Five expression slip-ups

Straighten up and communicate right

On paper, you’re the consummate professional. You know the company’s facts and figures like nobody’s business, and your widely praised work ethic is the standard by which others in your department are measured. But when it comes time to get up front and show others what you know, you fall flat.

Could it be the way you sandwich “um” in-between every other word of your presentation? Or how about your inability to look your audience squarely in the eye? Whatever it is, you need to get your delivery adeptness up to par with your flawless technical skills.

“We all have a communication habit that works against us in some small way,” says Barbara Pachter, president of Pachter & Assocs., a business communications training firm in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. “The difficulty is when they start adding up, when you have two or more of these behaviors. You look unprofessional.”

She asserts that in addition to a weak handshake and a nervous giggle, there are other communication blunders that can wreak havoc on your career over time. Here are five of them:

  • Blunder #1: Using qualifying words and speaking too softly. Adding “kinda,” “sorta” and “maybe” to sentences (i.e. “I was kinda sure the deal would close”) will make even the smartest person seem unsure. Similarly, fail to turn up the volume and you run the risk of becoming invisible and easy to ignore.
  • Blunder #2: Playing with your hands. Leave the paper clip-twisting and hand-wringing alone if you want to be taken seriously.
  • Blunder #3: Standing passively. Avoid standing with your legs crossed and/or your arms folded across your chest. You’ll appear disengaged and detached.
  • Blunder #4: Avoiding eye contact. Too much eye gazing is intrusive. Too little makes you seem nervous or insincere.
  • Blunder #5: Overusing “I’m sorry.” There’s no need to apologize without due cause. “I need your report on my desk by 3 o’clock; I’m sorry,” for instance, undermines your authority and makes you appear mousy.
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