Jessica Chapman
Jessica Chapman, Principal, ethree Consulting

It’s usually at about the 5 minute mark that, in any of my conversations with clients, the subject of communication comes up. It’s not always labeled that way; sometimes it’s a lack of clarity, sometimes it’s a lack of awareness, or indeed some other label, but in some way shape or form, what we are talking about is a conversation gap.

So here is my take on 7 of the sins we make when it comes to communication. Tally up for yourself; how often do you fall into the traps indicated below and what do you want to do about it?

And just for the record, I have to watch out for this stuff too. I am only human after all! But if we know that there is a better way, we really have to challenge ourselves if we aren’t doing it…

  1. Assuming people know.

It takes at least 5-7 times of telling someone something before they hear you. Just hear you. Not understand, care, agree and act; just actually become aware there is something you are trying to tell them.   We often make the (false) assumption that because we know, other people know too, and worse, because we think it’s important, other people do too. That’s a big assumption to make! If you want people to know something, you need to bang the drum repetitively, AND be checking in with them to find out exactly what they heard and understood.

  1. Assuming email is the quickest way.

Ah email. So easy. We can draft a few lines, hit send and then metaphorically cross it off the list because the ball is now in someone else’s court; it’s their job to now respond to your email.   We like to think email is quick. But at the end of the day, if it’s going to take more than a two email exchange, pick up the phone. It will actually save you time in the long run and you will build more of a relationship. If you know all of this, and you are still using email more than anything else, you need to ask yourself why? because you either need a bigger carrot or a bigger stick!

  1. Assuming the conversation is going to be difficult.

You have something to say to someone that you think they won’t like. So you sit on it. And sit on it. And sit on it. And maybe talk to a few other people about it in the vein hope that somehow it will magically make its way back to that person and you’ll never have to say anything to them directly. Very, very, occasionally that might work. But it’s far from the best way to handle it and you know that all too well.   You’re making the assumption that the conversation will be hard, but in doing so and taking all the avoidance action that follows, you’re really not being respectful to the other person or giving them an opportunity to relate to you.   Choose a good moment. Assume good intent. Begin with an observation and ask for their viewpoint.   It could be the defining moment that transforms your relationship, so assume it’s going to be fantastic rather than frustrating and stop procrastinating.

  1. Ignoring or (worse!) perpetuating the rumour mill.

It’s there. It works brilliantly. Far better in fact than most formal communication mechanisms. We might as well use it.   Put an ear to the ground and find out what people are saying so you can take appropriate action.   And yes, we are human beings, we like chit chat, and telling stories is part of how we related to each other, but before you tell a few stories about other people at the coffee machine, just ask yourself why you are doing that and how you would feel if it was you on the receiving end?   Try swapping your drama stories for some celebratory stories instead.


  1. Failing to recognize the time required to do it right.


Good communication isn’t actually easy. Even for the best orator, the right method, approach and content will not always appear like magic. You need to put time into preparing for important meetings, for performance reviews, for any time when you need to have clear messages and intent.   Don’t assume you can wing it and it will work; set some time aside to make sure you are properly prepared to communicate well.


  1. Failing to adapt the style and approach.


You are, in fact, unique. I am too. Which is wonderful. But it also means that the way you do things probably doesn’t work perfectly for the rest of the population. So if you really want someone to hear you, you have to think about communicating in the way that works for them, rather than in the way that works for you. And yes, it can be hard work to stretch ourselves, but isn’t that better than no-one understanding you?


  1. Stopping too soon.


5-7 times remember?   I guess I’ll need to say it 3 more times before it sinks in…!