Untold hours of productivity are lost every month due to simple misunderstandings and communication breakdowns. For some reason, many people seem to have a tough time organizing their thoughts and communicating their desires to their co-workers and employees.

I’m constantly amazed at the number of people who seem to have forgotten the basics of composing a written thought. Even some college grads have no grasp on how to speak/write in a way that moves a project forward.

If you are looking for a way to increase productivity and decrease stress, learning to communicate effectively can be the first step towards smoother workflows, faster turnaround times, and fatter bottom lines. Here are a handful of tips that will get you started.

1. Use clear, concise sentences.

Your goal, whether speaking aloud or composing an email, should be to make yourself instantly and completely understood. To that end, you should avoid using big words, steer clear of run-on sentences, and avoid any unclear phrasing.

You don’t need to use fancy vocab, Latin phrases, corporate buzzwords, or business acronyms to impress your colleagues…and nine times out of ten, using words like that won’t make you any friends. If a smaller, shorter word will do, then by all means, use that instead of whatever $5 word you just looked up in your thesaurus.

Avoid long sentences with multiple clauses and herds of commas. The longer a sentence is, the more confusing it becomes. Always keep that in mind when writing directions or project details for a colleague.

And for the love of God, make sure your phrasing is clear. There’s nothing worse than getting an email from a co-worker that’s so vaguely worded you have no idea what you’re supposed to do with it. If you aren’t sure that an email is clearly worded, step away from your computer for five minutes, and then look it over with a fresh perspective.

2. Keep a written record

Sometimes communicating effectively involves reminding people of what they’ve already told you, and when. Having a written record of all conversations related to a current or past account can be very helpful.

This is easy with email: just make sure never to delete old emails, and use filters for effortless organization. For meetings/calls, make sure you keep clean, easy to read notes that also include the time and date. Audio recording is also an option.

3. Make every comment actionable

Inevitably, there is a time in every person’s career where they get together with a group of colleagues to discuss a project or proposal, and give feedback as a group. It’s important that when you give feedback on a project, you give actionable directions…particularly you are at the top of the foodchain. Otherwise, the project can stagnate and people on your team can lose momentum.

It’s the difference between

“Someone needs to speak with our design team about using a new font.”

and

“Marcy, could you touch base with Jim in Design about our font preferences?”

This ties in with my next point…

4. Make all criticism constructive

“Constructive criticism” is one of those feel-good buzzwords we learn to loathe after high school English class. Nevertheless, learning to give helpful feedback to a colleague will not only improve your interpersonal relations, but also will help to improve the quality of your work.

Constructive criticism is more than just a nicer way of talking to people. By giving clear, focused feedback instead of vague, general notes, people you speak with can really learn to improve their methods and practices in the future.

It’s the difference between:

“This website is a disgrace.”

and

“I see a number of issues here, including the dark green background that makes the text hard to read, and punctuation issues in the first two paragraphs.”

5. Make sure you’re using the right word

Take a moment and review this list of commonly misused words and phrases.

See anything on there that relates to you? If so, you’re not alone.

So consider this: if you’ve been using the wrong words in your personal and business communications, how can you expect anyone to know what you really want? Spell check, grammar check, and the dictionary are your friends.

When in doubt, use them. If you aren’t in doubt, use them anyway.

Conclusion

Communication can be daunting. Many people are afraid of public speaking, for example, showing a link between fear of speech and ineffective communication. However, if you make a conscious effort to put some of these basic principles into practice, I’m sure you will see results very quickly.

So the next time you are crafting an email or preparing for a status meeting with your team, make sure that you are doing your utmost to communicate clearly and effectively. When everyone can understand what you are trying to say, you will find that your working life goes a lot more smoothly.

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