Are Common Communication Barriers Holding You Back at Work?

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At first glance, communication can seem pretty easy. You started doing it when you were born, and you’ve been doing it every day since … how can you not be awesome at it, right?

Well, as it turns out, effective communication is a surprisingly fickle beast. It’s also a highly underestimated business tool.  Done right, communication can make you seem authoritative and professional; done wrong, you risk seeming unreliable, insecure or impersonal.

“Your communication skills are not only essential to your being understood, but they contribute to the overall impression you make,” says  Sandra Naiman, author of “The High Achiever’s Secret Codebook: The Unwritten Rules for Success at Work.” “If you are lacking in this area, others might conclude that you are generally careless, less than competent and perhaps not as intelligent or crisp as your peers.”

So how do you ensure that your communication skills are effective in creating a positive, authoritative, well-understood message? Below, Naiman offers five common communication barriers, and how to overcome them.

Listening skills: “Having poor listening skills is a major contributor to poor communication,” she says. “It is important to carefully focus on what someone is saying without assuming their intent, interrupting or preparing your response.” Let the other person finish and be sure you’ve understood what they said before responding.

Scattering attention: “Attempting to multi-task while communicating will interfere with your ability to listen well and respond appropriately, as well as signaling that you are not interested in what the other person has to say. If you are busy or distracted, negotiate another time to talk.”

Poor grammar: “Typos, misspellings and poor grammar in written communications undermine your credibility,” she says. Don’t rely on spell check to catch all your mistakes. Proofread written communication for correct grammar, missed words, and proper spelling of website and company names.

Speaking clearly: “Lack of eye contact or other such body language can keep your words from being heard. Also talking too loudly or too softly can interfere with getting your message across.” To ensure you are understood, turn toward the person you are talking to, project your voice and don’t talk too fast.

Rambling: “[Going] on and on or providing more information than necessary can result in losing the attention of the listener,” Naiman says. You have a point — make it, and move on. Being direct and cutting to the chase when you’re speaking will not only make your message more clear, but you’ll be seen as more commanding, in a good way.

Because most of us communicate on auto pilot, it can be difficult to figure out which areas of communication we need to improve on. The best way to figure out if and where you’re experiencing communication barriers is to start paying attention to your daily conversations:

Do you constantly have to repeat yourself? Maybe you’re speaking too quickly or too softly.

Do co-workers start to look away or seem distracted when you speak? Chances are, you’re rambling, and they either stopped paying attention a while ago or are looking for a way out of the conversation.

Does it feel like you’re in the same conversation over and over again? Start listening to what others around you are saying, instead of talking, and then immediately starting to think about what you’ll say next. You’ll be surprised at how much more productive your conversations become when you take into account the other person’s point of view.

If you need a more objective approach to pinpointing your communication barriers, get feedback from a trusted colleague or friend. Ask them to pay extra attention to your e-mails and conversations, in order to identify any of the above listed problem areas. Then “You can take classes or workshops, identify a coach or a mentor and continue to get feedback as you work to improve,” Naiman says.

For more information on communicating at work, check out:

How Can You Become a Better Negotiator

What Can a Handshake Say About You

Mastering the Art of Follow Up

27 Comments
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  3. The way we communicate with others affects our relationships more than what we are actually saying. Technology complicates it further by not allowing us to add tone or depth to what we are saying. In any work environment, it pays more to listen…but don’t lose your voice, either. It’s important to keep that balance. Don’t allow yourself to become invisible!

    Karen, The Resume Chick (on Google or Twitter if you need me)

  4. Listening is probably the most important part of communications. Responsing to one has been said to you as opposed to just continuing your rambling shows that you don’t care much about what others are saying.

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  7. Is there something wrong with the this paragraph – especially given the text of the article? (HINT: are you “paying” attention?)

    Because most of us communicate on auto pilot, it can be difficult to figure out which areas of communication we need to improve on. The best way to figure out if and where you’re experiencing communication barriers is to start playing attention to your daily conversations

  8. Pingback: Do Accents Make Workers Seem Less Credible? : The Work Buzz

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  15. I like this educative piece of information. I think it is one of my weaknesses even outside the work/job sector. Truly speaking, these barrirers have made me look less authoritative, esteemed and commanding. I think I’ll love to apply these solutions and possibly meet the writer online or log into your site for more solutions to my confidence-related problems. Thanks for the piece.

  16. Communication skills are what makes the difference between great and average people. This article should have mentioned Toastmasters International, a non- profit educational organization helping men and women improving thier communication and leadership skills since 1924! Thousands of clubs in the USA, check out http://www.toastmasters.org to find the nearest club to you!

  17. Thanks for the article…I started to read it not knowing what to expect…but I found myself thinking, “Wow, I have a tendancy to do many of these”… I guess we can sum it up as we take for granted that others can almost read our minds but communication is something that takes concentration as well….

    I am lucky to work for a company http://www.citycabinetcenter.com that actually listens to what I have to say, maybe I should work on my communication skills to show my gratitude! Thanks again!

  18. An unproductive co-worker was just promoted…why? Because of his effecitve communication skills! This was a timely article and has certainly made me take a closer look at my own comm skills (or lack thereof). Thank you.

  19. I stutter, and I am literate, precise, and logical when I speak. Unfortunately, 96% (in my experience of 40 years) of the population gets frustrated and tunes me out.

    I can verbally communicate everything, but people REFUSE to listen to me, and either tune me out, or contemptuously begin talking over me. They’ve missed thousands of good ideas and made many bad decisions because they ignored me and instead listened to the charismatic dolt who has no insight or wisdom, but carries the day on his or her glib charm.

    Sometimes they ridicule my suggestion during a meeting, but 2 weeks later someone else suggests the same idea, and it is suddenly brilliant! All they remember about ME is that I had a ridiculous suggestion two weeks earlier, as usual.

    “Listening skills: “Having poor listening skills is a major contributor to poor communication,” she says. “It is important to carefully focus on what someone is saying without assuming their intent, interrupting or preparing your response.” Let the other person finish and be sure you’ve understood what they said before responding.”

    The advertisements for every decent job states: “Must have excellent (outstanding, etc.) verbal communication skills.”

    So I can take that as a clear “People with speech difficulties shouldn’t apply, and should live in a cave for all we care. We can’t stand to listen to you.”

    .

  20. I think it also is how open we are with ourselves and comfortable with the environment we’re around. Sometimes it’s not the right fit, and yet we try to make it work. It ultimately affects and chanages us, then we build up guard”communication barriers” which affect how we individually communicate affectively with one another.

    Well, at least that’s how I feel. I think I communicated that well :)

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  22. Hiya, I am really glad I’ve found this information. Nowadays bloggers publish just about gossips and net and this is actually annoying. A good blog with interesting content, this is what I need. Thank you for keeping this web site, I’ll be visiting it. Do you do newsletters? Can’t find it.

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