7 Deadly Sins of Professional Communication

Whether digital or verbal, stay away from these common vices

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LUST: Thou shall practice authentic communication—not fake interactions—in your desire for advancement. Lusting for power and prestige can get the best of us, and if you are not too careful, set you on a path of anxiety. Giving out compliments unnecessarily, or censoring constructive criticism during brainstorm sessions will not help you get promoted faster. In fact, brown-nosing a little too much communicates a blinding sense of inauthenticity. And while the need to please can be a deathly communications trap, Lorraine Smith, Executive Director of Columbia University’s Business School says that it is also natural.  “In many ways we all look to ‘please our managers’ or ‘please our clients’ because we are naturally incentivized by positive reinforcement.   In an effort to create internal rewards, it can be helpful to set personal goals… regardless of our expectations for external acknowledgment.” Ultimately, brown-nosing does not ensure security in the workplace. Jefferson points out, “ it’s very directional, it’s a quick quid pro… it might get you ‘in’ temporarily, but at some point it is going to come right down to your performance.”

GREED: Thou shall not hog company resources and materials. Sharing information is one of the best ways to communicate your level of expertise in any particular field. Being selfish with company equipment or choosing not to help a fellow team member is a poor reflection of character. Great work environments and office relationships are built on trust.  “It’s disruptive in an organization… if you have someone hoarding resources or information, it becomes a domino effect… you start to have people who want to do the same,” says Johnson. If you communicate greediness in even a slight manner, it can come back to haunt you. For managers who are looking to break bad internal habits, Johnson recommends setting up a rewards system. “If you start rewarding good behavior, things will change. You have to be positive… some organizations are so deficit- oriented that they don’t consider what’s already working.”

WRATH: Thou shall not use abusive language with coworkers or superiors. Losing your cool during meetings or speaking out of turn is no way to disagree with an idea. When expressing your difference in opinion, don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Lashing out at fellow coworkers or bringing your personal drama into the office makes you appear volatile and untrustworthy. Smith suggests keeping your emotions in check by doing your best to look at conflicts from the third-person perspective. “Make the conscious choice to resist that momentary urge to say [or write] something that can’t be withdrawn.” For deeper issues of miscommunication, Smith says a higher degree of commitment is required. “Identify someone in the organization who can mediate [whether it is a coach, supervisor, human resources professional, employee assistance office etc.,] an intervention, such as executive coaching.”

Johnson agrees. When conducting assertiveness training workshops, the CEO and speaker encourages participants to be proactive about resolution building. “You have to separate feeling from fact. A lot of times we’ll call out behavior without offering ways to change it. A tactful example I like to suggest [in workshops] is, ‘I notice that you don’t always share information with me, it leads to [blank]…  Am I right in what I am sensing?’ In that type of situation, the person has no choice but to respond.”

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  • Day

    Very informative article. I really enjoyed this series.