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

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.”

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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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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