When you send someone an email, call them on the phone, or shoot them a Slack message, do you think that you’ve just engaged in communication? If so, you’re not alone: most people consider each of those actions to be forms of communication. But in fact, they aren’t—and thinking that they are is a big mistake.
As a communication coach, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a wide range of business leaders and teams. They bring me in because they want to learn to be more adaptable, impactful and connected. And the key to all of that is to learn how to engage in excellent communication consistently.
After working with so many different people, I’ve seen every mistake you can make. Mistaking emails and slack messages for communication is one of the biggest, but it doesn’t end there. Many people also don’t show up prepared for conversations, and sometimes they avoid engaging with other people altogether.
Most of us make at least one of these communication errors at one point or another, and when we do, it can result in miscommunication, which can lead to massive problems. Don’t despair, though: I’ve come up with some methods (which I’ll share with you here) to help you avoid making these big mistakes. By implementing these strategies, you can eliminate (or at least significantly reduce) miscommunication within your organization and instead enjoy the benefits that come with engaging in authentic, powerful, real communication.
#1: Mistaking the Exchange of Information for Communication
To start us off, let’s go back to my original question about whether sending an email or a Slack message is communicating. Because let’s be honest: most people send emails, then pat themselves on the back, convinced they’ve just engaged in some good communication.
Again, there’s no need to get down on yourself if that describes your process…but you also must realize that if you do that, you haven’t actually communicated with the person or people on the other side. All you’ve done is exchange information. The difference? True communication is a back-and-forth dialogue. It takes two sides.
To put it another way, the act of you saying or writing something isn’t enough. It has to be understood by the other side before it becomes communication. So, just sending the email isn’t communicating. Making sure they received it, understood it, have what they need, and so on…that’s where the communication happens.
The first step to fixing this is becoming aware of it. Realize that your job isn’t finished when you push send. Make it a habit to take the time to follow up, clarify if necessary, and make sure the other person has what they need to execute. Eventually, that will become second nature, and your information exchanges will become productive and effective communications.
#2: Being Unprepared for Conversations
Another major mistake I frequently see my clients make is not showing up prepared for conversations. Look, I get it: we’re all swamped, and it can sometimes feel like we don’t even have five minutes to take the time to prepare for the next thing.
This is especially true in what I call “pants on fire” organizations. In those companies, there are constant back-to-back meetings. Everybody’s always running five minutes late, and nobody ever seems to take the time to check-in and think, “What am I trying to achieve here?” As a result, they blow through things, and that can lead to massive miscommunication.
There isn’t an easy solution for this one. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be fixed, and it’s well worth the time and effort to do so. Start getting in the habit of taking a few minutes before you get on the call or go into the meeting to close your eyes and think about what you want to accomplish. Take the time to come into the moment, so you can stay authentically present and engaged for whatever communication you’re about to engage in.
At first, taking the time to do this can feel challenging. But by taking five minutes to prepare, make sure you’re in the right frame of mind, and think about who is going to be on the call or in the meeting and what they need to know, you make things astronomically easier for you and the people you’re engaging with. Plus, you no longer have to waste time cleaning up messes and misunderstandings. So, for your five-minute investment, you end up saving potentially hours of cleanup on the other end.
#3: Refusing to Engage in Communications
The other massive communication mistake to watch out for is avoiding conversations and refusing to engage with people. Sometimes, people do this because they think the conversation isn’t essential to the other person. Sometimes, they’re intimidated by the other person or don’t want to have a tough conversation. And sometimes, they’re just too overwhelmed and busy to take the time needed for that conversation or email reply.
No matter the reason, ghosting someone is a major problem. Creating a positive work dynamic with another person goes out the window the moment you start avoiding them. Instead, avoidance leads to low morale, lack of trust, and anger in general—and it also reduces your chances to get buy-in or help someone understand your point of view about a specific problem or project.
If you find yourself doing this, start with eye contact. Practice making eye contact with the person you’re avoiding, whether that’s because you don’t like them, or they intimidate you, or for some other reason.
By making eye contact (which is a powerful nonverbal communication), you open the doorway to engaging with that person. Then, you can move from there to engage with them on a deeper level, as long as you can stay present and prepared when you do.
#4: Move From Turbulent Chaos to Calm Efficiency
Conversations in the workplace are happening a thousand times a week. That means, if you make the mistakes I’ve discussed here, you have a thousand chances every single week to create turbulence. A thousand chances to make things harder, to make people on your team feel like things aren’t right.
But—and here’s what I want you to focus on—if you implement the strategies to avoid making these mistakes, you also have a thousand chances every week to make things great. To boost your team’s morale and productivity. To save time you might otherwise have spent cleaning up the messes miscommunication can cause. And, ultimately, to foster deeper connections and engagement with all your stakeholders, from your employees to other leaders to your board and your customers.
Turbulence can be found on Amazon.