly this type of situation happen many times in my career.
So the point is, don’t underestimate the magnifier effect of sending out verbose communication to many people who need to take extra time out of their day to understand the message.
And let’s not forget my favourite quote from Mark Twain:
It does take longer to be concise, but you’ll save time on the other side, when your audience has to take less time and effort to understand what it all means.
When You’re Not Clear, Your Message Is Harder to Understand
Not only does it take longer to understand your message, but failing to communicate concisely and clearly also makes your message harder to understand.
If you’re writing an email or a different document, be sure to structure it with headings and sections as appropriate, to ensure that the document flows well to improve readability. One poorly formatted long wall of text is difficult to understand.
If you’re giving a speech or presentation, it pays to remember the advice from Dale Carnegie.
“Tell the audience what you’re going to say, say it; then tell them what you’ve said.”
This is also the advice given to people who practice public speaking at Toastmasters Clubs around the world. This way, the audience knows what to expect, and what they stand to gain from listening to you.
#2. Not Communicating Enough Information
Another communication mistake that leaders make is failing to provide others with enough information. This isn’t to do with being concise, it’s to do with including the right information to achieve the objectives of your communication.
This communication mistake can result in a few side-effects which takes up people’s time and patience:
- Annoying back-and-forth: Ever been a part of one of those back and forth email chains that could be solved better with a personal conversation? When you don’t communicate enough information, this can happen.
- Mistakes: When you’re communicating information for someone else to take action, it’s important that you include key parameters for what you’d like them to do. Failing to do this might see people act on limited information, and do the wrong thing.
- Low Motivation: When you don’t communicate information to your team, they may feel like they’re in the dark. This can reduce motivation and make them feel isolated, if they believe they have no visibility of the things happening around them.
- Micromanagement: If your boss feels like you’re not giving them all the information, you might find that they monitor you more closely. This can turn into micromanagement if they aren’t comfortable that they’re aware of what you’re doing.
- Wasted Effort: Didn’t tell your colleagues that your team is working on an important initiative? Whoops – it turns out that the team at the other end of your building has been working on exactly the same thing! Few things ruin motivation more than finding out your work is already being done by somebody else.
These are just a few examples that show some of the dangers of not communicating enough information to your team, your boss and your colleagues.
Communication Mistake #3. Not Communicating Frequently Enough
It’s common these days to hear the phrase “The only constant is change”. In other words, organisations are changing at a rapid rate, all the time. This is due to advancing technologies, changes in the market and also changes in our workforce.
The point is, change is always happening now, and we’d better get used to it. So what does this mean for communication?
A communication mistake I see leaders make often is that when plans change, they fail to keep the right people updated.
This can be especially frustrating when somebody is working on a task, only to find out that it is no longer required.
“Oh, we don’t need that any more. Sorry about that.”
When plans change, you need to identify who your affected stakeholders are. Then, you need to make sure you’re communicating with them so they can make a change too, if needed.
Related: The Hidden Costs of Poor Communication.
Communication Mistakes Happen Because We Forget: It’s Not All About Us
Communication mistakes are easy to make, because leaders are busy. However, it’s important to note that communication isn’t just about you.
In fact, it’s not very much about you at all. It’s about your audience.
It’s not good enough to communicate just so that you can say that you have, and tick it off your list. Communication is pointless if people don’t understand, care about, or have time to consume your message.
As leaders, it’s our responsibility to make sure that the message is received and understood at the other end. This is why leaders should take the time to be concise, clear and purposeful with their communication.
Otherwise, at the end of the day, we only have ourselves to blame when things don’t go to plan.
How to Avoid These Communication Mistakes
To avoid making communication mistakes, we can follow these simple steps.
Understand why you’re communicating (the purpose). Then identify the main points you need to get across. Make sure you understand who needs to know. Then keep people updated when things change.
One last check I always do myself is to ask – “Do these people really want or need to know, or care about this?” Because sometimes less is more, and if we can avoid cluttering people’s brains with irrelevant messages, then that’s a win.
Once you have these aspects covered, it’s a matter of taking the time to be concise and clear. That’s how you’ll avoid making these common communication mistakes.
What other communication mistakes have you seen (or made!) in your workplace? Leave a comment below and let us know!