Common Mistakes Made When Communicating in the Workplace (and How to Fix Them)

Updated 02/28/18
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"Integrity, transparency, and timeliness are crucial to invaluable employees," says business etiquette expert and best-selling author Sharon Schweitzer. All of these factors require good communication, a skill that can at times test your abilities and patience, but one that is vital to a thriving career. The workplace is one continuous hub of communication, whether it's in the form of an email, a phone call, a meeting, or a presentation. "Without good communication, workers become demoralized, customer service deteriorates, and then a great business suffers," Schweitzer says.

No matter if you're the boss and in charge of relaying information to your team or an employee who interacts with co-workers and clients, making a mistake when communicating in the workplace is inevitable, but it's also something you can learn from. In the hopes of sparing you from a conversation faux pas, Schweitzer has shared a few of the most common mistakes made when communicating in the workplace and how to correct them. Take a look and ready yourself for anything the office might throw at you.

Sharing an Idea at a Weekly Meeting

The Mistake: Becoming defensive. "When pitching an idea to your co-workers and superiors, don't become defensive or offended if someone offers constructive criticism or adds input that doesn't match with your vision," Schweitzer says.

The Correction: Be open. "Understand that collaborating is an important part of teamwork," she says. In this spirit, try to stay open to shared ideas. Schweitzer also suggests taking control of the way you receive feedback in a meeting. "After presenting an idea, ask, 'Does anyone have input on this?' to encourage feedback." Don't forget to thank people for speaking up and sharing their thoughts.

Discussing an Employee's Performance at an Annual Review

The Mistake: Glossing over weak spots. "Top marks across the board leave no room for growth, and your company will ultimately suffer as a result," Schweitzer explains.

The Correction: Use the "sandwich" technique. It's all about a balance between constructive criticism and praise. Simply put, "layer positive news, share the negative, and close on a positive note." Plan what you will say by considering the employee's successes and determining a few specific areas of improvement they can focus on. "Giving clear goals will help employees zone in on skills needing improvement, which in turn improves office efficiency, professional relationships, and company morale," she says.

Communicating Through Email With Co-Workers, Clients, or Your Boss

The Mistake: Misusing reply-to-all. The dreaded, never-ending mass email is often a result of this common mistake made by even veteran employees. "Reply-to-all is a function for ongoing deliberations on a particular subject," she says, though many use it when it's unnecessary.

The Correction: Check the recipient line before pressing send. When you are using email, be wary of the reply-to-all feature. "You can copy co-workers working on the same project, but flooding everyone's inbox is poor email etiquette," she says. Before you send off an email, make sure that everyone in the recipient line needs to be there.

Addressing an Issue With a Passive-Aggressive Co-Worker

The Mistake: More passive-aggressive behavior. "No matter how tempting, don't fight fire with fire by retaliating with your own passive-aggressive slight." According to Schweitzer, this behavior is immature and can disrupt the entire workplace.

The Correction: Be direct. Schweitzer advises addressing this type of situation head-on. "Without saying anything that might be interpreted as an accusation, explain that you find their behavior hurtful and unnecessary in a professional environment, and suggest a resolution that satisfies everyone."

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Giving Bad News to Your Employees

The Mistake: Being vague. "If bonuses aren't in this month's budget or the organization is downsizing, avoid delivering the bitter pill without explaining the situation and eliminating any ambiguity," says Schweitzer. Without understanding the full picture, employees may assume the worst.

The Correction: Follow the What, When, Who, and Why Rule. "Explain what's happening and when, who it will affect, and why this situation has occurred," she says. It's a simple and streamlined way to ensure all of the information is communicated and no questions are left unanswered. "Whatever the situation, empathy and honesty will go a long way in creating a solution."

Giving a Presentation to Your Superiors

The Mistake: Letting nerves get the best of you. "Nonverbal behavior like slouching; fidgeting; fillers such as 'like,' 'um,' or 'uh;' looking at the ground; and avoiding eye contact leave a negative impression and distract from your message.

The Correction: Over-prepare. Nerves are no match for preparation. Schweitzer suggests practicing in front of a mirror, with co-workers, or even in the car during your morning commute. "Use a clear, confident voice and good posture, and avoid looking at notes or slides the entire time." You can even prepare for feedback by thinking of a few difficult questions that you might be asked and crafting honest answers ahead of time. "Be confident knowing that you're well prepared," Schweitzer says.

Negotiating a Raise

The Mistake: Not doing your research. According to Schweitzer, this all but guarantees you leaving disappointed. "Don't suggest a salary that you decided on arbitrarily or expect that the national average income for professionals in your position is reasonable for your location, level of experience, or preexisting benefits package."

The Correction: Do the research. Schweitzer suggests looking into data on sites like Glassdoor, Indeed, PayScale, and Salary to determine the compensation range for someone with your credentials in the same industry and location. Ask yourself, "What am I worth given my experience, skill set, education, and potential value to the company?"

Master these skills for communicating in the workplace, and you'll be on your way employee of the year in no time.

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