|The quality of your communication is always important, and increased skillfulness offers many benefits. Yet in more difficult times, such as when the economy is in recession, the quality of your communication becomes even more important. Sometimes the cost of poor communication is immediate, and sometimes it takes a bit longer for the negative consequences of unmindful communication habits to become evident.
The good news is that if you know what some of the nastier, poor-communication habits are, you can become more mindful and look for ways to increase your skillfulness. The positive results can be seen in interpersonal interactions as well as improvements in the quality of your marketing communications and networking.
So what are some of the worst communication habits? Here are seven candidates:
The Big Seven
The seven worst habits of communication are bad enough when they happen occasionally. They become “big and bad” when they’re practiced habitually. And they do, ultimately, exact a cost, whether it be in miscommunications, lost projects, lowered productivity, missed opportunities, or poor relationships. The Big Seven bad habits are:
- Contacting others only when you need something.
You’ve no doubt experienced this, or perhaps (if you’re honest with yourself), you can recall doing it yourself. Maybe it’s even one of your own bad communication habits. The person who perpetrates this bad habit is the one who routinely surfaces when they’re job hunting, when they’ve got a problem, when they need a reference, or when they want ideas from you. Between their “periods of need,” you don’t hear a peep from these folks, and they might not even respond to your communications. Telephone and email messages go unreturned. Ick! Whatever the reason that people do it, it’s unpleasant for those on the receiving end. Let’s face it–no one likes feeling that they’ve been used. What’s more, as the pattern becomes evident, more and more of “the used” become reticent, if not resentful, and reach a point where they don’t care to be used any longer.
- Not following up, or closing the loop.
This is a sibling habit of the aforementioned, and is pretty much self-explanatory. This is when someone asks for your advice, requests a reference for an upcoming job interview, seeks out contacts for their job search networking, or asks for (or receives from you) a referral for a new project. You get the gist. These are all normal enough activities, but where this habit goes bad is when the person fails to follow up or close the loop by letting you know how things turned out, or even saying “thank you.” In the worst cases, the next time you hear from this person is when they need something from you again.
- Not returning telephone calls or email messages.
As with other breached hallmarks of civility, this bad habit is becoming fairly typical. In some corporate work cultures, it’s actually a norm. But that doesn’t make it anything other than what it is: A nasty, inconsiderate communication habit. Just to be clear, we’re not talking about returning automated sales calls here, which one can be forgiven for ignoring. Rather, we’re talking about telephone messages, personally written notes, and email messages from real, live human beings, that go unanswered and unacknowledged. Nasty habit!
- Foregoing basic courtesy.
At its most simple, this nasty habit shows itself in an individual’s failure to say “please” and “thank you” when requesting and receiving something. They might not send a thank you after being treated to lunch, or they might send a snappish email that is more of a demand than a request. The three previous nasty communication habits are also examples of discourteous behavior. Basic courtesy goes by the wayside for a number of reasons: people are in too much of a hurry, they might have an attitude of entitlement or self-absorption, or they might not have ever been taught basic courtesy. But each failure to be courteous contributes to an uncivil workplace and community, and exacts a cost because people don’t tend to like being treated rudely, and are less likely to extend themselves on behalf of someone they consider rude.
- Not listening.
You’d be shocked at how many unpleasant and costly situations arise from a failure to listen. Medical malpractice suits often cite poor listening skills as a key problem, for example, when physicians fail to listen to what a patient is saying, and allow their own egos and assumptions to prevent them from truly hearing crucial information. A similar pattern can be found in other types of work environments, too. One hallmark of poor listening is a person who won’t ask any questions. Another hallmark is that he or she might repeatedly paraphrase incorrectly, or “put words in your mouth” that you neither say nor agree with. On an interpersonal level, poor listening skills result in miscommunications, lost opportunities, lower productivity due to mistakes or redundant efforts, employee turnover, and other costly scenarios.
- Telling lies.
Intentions for and examples of lying run the gamut from telling “little white lies” to avoid hurting someone’s feelings (something few people like to do to others) to purposely misleading whole groups of people for the purpose of one’s individual material gain (something we saw en masse during the dot-com boom and subsequent string of corporate ethics and accounting scandals). The former is often deemed understandable, if not optimal, and the latter is seen as unforgivable. Both are examples of someone not being truthful. Truthfulness requires courage and, ideally, skillfulness. With courage and skillfulness, and a bit of self-awareness, we can find ourselves telling the truth in both cases, and all of the cases in between. The truth may occasionally hurt, but lies tend to be far more destructive.
- Spewing chronic negativity.
Everyone can see and point out flaws, which is an essential element of problem solving. And we all entertain opinions that are focused on or sharpened by things we don’t like. But the chronic negativity spewer takes it to a more toxic, less discerning level. He or she is ardently negative–about a lot of things–and delivers his negative opinions energetically and regularly. Imagine meeting with such a person, who from the first to the last minute of your time together has nothing positive to say about anyone or anything. He might use powerfully angry, negative language, and repeat phrases such as, “I hate…” or “…stupid idiots.” When you’ve had an interaction with negativity-spewing Ned or Nellie, you feel like you’ve been slimed, and may even feel a bit in shock from the sheer force of their negative energy. A chronic Negative Ned or Nellie can have a dampening effect on his or her whole work group.
Fortunately, these and other nasty communication habits can be averted or changed by cultivating habits that are nasty-habit opposites–meaning, in this case, more skillful and considerate. For example, in order to enjoy the many benefits of more positive, skillful communication, you might commit yourself to speaking honestly, cultivating “right speech,” treating others more courteously, and so on.