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Ask a leadership coach

Ask a leadership expert:
Top 5 Communication Mistakes Everybody Makes

By Jenn DeWall Confidence and Leadership Coach & Keynote Speaker & Trainer.

Effective communication is the basis of any good relationship, whether in the workplace or in our personal lives. Everyone has experienced the headaches that come from miscommunication. We’ve all cringed when that email gets sent before you are done typing it. Or maybe you have wished for a real-life rewind button after messing up someone’s name in a conversation. Or worse, we all know how bad it feels when we realize we have given someone the wrong impression or offended them without meaning to. 

In my work, I see five common communication mistakes that cause problems for my clients. Here’s what they are and how you can avoid them!


Everyone is guilty of this sometimes, and now that so much communication is happening virtually, it’s worse. It is tempting to “multi-task” during meetings or phone conversations, but the human mind doesn’t really work that way! We don’t really multi-task. We may be able to switch back and forth between tasks relatively quickly, but we are diminishing the quality of attention paid to each of those tasks.


So, how can we do better? Practice active listening and good manners! Active listening is when you consciously choose to hear the other person, pay close attention, and respond appropriately with questions and feedback. A big part of paying attention is just good manners, like putting away your phone or other distractions during conversations. 


Another communication mistake I see too frequently is when someone assumes they knew what the other person meant, what they wanted, or how they felt. Making assumptions without enough information can easily cause conflict and misunderstandings. One way to make sure you understand someone is to paraphrase what you heard them say back to them to allow them to clarify details or explain further. But in some cases, assumptions take the form of not communicating at all, which is a huge mistake! Have you ever avoided a conversation because you assumed you already knew what the other person would say? That conversation you didn’t have could have been an opportunity to connect and understand each another! Or, you may be totally wrong in your assumption, causing problems later on. The best way to know what someone else thinks is to ask them!


The flipside of making assumptions about someone else is being indirect, so they have to make assumptions about you! Effective communication requires being straightforward. I know this is not always easy, but “beating around the bush”, dropping hints, or hoping someone “just knows” how you feel are not the best approach. Sometimes we are indirect out of fear or shyness, but if there is a message you need to get across, it is best to come out and say it. Hoping someone will read your mind usually results in misunderstandings and hurt feelings. 


I have definitely been guilty of this mistake in communication! It is important to make space for your emotions in difficult or stressful situations and manage them before trying to communicate. Effective communicators are aware of their feelings and take time to ensure they are able to respond, not just react. At work, this could mean taking a short walk before responding to an email that irritated you. At home, this could be taking a moment to breathe before getting into an unnecessary argument. Conflict is inevitable, but we can choose to respond thoughtfully to work towards solutions. 


Effective communication across different cultures can be challenging! It is important to account for cultural backgrounds and understand that something that makes you seem confident in one culture could be perceived as rude in another. Cultural norms about hand gestures, the amount of eye contact you make, and the tone of voice you use can vary around the world. No one can avoid this communication mistake completely, but we can all learn more about other cultures. 

Suppose you have a  team at work that are from different parts of the world. In that case, you could create opportunities for people to share information about their culture to increase understanding. There are also communication differences between generations to consider. If you want to communicate with Gen Z, you might want to send a text or instant-message. If you want to communicate effectively with a Boomer, you should probably set up a face-to-face meeting or pick up the phone.

Want to Learn More? 

If you want to learn more about effective communication or sharpen your communication skills, I’d love to hear from you! I work with clients to build confidence, improve relationships, and create the life they want! 

Jenn DeWall is a leadership and career coach, leadership keynote speaker, facilitator, trainer, and podcast host. Jenn is a Millennial leadership expert based in Denver, CO. 

Are you looking for an engaging keynote speaker, workshop facilitator, or trainer? Book Jenn for your leadership needs today!

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