4 Common Communication Mistakes to Avoid
Don’t make the same mistakes as us!
by Lisa B. Marshall with Zoe Ogilvie and Whitney Punchak
Recently one of the lisabmarshall marketing interns sent out an email to all of my LinkedIn contacts. In her zeal, she made a few unfortunate communication errors that, quite frankly, upset quite a few people. So, I wanted to start this episode by saying, I’m sorry. This episode is dedicated to her and to anyone else who recently made a mistake in communication. (Now that I think about it, I just dedicated an episode to myself!)
Common Communication Mistakes to Avoid
So, today’s quick and dirty tip is just a reminder that communication mistakes happen all the time. To recover, try to undo your mistake, apologize, and perhaps ask what you can do to make up for the error. (By the way, it’s the last step that most people don’t do and is perhaps the most important step.)
We’re Sorry for Our BIG Communication Mistake
In our case, unfortunately, there wasn’t much I could do to “undo” the mistake. After the unfortunate incident, I didn’t want to compound the issue by sending a bulk email apology, so I went directly to step 2 and updated my social media statuses with a sincere apology. I spent the better part of this week emailing apologies and trying to set things straight. (Again, both the intern and I are extremely sorry for the mistake. It really was just an innocent misunderstanding of the assignment.)
When I was telling the story to my friend Larissa, she reminded me of the old saying “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” So the intern and I decided to co-write this two-part program on surviving a communication mishap. Rest assured that in the second part (out later this month), we’ll cover very practical tips to help you avoid the embarrassment we endured.
But, for this episode, we thought you might like to hear some stories of common communication mistakes just reassure you that they happen all the time. And yes, they can be embarrassing, but they are inevitable. So, if you are reading/listening this now because of a recent error, I’m hoping these stories will help give you some perspective and perhaps even a smile. You’ll know you’re not alone! No matter how skilled you are as a communicator, occasionally we make a mistake.
Communication Mistake #1: Crossed-Wires
One of my favorite stories of miscommunication comes from author, Shela Dean. We recently took a workshop together and she shared this story. She said to me:
When Dale [Shela’s husban first began spending nights at my house, he used the guest bathroom. One morning, as I was heading for my shower, he asked, “Can we shower at the same time?” “Sure!” I responded enthusiastically, and then quickly hopped into my shower and waited for him. Minutes later the water went ice cold and I learned just how effective “taking a cold shower” can be.
Shela explained to me:
What I heard was, “Can we shower together?” What he meant was, “Can we run both showers at the same time?”
In this case the misunderstanding was simply a crossed wire and didn’t cause any real harm. But, as Shela points out in her book, repeated unspoken crossed-wires can take a big toll on a relationship. Small mistakes can have big consequences. The same thing holds for communication mistakes at work.
Communication Mistake #2: A Company Wide Communication Mistake
On the day that I started a new job (this was when email was just beginning to become popular--and yes, I am THAT old), I confidently walked in, sat down, and read the first email in my inbox, which had been sent to the entire company. Then, in one awful moment, I accidentally hit “reply all” instead of “reply.’” Instantly the whole office, my new workplace, was asking “Who is this Lisa Marshall person? Doesn’t this idiot know how to use email?” Needless to say, that was not my best first impression as the new program manager of technology! I simply shrugged, said, oops, and moved on. I couldn’t undo it and apologizing to the entire company would have made it worse.
Communication Mistake #3: “Crap, I Forgot the Attachment” Error
When I shared this story with one of our new interns, she told me that she used to have a bad habit of sending emails too quickly and often forgetting details such as attachments. Usually she would remember and quickly send another email with the subject line “Oops, here is the attachment.”
She didn’t think anything about it, until one day, she did it once again to her boss. He was furious with her. He sent her back an email written all in capital letters telling her to include all attachments with the relevant email and to stop crowding his inbox.
To me this was a perfect example how little unspoken communication mistakes add-up to a bigger problem. She told me that she not only apologized, but also came up with a strategy to prevent the problem from happening again.
Communication Mistake #4: A Math Mistake That Caused Me Embarrassment
[[AdMiddle]On another occasion I was delivering a status presentation to the CEO of the company where I was working. The second slide contained a simple arithmetic mistake. The CEO loudly pointed that out and then berated me. He told me to sit down. He wouldn’t let me finish the presentation. I was SO embarrassed.
Communication mistakes like these teach us that different people have differing levels of tolerance for mistakes. Some people may overlook (or may not even notice) seemingly minor errors whereas others may form a significantly negative impression of overall competence (of the person and the organizations which they might be associated with) based on sloppy communication errors. (In fact, one study looked at the effects of spelling errors on the perception of the writer. The results suggested that spelling errors can affect how people perceive writers, especially when there are many spelling errors.
Mistakes Cost Money and Negatively Impact Relationships
Most recently I had another communication mistake. I had a big mix-up with a proposal for one of my best customers. Not only did I end up apologizing, I also decided that my error was big enough that I needed to make up for this mistake. I asked what I could do to make up for the error and I ended up offering two speaking programs for free. In this case my communication mistake cost me money, but the solution and apology saved the relationship--which of course, is most important.
So, I’m sincerely hopeful that the communication blunder that sparked us to write this episode is now behind us. And in second part of this program, we’ll pick up from here and talk about concrete steps you can take to prevent common communication blunders.
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