Collaborating with coworkers, resolving conflicts, leading meetings, working with customers, passing on information, or building healthy working relationships depends significantly on your communication skills.
However, despite the importance of strong communication skills, few people are naturally gifted. Most people need training, hands-on experience, and time to develop the verbal communication skills they need to succeed in the workplace.
If you are one of the many people who are learning every day to be an effective verbal communicator, then it is normal to make a few mistakes along the way that you need to correct and learn from. While no one cannot predict where exactly you will trip up, there are some common verbal communication mistakes that professionals in all jobs and industries make.
In the following article, we’ll review what exactly is meant by verbal communication, as well as review some of those common mistakes so that you can either correct them now or avoid them in the future.
The Definition of Verbal Communication
Verbal communication is defined by Indiana State University as “the use of words, both written and spoken, while nonverbal communication refers to communication that occurs through means other than words, such as body language, gestures, and silence.”
According to Oxford Reference, one might not initially include written communication or sign language because “its colloquial usage refers to speech (oral communication), especially face-to-face, but academic usage includes mediated forms, written communication, and sign language.” Therefore, for the duration of this article, verbal communication will refer to both written and spoken words.
5 Verbal Communication Mistakes in the Workplace
The following is a list of five common verbal communication mistakes that can happen to anyone in any workplace. It will not only help you identify mistakes you are currently making that need to be corrected, but it will also build self-awareness so you can intentionally work to avoid them in the future.
You Make Blanket, Hyperbolic Statements
Using statements like “You never…” or “You always…” is a significant verbal communication mistake. When you venture into these blanket statements that use hyperbole to get your point across, you risk putting the person you are talking to on the defensive. This can quickly derail the conversation and unintentionally leave a bad impression. So instead, stick to the facts, use “I” or “We” statements, and avoid hearsay.
You Hide Behind Email and Instant Messaging
If you want to avoid a potentially tricky or awkward face-to-face conversation, it can be tempting to send bad news, feedback, or criticism in an email or instant message. More often than not, though, doing so is a mistake that opens the door for a more considerable misunderstanding. In fact, Nick Morgan, author of Can You Hear Me? How to Connect with People in a Virtual World, found that “90% of the time people think their emails and texts are understood by recipients, but actually the messages are understood only 50% of the time. Moreover, recipients of a two-word email or text such as "nice job" or "great work” interpret the message as sarcastic 60% of the time.”
You Fail to Answer Questions Directly
When someone asks you a question, how do you respond? If you have a tendency to give vague, run-around responses that don’t answer or acknowledge the initial question, then you’re making a mistake. In the workplace, you need to make an effort to answer questions directly, even the difficult ones. But if you don’t have an immediate answer to a question, don’t rush to find or fake an answer on the spot. In this case, it’s better to tell the person you will circle back to them with a response by a specific time than it is to potentially give them wrong or confusing information.
You Use Too Much Jargon
Jargon is defined as “special words or expressions that are used by a profession or group and are difficult for others to understand.” While it can make verbal communication easier and faster in certain situations, that is not always the case. According to Bart Egnal, author of Leading Through Language, “Jargon can be detrimental to those who do not understand it but are assumed to. Jargon that creates a shared identity for some can exclude others simultaneously.” In other words, it’s a mistake to use acronyms, phrases, or words without first considering who you are communicating with and whether or not they are the right audience for it.
You Don’t Know When To Stop and Listen
There comes a time when the best possible thing you can do when verbally communicating with someone is to stop talking and listen to them. This is easier said than done, though. For example, when discussing a topic you’re emotional or passionate about at work, you might monopolize the conversation, interrupt others, and focus on formulating a response rather than actively listening to what the other person is or isn’t saying. This is a mistake that can leave a poor impression and increase the risk of a misunderstanding.
Next Steps: How To Improve Your Verbal Communication Skills
If you want to avoid the consequences of bad communication in the workplace, then you need to avoid the common mistakes listed above, as well as make an intentional effort to develop your verbal communication skills. Fortunately, you don’t have to do that alone. With the Niagara Institute, you have access to practical communication training programs such as Speaking as a Leader and Taking the Stage. Or, you can work one-on-one with a professional coach whose sole focus is meeting your unique needs and helping you achieve your specific goals.
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