1. Failing to personalize the communication.
One of the cardinal rules of social intelligence is that customization is key. What’s music to one employee’s ears – for instance, very clear instructions with firm, almost rigid insistence on deliverables – may be heard as “micro-manage-y” to another. Get to know your listeners; whether you’re communicating with vendors, hires, bosses, teams or clients. There’s no one-size-fits-all listener, and no one style to guide you in all interactions.
2. Not asking people how they’d like to be communicated with.
This goes hand in hand with the first point. Sure, you can make educated guesses about how people like to gather information. But especially if you’re dealing with folks on an ongoing basis (e.g. as a boss or team leader), you want to fine-tune your approach over time. Find out what works, and do more of that. Find out what doesn’t work, and do less of that.
3. When communicating with teams, failing to pay attention to both the team’s dynamic and the dynamics of the individual people ON the team.
There’s a weird tendency to treat teams either as “a hive mind” that has a personality independent of the sum of its parts or as just a collection of people. It’s not an either/or proposition. You must understand the communication style of the gesalt – the “hive mind” – and modify your listening and social skills accordingly. AND you ALSO need to pay attention to the styles and eccentricities of those who comprise the group.
4. Failing to respond to messages in a timely manner.
Timeliness matters, too. You can have the best listening and speaking skills in the world, but if you slouch on deadlines, the wheels will come off the bus. For example, let’s say John is VP of Operations at a company called XYZ Widgets. (Okay, that’s not the most creative name).
John always responds to his emails in a patient, friendly and thoughtful way. Only one problem: it often takes him up to two weeks to get back to people! This behavior enrages many: John lost three different accounts over the past two quarters for a total of $90,000 in losses. If John had responded faster, his company would be enjoying higher profits. But it’s hard to know when slow responses (like John’s) cost your business or drive your team crazy, because you can’t see the counterfactuals — what would have happened had you done something a different way.
5. Failing to make sure important messages are received.
Many leaders rely on email, text and memos to send important messages. But even if you communicate in-person, you need to make sure people really “get” what you’re saying. It’s not enough to beam out a message.
Take the case of Evelyn R., a manager at a local paper company, which we can call Munder-Difflin. She hears that a customer is planning to switch suppliers to a different company, Blunder-Stifflin. So she has a long conversation with her top salesperson about what to do to keep the account. The salesperson nods and says yes yes yes, but she’s in the middle of a stressful divorce. Her emotions are influencing her intake of information, so she never actually “gets” Evelyn’s message. She only retains 1/3 of the game plan and then missteps on the call with the client. This is partly Evelyn’s fault, because she failed to make sure her message got heard.
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