5 Communication Mistakes

5 Tragic Communication Mistakes That Sabotage Teamwork

Innocent communication mistakes can leave a lasting impact on your team. Avoid these common communication mistakes that sabotage teamwork and degrade trust.

Have you ever heard yourself muttering these words, only to realize later it was an innocent communication mistake?

“Oh, she didn’t copy me on purpose.”

“He’s withholding information to make my life harder.”

“Making us guess what he’s thinking is just a big power play.”

“Why would she put something that important in email?”

“What’s that supposed to mean anyway?”

“Why did she copy my boss?”

5 Communication Mistakes Screwing Up Teamwork

The real tragedy is, once you realize it was all a big communication mistake, you’ve already been looking out for corroborating evidence that the bad communicator is really a jerk.  And when you’re looking to prove someone’s a bad guy, the “proof” comes in surround sound.

Here are a few common communication mistakes we see consistently screw up teamwork—even in team members trying to get along.

1. Assuming malintent

Sure, some people play games. But not most of us, most of the time.

Don’t let an innocent oversight like being left off an email or out of a meeting degrade trust.

I (Karin) will never forget the time an executive peer left me off a meeting invite a few months after I had transitioned into a new role. Our departments had some competing priorities and I had “been warned” by my new team about the games she could play.

I was sure it was intentional. I stewed on it for weeks. Finally, after I’d let the fuel from my fabricated fable of her intentions combust into full-on stupidity, I blew a gasket when she asked me to move one of my meetings around so she could attend. As the drama unraveled, it became obvious that the original oversight was just that—an oversight.

We cleared the air and it never happened again. I could have saved both of us a lot of angst by just picking up the phone and asking to be included.

2. Hiding behind email

Email is fast and easy, and tempting—particularly in remote teams. But rarely effective for important communication.

When communicating something mission-critical or controversial, don’t assume”they got the memo,” and your work is done.

The best communication happens five times, five different ways. Email is a great supporting tool but rarely plays well as the lead medium.

3. Not checking for understanding

We are life and business partners. Love one another. Have an incredibly interdependent life and business goals. We TEACH “check for understanding” as a foundational concept you can’t lead without in every leadership program we do.

And you know when we get ourselves in teamwork trouble?  Assuming we know what the other person is thinking. And “acting on” their best interest.

Don’t assume someone is picking up what you’re putting down—check to see what they heard.

4. Failure to write down decisions

We’ve seen so many great teams with excellent communication skills create frustration and destroy trust because they miss this simple step.

High-trust teams will often raise a lot of creative ideas, debate pros and cons, and then challenge the decisions some more. All healthy. Once the debate has concluded be sure to summarize the final decisions, along with the next steps and timeline.

With all that discussion, team members each leave with their own memory of what was decided, which may or may not match the recall of other team members.

Writing down and reading back key decisions and next steps is an important way to keep the team all moving in the same direction.

Communicating well builds the most important ingredient of any successful team—trust. Take the time to establish clear expectations around how your team is communicating, and to discuss where it’s working best and how it’s breaking down.

5. The wrong CCs

Email “ccs” are a great thing to keep people informed without an obligation to act. AND, the minute you find yourself “cc-ing” to create action, it’s probably a good idea to step back and consider your motives. Sure, sometimes it’s vital to escalate the situation. If you’re escalating for more attention consider doing it more directly. If not, consider bagging the cc.

These are just a few common communication mistakes. If you want to improve communication, why not ask your team what’s driving them crazy?

“What communication mistakes could we do a better job of avoiding?”  “What’s one thing we can do to improve our communication as a team?”

Your turn.

What are the biggest communication mistakes you’ve learned to avoid?

See Also: 15 Communication Mistakes You Might Not Even Know You are Making

13 stupid sentences that will derail your career

13 Stupid Sentences That Will Derail Your Career

I wish HR would teach a course on the really stupid sentences people say at work. Oh, I’m not talking about the obvious stupidity: “you look hot in that dress” or “hey baby”. There are training and rules for that. But there’s no code of conduct to protect against the stupid, dis-empowering words I often hear up, down and sideways.

Before writing this post, I decided to do an informal stupid sentence poll through social media. The responses fell into two big categories: Stupid sentences that deny accountability and stupid sentences that prove you are clueless. I’ll start; you add to the lists.

Stupid Sentences That Deny Accountability

1. That’s Not My Job (#1 by a landslide) – Although we all know this, someone is still out there saying it.  Instead, help all you can.

2. That Decision’s Above My Pay Grade – The really wacky part of this one, is that I hear it most often at the higher levels of the business. Please, please don’t say this. And whatever you do, don’t say it to someone at a lower pay grade than you. They count on you to advocate for what’s right, not shrug your shoulders and rollover.

3. I Wasn’t Aware – This one is commonly used to throw someone else under the bus. Trust me, you look like an idiot. “Let me find out more”, “I’m digging in”, and “I’m here to help” are all acceptable replacement statements.

4. My Team really Screwed This Up – No one really says this do they? From my experience and the poll, yes. Sometimes out loud; sometimes by just being silent. Own your team’s mistakes and help them fix them and learn. There’s no better way to gain credibility up and down the chain.

5. I Can Always Get Another Job At Twice The Pay Some Place Else – Okay, if that’s really true, and you’re disgruntled with the rest of the scene to say that out loud, maybe you really should go find another job.  But if you’re just blowing smoke,  be careful.

6. I Just Don’t Have Enough Time To Do That – If it’s not a priority say that. If it’s important than it’s time to ask some “how can we” questions.

7. It’s Not My Fault, It’s The Other Department’s Mistake – Let’s assume that’s true. Taking the high-road would look like ________________? Who and how would that help?

Stupid Sentences That Prove You’re Clueless

8. That’s A Stupid Question – As much as I want to throw up every time someone says there are no stupid questions, the truth is leaders keep saying that because other leaders are out there making people feel stupid.

9. What’s Wrong With Them – If your team’s not performing, the problem starts with you, not them. It could be selection, systems, rules, leadership. Figure it out, reverse the direction of your finger-pointing.

10. That’ll Never Work – If I had a nickel for every time my team proved me wrong or I proved someone wrong, the truth is that just because it didn’t work in the past doesn’t mean it won’t work now. Put away old biases and really listen. Consider a pilot or some other form of toe-dipping. Most importantly, be a receptive and encouraging leader.

11. That’s The Way We’ve Always Done It –  In our Courageous Cultures research, we’ve found that 67% of employees believe that managers operate under the notion of “this is the way we’ve always done it.”  Such thinking squashes creativity and encourages FOSU (fear of speaking up).

12. The Employees Need To Realize They Are Lucky To Have Jobs In This Economy – Okay, so grateful (and without choices) that they _____________. I know you’re not saying these things, but research has shown many someones are.

13. Your turn. What would you add?

2019 Update

If you’ve stumbled on this article you’ve found one of the early ones. I have some updated thinking in an article I wrote for Fast Company: 10 Common Excuses that Silently Damage Manager’s Careers

If you’re looking for more career tools, you might enjoy some of these.

Avoid These Infuriating Phrases in End of Year Feedback

7 Questions to Ask Yourself to Become a Better Leader