Real Leaders

How to Craft Communications to Avoid Professional Gaffes

One of the most dramatic changes of the 21st Century is the increased use of technology in our communication. From iPhones, to livestream videos and social media, we’re able to communicate instantly with our family and friends, but also with complete strangers — at the tap of a screen.

The efficiency of communication has improved with technology, but there’s a growing deficit and liability in our new approach to communication. While communicating on a global scale is now possible, the levels of civility have declined dramatically. Technology has literally removed this filter from our brains. In a recent survey, companies cited an estimated loss of $62.4 million per year from poor communication between employees.

Even some of the world’s most influential leaders have made enormous gaffes by not carefully crafting their communications, and recklessly distributing it with ease.

To avoid this trap, use these three strategies to keep your proverbial foot out of your mouth:

1. Decide what you want to accomplish before you communicate. Have you ever heard the saying: “Measure twice cut once?” This applies to communication, too. Craft your communication before you deliver it. Communicating in the heat of the moment, will often result in regret later. The best strategy is to determine what you want to achieve before you begin your communication. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Consider who you are talking to. A customer? Employee? Partner? Family member?
  • Determine what you don’t know. For example, if a mistake occurred, and you’re trying to find out why, rather than make an accusation, give the benefit of the doubt before attacking in your message.
  • Understand what outcome you want. What is the goal of your communication?

In Jack Canfield’s book, The Success Principles, he introduces the formula, E+R=O. The “E” stands for an event, “R” stands for the response, and “O” stands for the outcome. Events happen, and it’s our response to them that determines the resulting outcome. For example, you’re scolded by your boss for a significant mistake. Your emotional reaction is to tell off your boss — which will get you fired, so that outcome isn’t in your best interest. The other option might be thanking your boss for having recognized the problem, and offering to see what you can do to resolve it. Communication is a tool, and we control the outcome of an event based on our response.

2. Don’t listen to the voices in your head. Do you recall the cartoons with a devil and an angel perched on either shoulder, both whispering something into the character’s ear? Nothing usually ends well from these scenarios. The same holds true with our choice of communication. Have you ever been so frustrated that you start writing an angry email and hit send without even taking a breath? Later that day, you realize that it wasn’t the right thing to do. With the evolution of technology, and how quickly we can communicate, the voices in our head are indeed a liability because they’re typically fueled by emotion. Thoughts create feelings and feelings create behavior. You’re always better off examining your feelings before you act on them.

It’s very easy to misinterpret an email or text message. For example, you’re running late and text your boss that you’ll be there in 10 minutes. She responds “FINE,” and you assume that she’s frustrated. This thought then fuels your anger. You believe that you’re a hard worker and you’re rarely late. Later, your boss shares that she accidentally responded in all caps, and wasn’t upset at all. Realize that terse communications can cause annoyances that get inside your head and fuel emotions. This breaks down effective communication and can result in tense situations.

3. Determine the best delivery method and don’t take the easy way out. Technology provides an opportunity to communicate in non-confrontational ways, that can result in greater miscommunications — potentially leading to conflict, liability, and lawsuits. Before you send a communication, determine the best delivery method. Should this communication take place in person, by phone, via email, through a text, in a Skype call, through the mail, or some other delivery method? Consider how the recipient would respond and decide whether it will be with a brief “yes” or “no,” an explanation, a lengthy description, or a legal action. The delivery method matters with each type of communication.

Our communication style and methods can be an asset or a liability. The ultimate goal is to utilize it as a positive tool to achieve the end result in the most empowering way.

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