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15 Common Communication Mistakes That You Might Be Making (But You Don’t Even Know)

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15 Common Communication Mistakes That You Might Be Making (But You Don’t Even Know)

How many of you had a class in school that taught you how to communicate well? And I’m not talking about in college. I’m talking about K-12 grades. And I’m not talking about giving speeches in English class. Here’s what I mean: Did your teachers give you advice on how to work through arguments with people? Did they teach you to be a good listener? If they did, they didn’t do it through the formal curriculum. I should know. I’m a communication professor, and I tried very hard to get some schools to adopt a communication curriculum. Unfortunately, I was not successful. Communication can make or break our world. I know that is an extreme statement, and I know I’m biased because I teach these skills. But it’s true. Bad communication leads to broken relationships, and it is also a part of the reason why we don’t have world peace. Very few people really have good communication skills. But here’s the good news: It’s never too late to learn. Here are 15 common communication mistakes that you might be making, and you don’t even know it:

1. Not using “we” language.

Newsflash: Relationships are not a competition. Or at least they shouldn’t be. But so many people view the other person as the “enemy.” They speak with “me vs. you” language. You need to reframe it and think of yourselves as a team. Work together, not against each other. Work to solve a problem, not to be victorious.

2. Not giving eye contact.

How many of your are guilty of staring at your phone when someone is talking to you? Or typing on your laptop? Or watching TV? Even if you don’t catch yourself doing this, I’m sure you all have. But all of us have also been on the other side – when people are not looking at us when we talk. How does that make you feel when it happens? Yeah, not good. Right? So why not live by the golden rule and give other people the same courtesy that you want to be given?

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3. Interrupting.

What does it say to someone when you interrupt them? It says, “What I have to say is more important than what you have to say.” Not a very nice message, huh? Women tend to interrupt out of excitement and/or being afraid they will forget what the are going to say. Men tend to do it more as a power move. Either way, it still says, “I’m more important than you.”

4. Having negative or apathetic body language.

Ninety percent of the meaning of a message is contained in body language. That’s huge. Eye contact is part of body language, but it’s only a small part. What about your posture? Do you lean in toward the other person or are you positioned in a way that screams, “I really don’t care what you’re saying?” What about your head tilt? What about how close or far you sit from someone? All of these send strong messages. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words.

5. Not paraphrasing and restating what the other person says.

Have you ever said something to someone and you had a bad feeling that they didn’t actually hear what you said? Sure, they might have said, “Mmmm hmmm…” or “Yeah…” or “Yup…” But you know they didn’t really hear you. That’s where paraphrasing and restating comes in. Try saying something like “So, what I hear you saying is that when I am late, it makes you worried? Did I hear you correctly?” That shows the other person that you not only heard them, but you care enough about paraphrasing it in order to show them that you heard them.

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6. Making assumptions before you hear the whole message.

You probably have rolled your eyes at people, thinking, “Oh I don’t even have to hear the rest of this – I already know what they’re going to say!” Well, maybe you do, but maybe you don’t. Don’t do that. We don’t like when people make assumptions about what we are saying, so don’t do that to other people either.

7. Letting your emotions control what you say.

You’re so angry that you think the roof is going to blow off your house. Okay, yeah. We’ve all been here. But it’s what you do when you’re feeling that way that really counts. Don’t let your emotions get into the driver’s seat. Go cool off so you don’t regret what you say. Then, when your logical side has kicked in, sit down and approach the conflict with “we” language. Remember #1 – you are a team. It’s not a competition.

8. Not asking probing questions of other people.

Saying things like, “Tell me more about that”  or “So how did that make you feel?” lets the other person know that you care about them enough to ask for more information. That’s called a probing question. Ask people to elaborate. It makes them feel good.

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9. Referring to yourself and your life more than asking people about theirs.

If you never ask other people what’s going on in their life, then you look pretty darn self-absorbed. I have people in my life who spend about 95% of the time we are together talking about themselves. Not that I mind that much, but it would be nice if they ask how I’m doing once in a while. Can you relate?

10. Needing to “win” an argument.

I’m going to repeat this again. Relationships are not a competition. Admitting that you’re wrong is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of maturity. No one is right all of the time. Don’t think you have to “win.” Acknowledging your mistakes will not give away your power. It shows that you are the better person because you can be honest.

11 Attacking other people’s character instead of what they say or do.

How many times have you said (or heard) something like, “You are such a JERK!! I can’t stand you!” And maybe you regret it later (you should). We all have bad behavior from time to time. And we will never agree with everything everyone says. But you need to disagree with their words or their actions, not their character. Don’t tear people’s self-esteem down. Build them up.

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12. Expecting people to be a mind reader.

No one is. So why do we expect them to be? Women tend to be guilty of this more so than men. Women use indirect language. But if you really want someone to understand you, you have to speak directly. Otherwise, you can’t hold them accountable if they misinterpret your cryptic message.

13. Giving up your power with your words.

Women also tend to use “powerless” language. This is excessively polite language that gives up the power to the other person. For example, “I’m sorry, but am I bothering you?” That gives them the opportunity to say, “Yes you are! Go away!” Or how about “This might be a dumb idea but …” The other person can come back and say, “You’re right! That IS really dumb!” Own your power. Don’t give it away.

14. Letting anything distract you from giving your full attention.

Your phone. The TV. Your thoughts. Your bad attitude. I could go on and on about all the things that distract us from paying attention when someone talks to us. Be mindful of when you are giving into these things. If you don’t, it sends the message that “this is more important for me to pay attention to than you.”

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15. Not being empathetic & realizing that perception is reality.

You see it your way. Someone else sees it another way. Who’s right? Is a Republican right or a Democrat? Is a Christian right or a Jew? It all depends on who you ask, right? Sometimes there is no “objective” reality. It’s all how an individual sees it. Remember that. Having empathy and realizing that the other person’s experience is very real to them is key to good relationships. Being a good communicator takes effort. It’s like being a good athlete – you have to practice if you want to be good at your craft! I hope that you take these 15 things to heart and start working on them today. And please share them with others as well. I wish you all happy, healthy relationships!

Featured photo credit: Claes Josefsson via flickr.com

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Carol Morgan

Dr. Carol Morgan is the owner of HerSideHisSide.com, a communication professor, dating & relationship coach, TV personality, speaker, and author.

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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