Effective Communication Skills: Do you make these 5 mistakes when you speak to your team?
11th March 2010
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Xavier (not his real name) was one of those guys you wanted to avoid. You know, the kind who makes your heart sink when they walk into the office. The kind who tend to spew words at you and overwhelm you with their “Shock and Awe” tactics until you submit, just to escape.

I remember once discovering my boss trapped in a toilet cubicle by Xavier, there was no hiding from him! While my boss could go nowhere Xavier, who had been stalking him, was taking the opportunity to overwhelm him with words. It was Xavier’s “Shock and Awe” approach to effective communication skills that was the reason that this was the only place that he could get my boss’ attention. From my boss’ perspective avoidance was the only viable survival tactic!

Suffice it to say, Xavier’s effective communications skills were somewhat lacking. The irony being that he would claim that he was a good communicator, little did he know.

Here is the question: When you attempt to communicate with your team do you join Xavier in the rogues gallery? How do you know? Here are 5 traps you might fall into and some tips to improve your effective communications skills.

Do you overwhelm your team with words?

This happens if we are anxious, self focused or simply short of time. We arrive at the team meeting and dump what we have to say and then escape. The team wonder what has hit them and are none the wiser when we have left.

  • Relax, don’t be in a hurry. Give yourself time and think out what you have to say.
  • Less is more. Work out the key messages and make sure that you convey those simply and clearly avoiding unnecessary and confusing detail and digressions.

Do you tell the team only what interests you?

Whatever you are talking about, the team will have a perspective and in most situations need specific information. If you want them to understand and act you have to address what interests them about the subject, what they need to know.

  • Engage the team in dialogue; make them an equal party in the conversation.
  • Let them ask questions to clarify understanding. Help them by asking specific questions about what they understand. This will stimulate them and generate questions in return.

Do you ignore the communication markers?

Communication markers are the verbal and non-verbal cues our listeners give us – primarily body language and tone of voice. We ignore them at our cost because they tell us how effectively we are communicating to our listeners. We are looking mainly for indications of interest and boredom. Boredom says you are good at ineffective communications.

  • Avoid being self focused. Look at and think about your listeners as you speak. Make eye contact.
  • Learn the signals. Most are obvious because we have grown up learning to give them and respond to them. If you need help there are a number of good books available, ranging from an ex-FBI agents view to “Body language for Dummies”.

Do you assume that the team has understood?

Just because we have spoken does not mean that our listeners have understood. There are many things that can prevent understanding. Not all of them are down to us as speakers but they still impeded understanding. To minimise the problem:

  • Keep what you say simple and concise. Above we noted that, to some extent at least, less is more. Avoid unnecessary content and digressions.
  • Give time for understanding by speaking in short segments so that the team has an opportunity to understand one idea before you introduce the next.
  • Use questions to stimulate and check understanding as considered above.

Do you assume that it is the team’s responsibility to understand?

This may seem reasonable but, if you are the one with vested interest in the outcome of what you say then, it’s really down to you to ensure that the team have understood.

  • Remember that people tend to be afraid to ask what might be silly questions. You can use questions to help them probe their understanding.
  • Engage in dialogue with team so they feel equal partners in a conversation and are more able to respond and ask questions.
  • Consciously avoid assumptions and test any that you make. This needs thought as its the hidden assumptions, the ones we make but don’t realise, that causes the problems.

Practice Makes Prefect

Even if you are not too bad as a communicator, take a few moments to think about your performance, perhaps ask a trusted colleague for their critique. Then next time you speak begin practicing the tips.

Visit Amazon and find a book on Body Language.

This post is based on a current Creative Leader Bulletin article, one of a short series unpacking the issues around effective communication skills. You may find that helpful as you upgrade your communication skills.

What are your tips and experiences when it comes to effective communications skills…. or not as the case may be?

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