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21 Communication Mistakes That Could Be Holding Your Career Back

Communication is an essential part of being human, helping us establish relationships, express needs and wants, and live together in society. In the modern world, it’s also an essential skill to hone to get ahead in the business world. While most of us can hold a conversation, present information, and get along with coworkers reasonably well, there are other finer points of communication that may just be influencing your success at work, sometimes without you even being aware that they’re doing it. The words you choose, the methods you choose to communicate, and when you choose to interact with others can all shape how your coworkers and your boss views you as an employee, and not always for the better.

Read on to learn about some common communication mistakes many make in the office, so you can avoid making them yourself in the future.

  1. Not asking for help when you need it.

    Some people think that asking for help at work makes you look weak, or worse, incompetent. Yet none of us knows everything there is to know and everyone needs help from time to time with a project or a task, so there is no shame in admitting that you need a little guidance or support to get the job done. If you are given a project or assignment that you don’t know how to do, ask for resources, examples, or a firmer outline of what’s expected. That way, everyone is on the same page, you get help, and the end product is of a higher quality, helping everyone in the long run.

  2. Avoiding communicating expectations clearly.

    Whether you’re an executive, a manager, or just a team leader, one of the biggest and most harmful communication mistakes you can make is not communicating your expectations clearly to your employees. You may be trying not to come off as strict or inflexible, but you aren’t doing anyone any favors by being vague about what you want. Employees and coworkers cannot meet or exceed expectations when they don’t know what they are, so be clear, concise, and open about what you want. Others will respect you for it, and you’ll be more well-regarded in the office.

  3. Hiding behind email.

    Electronic communications provide a way to avoid face-to-face confrontation, but that’s rarely a good thing. When problems arise, little good can come of sending off an email to deal with them. It’s easy to misinterpret an email and the tone, and poor wording can often cause more problems than it solves. If you have an issue with someone or something, address it in person. Things are much more likely to be resolved, miscommunications will be minimized, and you’ll look like a much more straightforward person.

  4. Taking too long to get to the point.

    When it comes to business communications, whether meetings, emails, or reports, less is generally more. Beating around the bush or burying important information in lengthy expositions won’t win you any favor around the office. Focus on what’s most important, and leave out the rest. If people want more information, they’ll ask, and they’ll certainly appreciate not having their time wasted.

  5. Not asking for clarification.

    Not sure what you’re supposed to be doing? Instead of bumbling through the best you can to avoid being seen as incompetent, just ask. Not doing so just creates more work for everyone and makes you look much worse than if you’d just asked for clarification in the first place. As we’ve already discussed, not everyone is great about being clear with expectations, so sometimes the best route to success at work is just to cut to the chase and ask rather than waiting for instructions.

  1. Not knowing your audience.

    People you work with all hold different jobs with different levels of seniority. As a result, not everyone needs the same information at the same depth. When communicating to different groups, it’s essential to tailor your approach to the needs of that audience. For instance, those working closely with you on a project probably want to hear all the nitty gritty details of your progress, while a higher up will only want a brief overview of what you’ve accomplished. Cater your discussions to the highest level person in attendance, then add details as needed.

  2. Using language that betrays uncertainty.

    One of the biggest career killers is something that many people don’t even realize that they’re doing. Using phrases like “I think,” “I might,” or “I hope to” makes it sound like you’re not sure of your ability to get something done. Instead of hedging, be assertive by committing to getting something done by a date or in a certain way. It might be uncomfortable, but it makes you appear much more confident and able in your work. Just make sure you deliver more often than not.

  3. Being unnecessarily negative.

    It’s seen as cool to be negative or critical about things, but it can also grate on the nerves of your coworkers. Instead of making you sound smart or analytical (or even cool), it just makes you appear negative and unsupportive. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t voice your concerns if you have them, but this kind of approach can get you labeled as being difficult to work with, and no one wants that. Instead of being a buzzkill, highlight what’s good about ideas and be constructive, not harsh, with your criticism.

  4. Always agreeing with everything.

    On the flipside, you don’t want to be too agreeable, either. In fact, it might be even worse than being overly negative to always throw yourself with enthusiasm behind every idea, project, or deadline, no matter how feasible it may or may not be. It’s great to be optimistic, but you also have to be realistic and balance positivity with honesty. If not, you could be signing on to projects that simply aren’t possible, damaging your credibility when you can’t deliver the results you promised.

  5. Not watching your body language.

    Sometimes your body speaks even when you aren’t and if you’re not careful it can undermine your efforts to get ahead at work. In fact, researchers at the Kellogg School of Management and the Stanford Graduate School of Business found that having a powerful posture produces behavioral changes in both the individual and those around them. If you present yourself through non-verbal communication as someone who is in charge and confident, you’re much more likely to get ahead. Other body language keys to getting ahead? Eye contact, looking interested in what’s going on by standing up straight or leaning forward when seated, and using hand gestures and facial expressions to convey your point when speaking.

  1. Forgetting to get feedback.

    Communication is a two-way street, something that those in management and leadership positions sometimes forget. You may want to achieve a certain goal or work with a certain idea in mind, but if you fail to get feedback from others who are working on the project, you could be wasting time and money. Make sure that others know that you welcome and appreciate feedback, and use their expertise to improve the quality of your work. This kind of openness will earn you respect and it will also most likely get you better results.

  2. Using too many buzzwords.

    Even in a business environment where jargon is pretty common, using too many buzzwords can cause the meaning of what you’re trying to say to get lost as people try to figure out just what it is, in fact, that you’re saying. There’s no reason to make your discussions or presentations obtuse to all but the most in-the-know insiders in your industry. Keep things clear, concise, and without all the unnecessary babble that business buzzwords provide.

  3. Not keeping others in the loop.

    While you don’t need to update others about everything you do (save that for at home on Facebook), you do need to ensure that those who are leading a project or working directly with you know what’s going on. If there are issues, shoot them an email. At the end of the week or the workday, send updates to your boss. Forgoing this essential element of office communication can leave everyone confused and may cause issues if things are done twice or not until the last minute or if problems aren’t addressed early on.

  4. Using questions instead of statements.

    Unless you’re directly asking someone a question, don’t phrase your communications in the form of a question. It might sound obvious, but many people looking for validation of their ideas or trying not to appear too pushy phrase them as questions rather than statements when presenting them to others. If you want to appear in control and capable, voice your concerns and thoughts as statements, not questions. Save questions for when you need more information about a topic.

  5. Minimizing your efforts.

    When someone compliments your work or tells you you did a great job, what is your response? It’s not uncommon for people, especially women, both inside and outside of the office to downplay their achievements, the effort they put into a project, or the pride they have in what they’ve accomplished. This isn’t the best way to get ahead at work, however. Instead of minimizing what you do, simply say you’re happy with how things turned out. Or just say thank you and move on.

  1. Apologizing when it isn’t necessary.

    Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes those mishaps are the results of your actions, directly or indirectly. Sometimes they’re not. If you find yourself ready to apologize for something, think for a minute if it’s really something that requires an apology and then decide whether it’s something that you personally need to apologize for. Instead, ask what you can do to keep a problem from happening again. You’re not only avoiding been seen as at fault for something that isn’t your fault, you’ll also been seen as proactive, confident, and responsible.

  2. Forgetting to proofread.

    In this day and age, it’s pretty darn easy to make sure that your written communications aren’t riddled with spelling and grammar errors, yet many neglect to take even the simple step of checking these before sending out an email or printing out a report. Business communications should always be proofread. Always. Important ones should be proofread more than once. It takes more time, yes, but it also prevents you from looking careless, incompetent, and uneducated.

  3. Talking too much and listening too little.

    We’ve all met the kind of person who just goes on and on without letting anyone else get a word in edgewise. While most of us aren’t guilty of taking it to that extreme, you may still be talking too much, at least at work. It’s important to listen to the concerns, ideas, and input of others, whether you’re just working together or managing. If you’re always talking, there isn’t room for that. So make a concentrated effort to allow others to take over the conversation once in awhile.

  4. Multitasking while communicating.

    If you can’t be bothered to give someone your full attention, why should they do the same for you? Whether you’re writing an email, talking on the phone, or sitting in a meeting, it’s essential to give the speaker your full attention. It not only reduces communication mishaps, but also makes you look like a genuinely caring, interested party, which is often what clients, coworkers, and bosses like to see when they’re looking for promotable talent. Also, it’s just plain rude to split your attention when talking to someone.

  5. Being afraid to advocate for yourself.

    You can’t expect someone else to stick up for you in the office if you’re not willing to do it yourself. If you want to get ahead, you have to be willing to advocate for your own interests, strengths, abilities, and work. Many people find this nerve-wracking, but it’s a necessary part of getting ahead, getting paid what you deserve, and being respected in the office.

  6. Using weak words.

    Are you undermining your credibility in the language you choose to use in the office? You just might be if you are using what experts call “weak words.” This can mean saying that you “feel” or “think” something instead of “knowing” or that you “just” have something to say instead of that you have something to say. Don’t downplay your thoughts and abilities like that. Leave out the extraneous words and you’ll quickly give yourself the appearance of greater confidence in the office.


This article was first posted in Online College.

This is an article contributed to Young Upstarts and published or republished here with permission. All rights of this work belong to the authors named in the article above.

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  • sam

    nice post thanks