Dealbreakers: 5 Communication Mistakes You Might Be Making
I once had an acquaintance who thought of herself as a truly nice person. She thought of herself as a good friend to others and even something of a social butterfly.
At the same time, however, she often found herself having trouble in interpersonal relationships. She had friends who would get angry with her for her lack of communication. She alienated family members by ignoring them when they needed her most -- or by making every conversation about herself.
For my part, I stopped hanging out with her when I realized that every conversation with her left me feeling frustrated and annoyed. You see, she had this way of talking that made you feel demeaned and diminished. She made you feel that she was always looking down her nose at you -- at your efforts, at your accomplishments, at virtually anything you did.
I've always found it interesting that some people seem fairly clueless about how they come across to others. They may have the best of intentions, but they just can't communicate effectively or understand the vibe they create in their interactions.
This can be true with both in-person and online communication -- emails, texts, messaging apps, and even social media comments. Part of it is the difficulty of reading tone in brief written communication. Part of it, however, comes down to poor communication skills in the first place.
Here are five of the things that I frequently see and hear people doing to undermine their communications with others. See which ones you notice in your personal and professional life and let me know if you've been guilty of some of these yourself.
Do you know people who never reach out unless they want something from you? I have people contact me all the time for favors -- PR mentions, advice, access to my audience. I am kind of amazed, in fact, at the number of people who think that it is my job to educate them on real estate or on writing or on building their business.
I recently had a writer reach out because she wants to be more appealing to real estate clients. She wanted me to give her all of the ins and outs of what I do and how I write effectively for real estate professionals. Aside from the fact that she's essentially asking me to help her become better competition for my business -- which was kind of ballsy in and of itself -- she wanted me to do this out of the kindness of my heart.
I told her that I'd be happy to schedule a consultation call with her but there's no secret -- I write well for real estate because I took the trouble to become a real estate agent -- take and pass the licensure exam, work as an agent, immerse myself in content about the business and affiliated industries. Funny, I never heard from her after that. I wonder why.
Examine your communication and make sure that you're coming from a place of both give and take. If you find yourself constantly reaching out with a Big Ask without ever reciprocating or adding value, you may need to rethink your approach.
We all know people who, for whatever reason, can never just come out and be direct. They have to hint at things, beat around the bush, and communicate in ways that are undermining and uncomfortable.
Maybe they want something. Maybe they're mad about something. Maybe they're feeling bad about themselves and taking it out on you. Who knows? You don't, and you never will, because they'll never just come on out and speak their mind.
Now, understand, I'm from The South where I was taught that being forthright was rarely a good idea. When I was growing up, it was considered rude to be direct and ill-mannered to say what you think. I'm not one of those people who think honesty is always the best policy. I believe in the old adage "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."
However, there are times when you need to speak up and just come out with it. You don't do yourself or others any favors by swallowing your resentments then letting them leak out in your communications. If you find yourself constantly looking for ways to hint at things without directly stating them, you may need to screw up your courage and just say what you have to say.
The social media version of this, of course, is subtweeting. It's when someone alludes to something in your comments or on their post but without coming out and "@ing" the person they're referring to. Here too, if you have a resentment against someone, try communicating with them directly about it rather than (secretly) airing your grievances for fans and followers.
My mother, God rest her soul, could take a thought and turn it over and over in her mind for years, never really letting it go. I remember one evening when I was visiting her with my two young daughters. I had gotten up early, driven 12 hours with two toddlers and a dog, arrived at her house and cleaned it up (it was always filled with clutter) and settled in for the visit. It was getting late and I had just found out that I needed to put new sheets on the bed where the girls would be sleeping.
As you can imagine, I was exhausted and ready to crash by this time. It was at that point that my mother decided to bring up the F that I made in Algebra 2 in tenth grade. Keep in mind, I was in my late 30s at this point with a Master's degree in English Literature and a job teaching in one of the best high schools in the country.
She wanted to know if I didn't regret the low grade. Didn't I wish I had worked harder? Done my homework? Gotten a tutor? All of this over a high school grade from some 20 years prior.
While that is a rather silly example (though it didn't seem so at the time. I was practically hysterical.) it just goes to show how absurd it is to rehash old topics, old arguments, or old frustrations.
If you're the one who can never let go, think about why you feel the need to continue bringing up past resentments. Maybe you need to get something going in your life right now so that you can let go of a past that seems less than satisfying. Maybe you're mad about something real and current, but you're passive aggressively bringing up something from the past -- something that's easier to talk about than your current feelings.
If you're working with someone who can never let go -- whether it's a client or colleague -- or if your significant other loves to bring up past resentments, you probably need an all-purpose response. Rather than getting drawn into the argument they're aiming for, maybe say, "Oh really? It's amazing that you can remember something from so long ago. I'd forgotten all about that."
If you're reading this, you're probably thinking, "I'd never be rude in my communications." And you probably wouldn't. However, there are some things that can come across as rude, even when you don't realize it.
Here are some of the things I see that I find rude in written communication:
ALL CAPS. IT MAKES ME FEEL LIKE SOMEONE IS YELLING AT ME!
Following up on a previous email in a way that makes it sound like the recipient owes you something or has personally offended you. Try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they didn't mean to miss your email. Maybe they thought they answered it already. Maybe they were sick themselves or nursing a sick family member or pet. Maybe they just had a bad day.
Reaching out to someone without knowing anything about them or what they do. I see this all the time when PR folks reach out to me to write about clients who have nothing to do with anything that I would ever write about. It indicates that they've done no research on me and they're wasting their time, my time, and the client's money.
Being careless with details. Just yesterday I saw that someone had used one of my old property descriptions, added a few words at the beginning and end, then posted it on their new listing. Among the (many) problems with this: they got the details wrong, including the type of flooring and the kitchen finishes. You do your client a disservice when you post marketing that's not ready for prime time.
Reaching out to someone with no introduction and no indication of who you are and why they should respond. This is especially true if you're asking for something. If you have a mutual friend, ask them to make an email intro or ask if you can use their name when introducing yourself. Otherwise, consider reaching out first on social media, then following up with an email.
Okay, this is just a pet peeve, but I think it's valid. When you're communicating with someone via email, start a new thread for new topics. I have people who reach out to me on old threads from months ago with subject lines that are no longer relevant.
The problem with this is that for folks like me who refer back to emails for details and follow up, endless threads make it impossible to find relevant information. In addition, it causes me to panic every time one of those old subject lines resurfaces. My first thought is, "I thought I already took care of that" and then I realize they are talking about something totally different.
I am not one of those people with a super organized, zeroed out inbox. However, I do have my own standards for organization and an email thread with 128 emails just isn't it. Please, start a new thread with a new, relevant (not Hey! or Hello!) subject line for each new topic.
We'll never be perfect communicators but there's always room for improvement. Even the simple act of thinking about the way you communicate -- examining your conscience, as it were -- is a step on the road to better relationships and better outcomes.