5 Most Common Mistakes in
Communicating with Others
By Ashley Kornee
It doesn’t matter how smart you are or how much you know. If you can’t communicate that information to other people it will remain stuck in your head. Fortunately, you can get better at communication. Though some people are more talented than others, it is still largely a skill that you can get better at.
The best place to start is to eliminate some of the communication mistake that you might be making. This is because bad is stronger than good, with it drawing far more attention and sticking in the mind for far longer.
Of course, the first step to eliminating communication mistakes is to know that you’ve got them. For that reason, the rest of the article is going to be devoted to pointing out some common mistakes.
Thinking that because you’re interested, everybody else will be as well
The first thing you’ve got to do in a conversation is make sure it’s relevant for the other person. Sure, you think what you’re talking about is widely interesting, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the other person agrees.
You have to find out if the topic actually has the other person’s interest. This can often be read from body language (are they leaning forward and maintaining eye contact?) as well as from their responses (are they asking engaged questions and relating their own experiences about the same subject?).
You can also try an open-ended question about what they think about some aspect of what you’ve been talking about. If they have an engaged answer, then they were listening. If they struggle to come up with a response, then they were probably just being nice and weren’t giving you their complete attention. If that’s the case, then move on to another topic!
Believing that all communication is done completely through words
People have multiple communication streams. These include talking speed, tone, body language (including facial expressions) and focus of attention. Often, these alternative channels can tell you more than the words do.
This is because it’s often easier to obfuscate our attention among our words, than among everything else. After all, every additional channel that we try to control requires more cognitive control and at one point we’re simply going to run out of capacity.
For that reason, learn to pay attention to all the other ways people communicate, as this will give you a far better insight into what they’re actually saying. You’ll be surprised how often just paying attention to alternative channels will let you understand that people meant something entirely differently from what they said they meant.
Not appreciating that other people don’t know what you know
There’s this weird thing in our psychology. The moment we know something, we can’t imagine not knowing it anymore. The moment we’ve mastered a skill, it becomes hard for us to remember how hard it was for us to actually master it. This often makes us impatient with people who do not understand it yet.
Similarly, we often might make jumps in our reasoning what we feel are perfectly logical, because we’ve made them hundreds of times before. But because the person we’re talking to has never encountered this jump before, when you make it you can leave them behind.
The solution is to frequently ask if people get what you’re saying. And remember the point above when you ask that question. Just because they say ‘yes’ does not mean that it’s actually a ‘yes’. Often, they will feel intimidated to actually admit ignorance. So watch out for the other channels. Was there a long pause before they said ‘yes’? Did their body language say ‘no’ even while they verbalized the affirmative? Then offer to go over it one more time, just to make sure they get it.
This is the only way that you can be sure they’ll understand the point and will still understand it when they walk away.
Not realizing that communication is turn taking
If you look at two people who are having an engaging conversation talk, you will see they take turns. One will talk, then the other. Normally the balance will be close to 50 50, with both speakers getting about equal air time.
The moment that starts to fall too far out of whack, there is reason to worry. Sure, there are people who prefer to listen. They aren’t as numerous as you may think, however. And so, if most of your conversations are monologues, you’re probably talking too much.
And the big problem with talking too much? People become unengaged and stop listening. That’s entirely counterproductive (unless you’re just talking to listen to your own voice, of course).
The best thing to do is to leave pauses in your speech where other people can take over. Also, don’t interrupt other people’s stories. I’m sure you’ve got very interesting stuff to tell, but this does not create any good will. And it doesn’t really matter how good your stories are. If people don’t like you, they won’t like your stories.
Thinking listening is where you think of what you’re going to say next
Some people listen when they’re not talking. Other people just take that time to think about other stuff. If you’re in the latter camp, I promise you people notice. They notice that your answers don’t really fit into what they’ve said before and from your body language and attention focus, they can often pick up that you’re not really focused on them.
This has multiple disadvantages. People can get quite offended when they believe you’re not giving them your full attention. This is because it makes them feel like you think what’s on your mind is more important than what they’re trying to say. Another problem is that when you don’t really listen, you miss opportunities to listen actively.
This is where you ask the right question and move from superficial conversations into an opportunity to actually connect with the person you’re talking to by moving into an area that is more personally relevant and interesting to them.
The great thing about that is that once you’ve connected, there’s a good chance you’ll stay connected. From there, it will be much work together, talk together and communicate further ideas.
Communication is about a hell of a lot more than the words coming out of your mouth. It’s about creating a connection. It’s about understanding the underlying motivation for a person’s words or actions. It’s about creating connections that will carry on into the future.
Once you understand all the levels on which communication happens, you’ll be able to use them to communicate more clearly, engage your audience on a deeper level and – yes – get what you want more often. But you have to get there first. Avoiding these mistakes is certainly a good first step to get you there.