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Common Communication Mistakes People Make

The following is a list of common communication mistakes people make. By avoiding them, you will communicate more effectively.
Mistake #1: Failing to listen well.
Most people are poor listeners. Consider this question: Are you doing more than half the talking when you’re in conference with others? If so, you’re probably doing more talking than listening and could use some listening training.

To improve your listening skills, try these tips:
  • Paraphrase what a speaker said to you to be sure that you understand each other.
  • Become an active listener. Concentrate on what the speaker says and try to summarize his or her main points.
  • Don’t be thrown off course by semantically loaded words that affect you emotionally. Continue listening even when you want to start arguing.

Mistake #2: Failing to use the “you approach.”
People are interested in what’s in it for them – not what you or your organization desires. A “you approach” communicates to the recipient that you care about his or her needs. It sets a positive tone and predisposes the reader to react favorably toward what you have to say.

Some suggestions:
  • Communicate with others as people – not simply as representatives of a firm or organization.
  • Try sincerely to see things from the other person’s point of view.
  • Avoid talking about yourself and what you want or what you’ve done. Use the word “you” more than “I.”
  • When writing, avoid sentences such as: “We are certain that this approach is the best way …” Instead, write: “You will find that this approach will help you …”
  • Try this formula to determine whether your writing reflects a “you approach.” It’s called the Empathy Index.  Count all the second-person references (you, your, yours) and subtract from that number the number of first-person references (I, we, me, mine, etc.). The result is your Empathy Index. The higher its positive number, the more likely your communication radiates a “you attitude.” A negative number signals a need for revision.
Mistake #3: Sending the wrong non-verbal signals.
Experts claim that 65 percent of a message is conveyed non-verbally in face-to-face communication. Yet many people remain unaware of the kinds of non-verbal signals they emit.  To communicate effectively, you’ve got to send the right kinds of signals and be able to read the signals others are sending to you.
Some suggestions:
  • Become sensitive to non-verbal messages. Look for such things as body position and movement, gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, silence, use of space and time, etc.
  • Avoid sending mismatched signals. For example, don’t peer over your glasses at someone whose confidence you’re trying to gain. That signal indicates skepticism or suspiciousness.
  • Watch for mismatched body language when observing others. Example: One person has to open arms and leans forward. The other has crossed arms and leans away. The two may not get together on ideas.
Mistake #4: Failing to write to be understood.
Many people write to impress – not to express. They use long, pompous words in the mistaken belief that these words add dignity and strength to their messages.
Others obscure their messages because they don’t want to take the responsibility for their words or don’t want to reveal how little they know.
Good communicators write to be understood. They:
  • Use short words that communicate clearly and concretely.
  • Present no more than two ideas per sentence -- and keep their sentences short.
  • Use strong verbs and avoid the passive voice when possible.

Mistake #5: Lacking knowledge of audiences.
Communicators must relate their messages to the specific characteristics, needs and interests of their audiences. They should know such things as educational levels and occupations; beliefs and attitudes; group loyalties and norms; whether the audience is friendly, hostile or indifferent.

Never send a message unless it’s tailored to fit the audience. Ask yourself the following questions before attempting to communicate:
  • How much does my audience know?
  • What might people in the audience want to know?
  • What should they know?
  • How will they benefit from my message? In other words, what’s in it for them?
  • How can I present my message to them in an interesting way?

Mistake #6: Not realizing that communication is a two-way process
Many people think that communication is finished when information is imparted. They fail to consider that communication involves getting feedback and evaluating it.

Some suggestions:
  • Become sensitive to people. Make it a point to watch for any sign that indicates a change in mood or a lessening of interest.
  • Ask questions. And listen carefully to the answers.
  • Consider other feedback devices, such as surveys and focus panels.

Mistake #7: Making obvious grammar and usage errors.
People who appear to have the potential to get ahead sometimes fall short because they failed to learn the rudiments of grammar and usage. Here are four common language errors:
  • Using a pronoun that doesn’t agree with the word it relates to. Example: “Everyone in the room gave their opinion.” Make it, “his or her opinion.”
  • Failing to make a subject agree with a verb. Example: “The repetition of the exercises help us gain confidence.” Make it, “helps us gain confidence.”
  • Failing to use the objective case correctly. Example: “between you and I…” make it, “ between you and me…”
  • Using redundancies, such as “revert back,” "irregardless," and “drop down.” “Revert,” "regardless," and “drop” are sufficient.

Mistake #8: Failing to observe common courtesies
How others view you has a lot to do with how your messages are received. If you come across as impersonal or rude, your ability to communicate with people will suffer.
If you’re respectful of others and treat them courteously, you’ll communicate to them that they’re important – and they’ll enjoy being in your company and listening to what you have to say.
Try these suggestions:
  • Take a genuine interest in others and really care about their feelings.
  • Treat all co-workers the way you would like them to treat you.
  • Get in the habit of using words such as “please” and “thank you.”
  • Praise people when you sincerely believe they deserve it. A short note is often all it takes.


Reprinted with permission from Communication Briefings (