5 Communication Blunders To Avoid At All Costs

“The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives.”
Anthony Robbins, author

Communication BlundersWhen 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.
  • Always identify people in your yard before shooting at them.
  • It’s 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.

1. You

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.”

3. Generalizations

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 fight.

So avoid generalizations as much as possible.

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 angry.

Five minutes
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!

Go ahead
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.”

Loud sigh:
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?”

That’s okay
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 myself.”

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.

5. Labels

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 anything else.”

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 effective communication.

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.

ACTION:  Which of the five blunders do you use most often? What are you going to do to eliminate that blunder from your communication style?