The Biggest Communication Mistakes We All Make in Business

6 min read
Feb 21, 2018
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The biggest mistake we all make that causes tons of other issues along the way is this: we don’t ask questions.

What do we do instead? We assume.

We hear what people say and we think we know what they mean and what they feel.

Here’s the example dialogue that happens at work:

A: “How can you be mad that Ben is 15 minutes late? It’s only 15 minutes, we have all day ahead of us. You’re overreacting.”

B: "Well, we have a big announcement to make today and we need him to finish a task. He probably won’t make it on time and we’ll have to postpone the release.”

Instead of judging that someone is overreacting because Ben is late, you can ask about a reason behind their stress:

A: “Why is it so important to you that he’s here now?”

B: "Well, we have a big announcement to make today and we need him to finish a task.”

A: “So what will happen if he won’t finish it on time?”

B: “Well, we promised the media and our customers to get the materials before 3 p.m., while they’re still at work. Once we disappoint them, it will be hard to get a help from them next time.”

A: “Oh…”

People assume. It seems obvious that they should ask "why is it so important that Ben would be here now?” or “Why does it stress you so much, that he’s not here yet?” But instead, we assume a person is neurotic. Probably because it’s easier.

We don't ask questions, we assume instead

Let’s say your manager tells you that you can finish working on a new feature in the next week. You assume that the next Friday will be fine. Why wouldn’t it be, right? On Wednesday your manager asks you:

Manager: "So, when is the publication? Are you ready today?"

You: “No, it will be ready on Friday. You said next week.”

Manager: “Hmm, do you think Friday is a good day for releasing new features? Or maybe customers will go home and won’t care?”

And here’s how you start having a conversation about a different topic - when is a good day for releasing new features. Because your manager assumed you already know Friday isn’t a good day, and you assumed he wouldn’t care what day you chose, as long as it’s “in the next week.”

And that’s how disappointments are born. (Are you still wondering why you’re not getting a raise? ;)).

The reason for the mentioned misunderstandings might be the lack of communication goals. Why do you talk about releasing a feature? Did you set up a date or just talked about it and didn’t decide anything? Draw conclusions from each conversation.

We don’t try to understand, we judge based on our experience

The other thing based on assumptions and lack of questions is that we judge people’s behaviour based on our experience. And we’re often far from the truth.

When you talk to your teammate or a customer, and he or she gets nervous quickly – do you judge them by saying they’re crazy or do you look for a reason behind it?

There are many reasons for people to lose their cool in the conversations. Whether it’s through chat or in real life. But it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re crazy. Maybe they didn’t sleep at all and are irritated? Classic. Maybe they’re having a tough time at home with their kid? Classic. Or maybe they’re just very hungry? Very classic.

The willingness to understand somebody else's point of view and their behavior should be one of the main goals of communication.

Let’s say your manager gets on your nerves because he or she wants you to do something you don’t like? And they know you don’t like it? Well, you manager probably has their own boss and wants to do what’s best for the company. It’s not always personal. Before you judge, saying that you would never be a manager who lets people do what they don’t like, put yourself in their shoes and imagine how tough job they have to do.

Life would be great if we could all do only what we love, but sometimes everyone needs to extend their tasks.

If this still doesn’t do you justice, talk to the manager, and ask:

You:“You probably know I don’t like doing these things and I’m better at something else. Can you tell me why is this task so important, so I can relate more?”

Manager: “Well, it turned out we have a visitation from our investors from abroad and we need to do our best to show them this, this and that. Hopefully, after that, we can come back to more cheerful staff.”

Makes a difference, doesn’t it? Sometimes all you need to do is ask.

Self–awareness in communication

Most issues we have at work with teammates, managers and customers are caused by the lack of communication. And as if that wasn’t enough, once we start talking, we also have to find the common ground because we all have different styles of communication.

Some people are straightforward, they write and say simple sentences, expecting quick answers. The others are sensitive and use long sentences to describe how they feel - and they’re easily offended, mostly online - because that’s where the aforementioned misunderstandings occur the most. Read about the post Troubles with Online Communication: Things You Should Remember.

When these two communication worlds clash, they can cause issues and stress. I can’t think of a better way to make it work than by asking questions and don’t be afraid to speak out about how you feel.

Let’s say a customer is angry with you because it takes a lot of time to solve the issue.

Explain to them, that you’re not a loser like they claim – you just handle a few cases at the same time and you try your best. Don’t hold grudges. If somebody talks to you this way, they probably have more issues than you can imagine. Try to understand them.

And again, you can always ask.

Support Agent: “Why is it so important for you to solve it right this second that you shout at me?”

Customer: “Because I’m leaving in 15 minutes and won’t have the Internet. I need you to add this new credit card so my program works. I’m very stressed, sorry.”

Support Agent: “Ok, in that case, I’ll pass the case to my colleague that can help you right away.”

Customer: “Thank you, you’re a lifesaver.”

Support agent: “You know, just doing my job.”

I think knowing the insight makes all the difference. You don’t think of a customer as someone who’s a devil that makes your day a nightmare. You start seeing that person as somebody in need and your job is to help them. And that changes your tone into positive communication.

Communication mistakes to avoid

I realize that in my example conversations, I gave the perfect scenarios for everybody. Obviously, it doesn’t always work like that in real life.

But you can either find yourself on the right track of communication - showing others you can keep your cool and you’re always willing to find the common ground. Or, you can lose yourself among the thicket of emotions and assumptions.

What will you do? I asked, now it’s your move.

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