Effective communication is something that even professional communicators continually strive to achieve. Varying communication styles, time constraints, stress, social dynamics and everything else can get in the way of delivering or receiving a clear message. As industry professionals, we especially need to ensure that our strategic messages are understood and that we understand our clients’ requests. Here are some of the most common communications mistakes and how to avoid them according to a Public Relations Society of America webinar and yours truly (the MoPR team).
1. Not listening
Let’s be honest, we are all guilty of not listening. Whether it’s our own pride or a shiny distraction, the majority of miscommunications are due to one or more parties simply not listening.
Try: stop talking; treat each conversation as an opportunity to learn; assume positive intent; pay attention to body language; pause before asking questions; clarify the client’s message
2. Not asking questions
How many times have you been given an assignment you’re unsure about yet you leave the meeting/office without asking clarifying questions? We’ve all been there.
Try: summarize the assignment and check for understanding; ask a probing follow-up question; work on the assignment a little then verify your progress with your manager to see if you’re on the right path
3. Using tunnel vision
When we focus on one aspect of a situation, set our hearts on the “best” solution or get caught up in the tactics, we lose sight of the big picture which can cause team disagreements or missed opportunities.
Try: come up with multiple solutions (even after you think you’ve found the best one!) for each problem to open up your mind to all possibilities; sincerely ask for, listen to and consider ideas of others; write down the overarching goal and read it regularly; open your eyes to how your clients best communicate and look for ways you can be flexible with your communication style to meet theirs
4. Not asking for feedback (or not accepting it!)
In professional settings we often shy away from asking where we stand because we’re uncomfortable with negative feedback. How will you know what your client is pleased with and what they want you to change if you don’t ask? Also, how can you expect to retain clients if you don’t accept or listen to their criticism?
Try: at every meeting ask, “what is working well?” and “how can we be better?”; don’t allow too much time in between feedback so both you and the client know what you should be working on; take notes of what you are expected to improve and use it as an opportunity to become more valuable to your client and your boss
5. Not preparing yourself
We all know that actions speak louder than words but often forget to put that advice into practice. When you communicate an important message the words need to be accompanied by confidence, eye contact, professional demeanor and obvious preparation or the message may be misconstrued.
Try: use your vocabulary, dress and mannerisms to communicate to others you are knowledgeable and professional; be aware of the body language; prepare for meetings to increase your confidence, respectability and validity in the eyes of others
Some of the advice above was featured in a PRSA webinar titled, “The Eight Most Common Mistakes Communicators Can’t Help But Make.” More training videos are available on the PRSA website for both members and nonmembers.