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3 Common Communication Pitfalls

Updated: Dec 14, 2018

In my time in leadership in a big Fortune 50 company, I spent a lot of time practicing conflict resolution. Mainly, I was helping other people resolve their conflicts. I saw anger, distrust and pettiness prevent people from moving forward and getting things done.

Some people may call me a Polly Anna. But, I truly believe most of the people I work with have good intentions. They are not trying to hurt, belittle or take advantage of someone else.

As I look back on the conflicts I have been involved with, there is one common denominator in them all–poor communication.

Infrequent Communication:

“Talk to each other!” I yelled that at my daughter’s 5th grade basketball team until my throat was raw. Most of us heard a coach scream the same thing when we were active in sports. So why do we believe it should be different at work or at home?

When a team does not hear from the boss or from their peers, human nature kicks in. In the absence of information, we fill in the blanks ourselves. But, we rarely fill those blanks with something positive.

When I hear nothing, I tend to ascribe negative motives to others. I envision the worst outcomes possible. The result is I begin to distrust my leaders and my peers.

When in doubt, I over-communicate. No team ever failed because of too much communication. It is almost always the opposite. I try to over-communicate with my boss, my team and my wife. In all three situations, this has limited the number and the intensity of the conflicts we have.

Off-Mode Communication:

Communication Facts:

· 55% of communication is tone of voice and inflection.

· 38% of communication is body language and facial expressions.

· 7% of communication is verbiage or word choice.

When I first saw these numbers I realized how critical they are to avoiding conflicts. If I am sending someone an email, it is words only. They can’t hear my voice or see my facial expression. In other words, I am relying on 7% of my assets to communicate with that person.

I heard a study quoted once that said 50% of all emails are misinterpreted. Based on the fact emails only cover 7% of effective communication, this seems like an obvious conclusion.

Communication Hierarchy:

1. Face To Face: 100% of communication covered.

If there is a conflict, do not engage in it until you can get face-to-face. Skype is a good alternative if geography prevents a meeting.

2. Real Voice Phone: Takes care of 63% covered.

I do not believe VM is a good surrogate to an actual conversation. VM does not give a person the chance to respond in real time. I believe it is cowardly to leave an angry VM and not give an opportunity for response.

If a real conflict is possible, my advice is to use the VM to ask for a face-to-face meeting.

3. Email: Only 7% covered.

Use email for facts only. Avoid any opinions. Email is best reserved for sharing objective information like numbers, dates and times and places.

Too often, when I ask people in conflict if they have discussed the issues face-to-face with the other party, the answer is no. They sent an email or left a VM and got an angry reply or no reply at all.

Texting is in the same realm as email but worse. We don’t even spell out the whole word!

Quick Rule Of Thumb- When I get an angry email or voicemail,

I reply with four words: “When can we meet?”

Self-Focused Communication

“They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

I have heard this quote often when it comes to leaders caring for their people. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized this applies to communication as well.

One of the best ways I can prove I care about someone is to really listen to what they have to say. Too often I am not listening, I am just waiting to talk.

At times I catch myself nodding my head and planning my response as opposed to truly listening to what the other person is saying. I am so consumed with preparing my argument and trying to prove my point that I don’t truly evaluate the words of my counterpart.

In those moments I am succumbing to my selfishness. I am so self-absorbed in those moments that a solution we both can live with is seldom found. The question I must ask myself is “Am I trying to win, or am I searching for a solution?”

The Bottom Line:

“The problem with communication is the assumption it has occurred.”

– Rick Knight

Too often our communications are infrequent, in the wrong mode, or self-focused.

The Solution:

· When in doubt, over-communicate.

· Always strive for a face-to-face meeting.

· Listen harder and longer than you think you can.

In sports, at work or in relationships, failure can often be traced back to a communication breakdown. Without good communication, success in any of these areas is a dream.

Just watch any team sport. You will see teams that win consistently are the best communicators.


Which of these three solutions can you put in practice today?

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