As 2018 rapidly approaches, some of you may be looking for a change in the new year. Perhaps you’re seeking a new position in your field or starting to look at internship applications. As you read through job listings posted all over the web, you start to notice a common desired trait: excellent communication skills.
In American culture, great communication is more than just knowing how to write a paper or hold a conversation. There are a lot of nuances that go into day-to-day discussions that the average person might not consider. Read on to see if you’re making these mistakes that could cost your career.
1. You Don’t Listen
Zoning out in the middle of a conversation: we’ve all done it. Someone’s talking, but you’re in your own world. Maybe you’re too distracted thinking about your lunch break or remembering a weird article you read earlier. Either way, you’re not really listening to anything the other person’s saying.
While the occasional mental checkout is understandable (nobody’s perfect, after all), it’s important not to make inattentiveness a habit, especially in a professional setting. Failing to follow a conversation might mean you miss out on crucial details about an approaching deadline or project expectations.
To keep yourself engaged in conversations, you should adopt active listening behaviors. Look directly at the speaker and acknowledge their words by nodding or saying things like, “Uh-huh,” “Okay,” or “Yeah.” These small phrases, known as backchannels, act as feedback for the speaker and show you’re following along.
It’s fine to pause and ask clarifying questions if you don’t quite understand what’s being said. It’s also good practice to reiterate the speaker’s key points towards the end of the conversation. That way, you and the speaker can make sure you’re both on the same page.
2. You Talk Too Much
A productive conversation should be an informational give-and-take, not a one-man show. People will not want to talk to you if you keep cutting them off. They might believe you don’t respect their opinions or views because you’re only highlighting your own. To them, you come across as an attention hog.
Remedying this problem goes back to active listening. Invite others to contribute to the discussion by asking open ended questions. These questions prompt a thought-out response, rather than a simple yes or no answer. By giving the other person room to reply, you show them a huge amount of respect, learn more about their perspective, and ultimately strengthen your working connection.
3. You Focus on Flaws
We all can get a little pessimistic at times. Some days it might be hard to see the positive side of things. But when a client or a co-worker comes to you for advice, it’s never a good idea to dish out your answers with a negative spin. If you’re quick to point out flaws or criticise without offering any helpful feedback, people probably won’t ask for your opinion too often.
The secret to constructive criticism, then, is to focus on the positives first. Start off the discussion by noting what the person is doing well. Let’s pretend your co-worker asks you to read over his new project proposal. Highlight what parts you like about it. Tell him why you think those parts are effective.
Once you’ve built him a supportive base, move onto the things that need work. Address problem areas as places for growth rather than faults. Giving him specific feedback shows that you actually took the time to thoroughly look over his proposal. Because you stayed positive and encouraged him to improve, he’ll see you as a reliable and honest person. In the future, he just might ask for your advice again.
4. You Put Yourself Down
There’s nothing wrong with being humble. Many people admire those who are confident but also have the strength to admit their mistakes. But sometimes self-deprecation can go too far.
Have you ever found yourself constantly apologizing for the smallest things? You might think you’re softening a situation or trying to be polite, but the truth is, this type of behavior is exhausting, both for you and the other person. Overt use of “sorry” is often associated with insecurity and submission.
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Instead of putting yourself down, build yourself up. As with constructive criticism, you should focus on forming positive messages. This comic by Yao Xiao has lots of good examples of alternative phrases to use instead of defaulting to an apology.
5. You Don’t Watch Your Body Language
If you’ve looked up things online about nonverbal communication, you’ve probably come across the 93/7 ratio. This statistic claims that only 7% of communication is made up of spoken words; the remaining 93% is totally nonverbal. However, this isn’t true. Effective face-to-face communication relies on a balanced combination of the two elements to work.
While your words convey an idea, your body language projects your emotions behind that idea. In some situations, you think you’re saying the right things, but your body could be telling a different story.
Bad body language can take on many forms. Fidgeting with your hands, clothes, or hair are classic signs of nervousness. It’s common to express uncertainty by avoiding eye contact when talking. Assuming certain poses, like crossing your arms or angling your body away from the speaker, give you a guarded or unapproachable aura.
A lot of the time, body language depends on context. Standing tall with your arms folded might make some people uncomfortable. But when paired with a friendly expression, the same pose isn’t so intimidating.
6. Your Email Skills Need Work
Each day, people collectively send a whopping 269 billion emails. With so many messages flooding inboxes, it’s hard to hold people’s attention.
That being said, when composing an email, it’s best to keep your ideas concise. Clearly state your message without rambling on about irrelevant info. If someone sees a wall of text immediately after opening your email, they’re either going to skim it or put it in the trash.
As you draft your emails, remember that tone and intent don’t translate well over the internet. Using certain words and phrases that really only work when they’re spoken can give people the wrong impression, especially if the topic at hand is potentially controversial or sensitive. For good measure, avoid sarcasm at all costs. Interpreting sarcasm online is difficult to do, and chances are, trying to write a snarky message will end badly.
Always make sure to check your emails for spelling and grammar errors, lest the grammar police come after you. With so many editing tools available out there, there are no excuses for sloppy emails. If you don’t take the time to reread and fix any mistakes in your writing, you could damage your credibility as a professional.
If you found yourself reading this article and thinking, “Wow, this is too relatable,” don’t worry. Even if your communication skills aren’t up to par, you can always improve yourself. Changing your bad communication habits might be a struggle at first, but it’s definitely something you can handle.