You might think you’re a great communicator, but you could be inadvertently muddling what you mean — with big consequences. If you’ve ever requested that a task be done ASAP only to have your colleague get to it a week later, or gotten into a fight with your partner over a simple misunderstanding, you know what I mean.
Ditch the Jargon
If phrases like “cross collaborate,” “key stakeholders,” and “synergy” pop into your work vocabulary, then it may mean you’re actually not communicating effectively to your staff when it counts, found Missouri State University, Springfield research. These tired (and usually meaningless) phrases don’t effectively set clear goals or provide explanations as to why tasks are needed. This can cause employee commitment to suffer, especially during high-stress periods.
Instead, make your point clearly and without cliches. Skip the line about “moving the needle,” and actually motivate with a clearer directive: “Let’s make a real difference here. If we get X more people in the door, our profits will jump up X%,” for example. Making sure you clearly define what success looks like will help you get there faster.
Say Thank You
When it comes to your personal life, can you remember the last time you expressed gratitude toward your partner? If it’s been a while, you might need additional help communicating — especially over stressful topics.
University of Georgia researchers sampled 468 married couples to find out how they rated the quality of their marriage when it came to talking about financial troubles, one of the biggest hurdles a couple can face. They found that spouses who communicated gratitude were often the best able to weather the storm of money problems.
Next time you’re having a tough talk about the budget, try thanking your partner for their contributions — even if you feel frustrated. Step back and say something like, “I’ve noticed how you’ve been taking lunch to work every day to save money, and I wanted to let you know that I really appreciate the effort.” Even the smallest gesture of appreciation can go a long way.
Take it Offline
If you think connecting with others means sending just one more email or clicking “like” on social media, think again. According to University of Illinois research, digital communication may not be as effective as face-to-face conversations. While emails keep things efficient, they take out the interpersonal component that breeds trust and understanding, say study authors.
Communicating purely through your smartphone removes the opportunity to read body language cues, from posture to eye contact — and those details are essential for trust, clear communication, and effective collaboration. (Need proof? Look no further than the last time you agonized over a text that ended with a period when you would have preferred an exclamation point.)
Of course, you can’t banish email from the workplace, but make a point of speaking face-to-face when you have the option. There’s a lower chance of your message getting muddled, and you’ll have an excuse to get up and leave your desk.
Speak in a Confident Tone
Sometimes it’s not what you’re saying, but how you say it that can kill a great conversation, say USC researchers who studied communication between 100 couples in marriage therapy over five years. By analyzing specific features of couples’ voices, the scientists could pinpoint how successful their subjects’ communication was (with “success” determined by whether the couple stayed together or split after years of therapy).
Their conclusion? What mattered most wasn’t the content of the conversations, it was the pitch of their voice or how much a person’s tone shook to convey high emotion. So watch your tone and make an effort to keep your voice even and calm, even if you’re feeling hyper-emotional on the inside.
It’s easy enough to control: Take a deep breath before you speak to help steady your voice, or intentionally lower your pitch to counteract the natural urge to make it higher when you’re worked up.
Don’t Book Too Many Meetings
A calendar fully booked with big, formal meetings means you’re not making the most out of your daily communication. When you use meetings as your main form of communication, you put the quality of your communication at risk — the message simply won’t go through as well as in a smaller, more intimate setting.
Successful managers agree: They prefer to talk in informal, casual settings with no more than two people present, according to a Journal of Management in Engineering study. So aim to incorporate more informal, one-on-one conversations with key employees into your day. One way to do it: Walk around the office at least once before lunch and again in the afternoon. This way, you’ll make sure to stop by or bump into colleagues when you’re not tied to your desk.
Make Small Talk
Maybe you opt out of general break-room chatter or leave the room when your coworker starts divulging her travel plans. You might want to rethink that strategy. When bosses make the effort to get to know workers on a personal level, they are perceived as more trustworthy, according to a Gallup survey.
Think about it — if you can talk to your boss or coworker beyond work topics all the time, you’ll feel a more personal connection both ways. Opening up this line of casual communication allows everyone to feel more relaxed, whether they’re talking about work or their personal life.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can’t set boundaries. There’s no need to share every detail of your love lives, for example. But it can’t hurt to ask your colleagues what they’re up to over the weekend.