10 Biggest Communication Blunders
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Posted by: Dr. Alan Zimmerman
Dr. Zimmerman's TUESDAY TIP:
"The way we communicate with
others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our
Dr. Alan Zimmerman's Personal
When it comes to communicating
with others and when it comes to your behavior around others, it's a simple
fact that some things simply do not work. For example, "The Redneck
Book of Manners" describes several behaviors you should avoid ... if you
want to get ahead personally and professionally.
For example, "The Redneck
Book" lists such things as:
- Never take a
beer to a job interview.
identify people in your yard before shooting at them.
considered poor taste to take a cooler to church.
- If you have
to vacuum the bed, it is time to change the sheets.
- Even if
you're certain that you are included in the will, it is still considered
tacky to drive a U-Haul to the funeral home.
In a more serious vein, we are
wasting countless amounts of time, money and energy on communication behaviors
in the workplace that do not work. As leadership expert Phil Van Hooser
puts it, "We need to correct several bad habits that pervade today's
business and revisit some leadership principles that have proven to be effective
since the dawn of the Industrial Age."
I agree. And in my research,
which includes the insights of author Arnold Sanow, I've found ten
communication behaviors that you need to minimize, neutralize, or eliminate if
you're going to be an effective communicator and an engaging leader.
According to Sanow, these ten communication behaviors "block
connections cold and at the same time can make people steaming mad."
For today's purposes, here are
five of the words, phrases, and communication approaches you need to avoid ....
or at least, use with extreme caution.
Whenever you start a sentence with
the word "you," people get a little defensive. After all, they
know that you are about to pass judgment on them ... saying something like,
"You did this" or "You did that."
Of course, people need feedback.
So you cannot and should not totally eliminate the "you" word.
Just be careful about your tone and timing. If your vocal tones are
harsh when you make your "you" statement, the other person's defenses
go up even more.
And if you discuss someone's
behavior in the heat of a conflict, his hearing will not be very good and his
cooperation will be even worse. Sometimes you've got to take the necessary
actions in the midst of a crisis, but save your talking about the other
person's inappropriate behavior until later.
2. Advice giving
At work, is it okay to help,
coach, engage, and encourage others. Absolutely yes. But offering
PERSONAL advice? No.
As Van Hooser writes, "My
advice on personal advice? Don't give any. Your followers might just take it.
If they do, and your advice does not prove to be wise counsel, who do you think
they will blame for their new-found challenges? There are enough problems
associated with being an effective leader without creating unnecessary ones.
Encourage followers. Praise followers. Correct followers when
necessary, but leave the advice giving to Dear Abby."
It's so easy to make a thoughtless
and incorrect statement such as "You always" or "You
never." Logically speaking, we know that such a statement is seldom
if ever correct. So when you use words like "always" and
"never," the other person usually gets quite defensive ... because
they know you're wrong. You're inviting the other person to challenge
you. And you have enough trouble in your life without encouraging a
So avoid generalizations as much
4. Hidden meanings
When I was professor, I designed
and taught the first course in America on "Communication Between The
Sexes." I knew from personal experience and I knew from interviewing
hundreds of people that male-female communication was a challenge. And a
huge part of the problem is due to the fact that both genders often speak in
code, saying one thing but meaning another. And they EXPECT the person of
the other gender to understand them.
Sorry, but that approach doesn't
work. Let me give you some examples. They're a bit tongue-in-cheek, silly
and sarcastic, but some of them come pretty close to the truth.
This is the word women use to end
an argument when they are right and the man had better shut up. When it comes
to men, the use of this word depends heavily on the context. A "fine"
after the woman asks, "How was work?" means "I’m not interested
in talking about it." "Fine" at the end of an argument, however,
has the same connotations as when a woman would use it, but it is USUALLY
SHOUTED LIKE THIS because us men have trouble using an inside voice when we're
If a woman is getting dressed, this
means a half an hour. For a man, it again depends on the context. If the
man is playing video games, "five minutes" is about half an hour.
Getting ready for an intimate encounter? "Five minutes is two
minutes." Preparing to leave the house? "Five minutes"
means five minutes and if the woman is not in the car in exactly five minutes
she will find herself under a veritable barrage of honking.
For a woman, this is the calm
before the storm. This means something and the man should be on his toes.
Arguments that begin with "nothing" usually end in
"fine." When it comes to a man, "nothing" is largely
a synonym for "fine", though more resolute. A "fine" can be
challenged but a "nothing" is completely off limits. It should
signal the woman ... although it usually doesn't ... that whatever is wrong in
the man's life is not up for discussion with her, her mother, or anyone she is
related to. A man's "nothing" means full stop. Period!
When a woman says, "Go
ahead," this is a dare, not permission to do it. When a man says it,
it often means, "I’m not interested in arguing with you anymore; do
whatever the heck you want. See if I care!" Often times he accompanies the
"Go ahead" with a "fine."
This is actually a word used by a
woman, communicating that she thinks the man is an idiot and wonders why she is
wasting her time standing here arguing about nothing. (Refer back to
"nothing" for the meaning of "nothing".) When a man utters
a loud sigh, sometimes accompanied by a few curse words, this is a sign of
frustration. He's basically saying, "I so don't understand the issue
here. Why is she still ticked off? Weren't my logical rebuttals
enough for her?"
This is one of the most dangerous
statements a woman can make to a man. "That's okay" means she wants
to think long and hard before deciding how and when the man will pay for his
mistakes. When he says "that's okay," it's a sign of disappointment.
If he says it after the woman has just admitted something, it means his
respect for you has taken a free fall and he’s not sure what to say that won't
insult you, despite his current feelings.
When a woman says
"thanks," she is thanking the man. He should not question it or
faint. He should just say, "you're welcome." (One
caution: If the woman says "Thanks a lot," it is typically pure
sarcasm and she is not thanking the man at all. In that case, he should not respond
with "you're welcome" because that will bring out her
"whatever.") When a man says "thanks," his meaning is
largely determined by the context and his intonation. He could mean a variety
of things ... too many to list right here.
This is a woman's way of saying,
"Forget you" or "You're a moron." When a man says
"whatever," he's saying, "I’m over it. I’m not interested
in arguing. I still think I’m right, but you know what? You don't
and I’m beyond caring. So forget you."
Don't worry about it, I got it
This is another dangerous
statement. It often comes out after a woman has asked a man to do
something several times, but now she is doing it herself. This often
results in the man asking, "What's wrong?" To which the woman
responds, "Nothing." On the other hand, men seldom use this
phrase, but when they do, they're saying, "Stop asking if I need help.
I am a MAN. I am more than capable of handling this
The point is simple. Whether
you see any truth in these statements or not, effective communication is endangered
every time you say one thing but really mean another.
Labels seldom communicate ...
accurately ... and almost always damage relationships. If you label
someone as "lazy" and he sees himself as industrious, the other
person has no idea what you're talking about. And the same thing goes for any
other label you want to stick on someone ... whether you call them
"irresponsible ... negative ... unprofessional ... misguided ... or
Your label is YOUR conclusion
about the other person, but it does not tell the other person how you came to
that conclusion. If, for example, you tell someone she's so
"negative," she may not know what you're referring to. However,
if you give some specific examples, if you say "I've noticed that your
first response to every new idea is 'That won't work,'" she's much more
likely to understand you. You're engaging in a process that leads to
Besides the ineffectiveness of
labels, they almost always hurt the other person's self-esteem. So why in
the world would you want to do that? After all, more often than not a person
will live up or down to your expectations.
Communication works for those who
work at it. But communication fails for those who fall into the trap of
using any of these five communication blunders. Next week I'll give you
another five blunders you've got to avoid.
Which of the five blunders do you
use most often? What are you going to do to eliminate that blunder from
your communication style?
Read and Respond Online
About the author:
As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional
speaker, Dr. Alan Zimmerman is focused on "transforming the people side of
business.” His keynotes and seminars are noted for high content, high energy,
and high involvement that transform people's lives and the companies where they
To learn more about his programs and products, or to
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Copyright© 2013 Zimmerman Communi-Care Network, Inc.
Reprinted with permission from Dr. Alan Zimmerman's
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