Communication Faux-Pas at Work: Are we on the same page?

Communication Faux-Pas at Work: Are we on the same page?

Picture this: You are at a meeting with your boss, making a presentation about your achievements in the current quarter. Your boss is preoccupied with checking her emails on her laptop and simultaneously texting someone on the phone. Then, out of nowhere, right in the middle of your presentation, she asks you a completely unrelated question that throws you for a loop.


How do you feel?

Confused about the agenda of the meeting? Frustrated that you are not getting through to her? Low on confidence because you suspect that you are not doing a great job at holding her attention? Irritated that she is not listening to you and has chosen this valuable 10 minute session that you worked for weeks to put together, to clear out her inbox and respond to text messages?

Every profession requires that you know how to communicate effectively, some more than others. And yet, most of us fall woefully short in this department. We spend a lot of time in brushing up our technical skills and pointedly ignore people skills, which is ironic, when you consider that your knowledge is almost pointless if you don’t know how to express it. You might be the one on your team with the brightest ideas and best work ethic, but unless you know how to best express these ideas and get noticed, your intelligence, creativity and professionalism will not take you very far.


What you are probably doing wrong


George Bernard Shaw once said “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has already taken place.” Unfortunately, this illusion is a reality that we all live and experience every single day. We speak without ensuring that the other person is getting the message that we intended for them to get, and without really trying to engage them in what we are saying. Here are a few common communication faux pas that people often make:



The Problem: Drifting Aimlessly


What it is: You begin with a vague idea of what you want to say, and as you start speaking, your message get lost in a maze of words. You have difficulty expressing your ideas in a way that others understand and relate to.

Why it occurs: Not getting your thoughts in order before starting to speak, trying to express too many ideas at once, repeating yourself too much, using too many superfluous words and phrases, specially buzzwords and unnecessary jargon

What you can do about it:  Sort out your thoughts first, don’t be in a hurry to express half-baked ideas that you are not entirely sure of. Remember the ‘3 c’s – Be crisp, concise and clear. Begin with the central idea that you want to convey, then explain your reasons and end by restating your central message (For example, “I think we need a new marketing campaign. Our sales have not picked up over the last few months despite positive feedback about the product. Besides, research shows that many of our target consumers are unaware of our product and its benefits. So, I think our current campaign is not effective enough and we need something with more reach and impact.”)


The problem: Downplaying your message


What it is: You understate the importance of what you are trying to say. Your non-verbal cues and choice of words suggest that you are diffident and uncomfortable. You use words like “I just think that…” and “It would be really nice if you could…”

Why it occurs: Low self-esteem, low self-efficacy, fear of putting yourself on the line

What you can do about it: Don’t sell yourself short. Believe that you have a right to be where you are. Have faith in your abilities. Be polite, but be direct. And yes, don’t go out of your way to antagonize others, but as J K Rowling puts it, if you are holding out for universal popularity, you are going to be waiting awhile.

The problem: Speaking for others/Not speaking for yourself

What it is: You tend to overuse the terms “We think…” or “We believe…” You prefer to use collective pronouns, speaking for a group of people instead of voicing your opinion.

Why it occurs: An attempt to dodge the bullet that is accountability, once again low self-esteem, and fear of making mistakes

What you can do about it: Make a conscious attempt to take responsibility for your ideas. Being a team player is good, but it is equally important to take ownership for your thoughts when they are your own.


The problem: Disengaged nonverbal cues


What it is: When speaking or listening to someone, you tend to get distracted. Your thoughts are all over the place, you tune into and out of the conversation. You multitask during meetings, stay preoccupied with your gadgets, maintain minimal eye-contact or interrupt the speaker repeatedly. Your non- verbal cues suggest that you are not interested in what the other person has to say – or in what you are saying, for that matter.

Why it occurs: Distraction, lack of focus, wanting to cram too many things into every moment

What you can do about it: Practice mindfulness. Remind yourself every now and then to refocus on the present. Be aware of your thoughts, feelings and body language to make sure that your non-verbal cues are aligned with your verbal message. Training yourself in mindfulness strategies will go a long way in heightening your awareness, be it while talking or listening. If you have something to say, make a note of it and bring it up after hearing the other person out instead of interrupting them. And yes, pry yourself away from those gadgets during meetings and sessions – there are few things as off-putting as speaking with someone who is digitally preoccupied during a conversation!


The problem: Miscommunication/Misinterpretation of messages


What it is: Your messages or the intent behind them frequently gets misinterpreted. You feel like the most misunderstood person in your office, and you are not sure why that is.

Why it occurs: Conflict between what you are saying and your non-verbal cues, Dissonance between your words and actions, Digital communication

What you can do about it: Get feedback from a few trusted confidantes, a mentor or a career coach about how you come across to people. Try not to use digital communication where there is scope for misinterpretation –remember, emoticons are not a substitute for human expressions and there is much scope for misunderstandings when you communicate about important matters online.

Ask yourself every now and then if your thoughts and words match your actions. Be forthright and honest without being unkind or nasty – and try to stay away from workplace politics. You never know whom you will have to work with next and it won’t help your cause to burn bridges by taking sides. Pick your battles and pick them wisely, because they will define the thin line between a strong role-model and a rebel without a cause.

Your words are your strongest weapons – choose them wisely and use them with care.





Ramya Navin

Ramya Navin

I am a consulting psychologist, research enthusiast and freelance writer based out of Bangalore, India. I have a certification in marketing research and a keen interest in consumer behavior. My writings are based on both my experience as a psychologist and extensive research and reading. I am also a hands-on mom to a two year old - a job that is rewarding and challenging in equal measure.
Ramya Navin