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: