Navigating Tough Conversations: How NOT to Communicate in the Workplace

Photo by Luke White on Unsplash

Communication is a skill that is essential for success in the workplace. It can elevate or diminish the power of your work. No matter how flawless your work execution is, without proper communication it will be difficult (dare I say, impossible), to shine.

While thinking of the best way to construct this blog post to complement Cathy’s latest insight on communication, I decided to settle on the idea of what NOT to do in the communication sphere (and how to resolve those mistakes). A lot of these tips stem from good old personal experience. Some of them can be applied to both a remote and in-person workplace. Because my experience has been mainly virtual, most of the inspiration will be focused on remote advice. Without further ado, here is the list.

Communication Killers (a.k.a., what not to do)

  1. Under-preparing for your 1–1s. Your manager has plenty to keep track of, so do not make guiding the conversation part of their responsibility. Outline an agenda of updates and pain points. If you have a shorter agenda for the day, this could be your chance to get valuable career advice. Instead of cutting the meeting short, the allotted time in the calendar can be used as an ask-me-anything style Q&A.
  2. Keeping the conversation impersonal. Even if the meeting is a group meeting and has a set agenda, there is usually a lull while waiting for members to join. If you always jump straight into content every meeting, your approach will start to feel cold and transactional. Causal conversation mixed in allows you to connect with your coworkers — entirely more enjoyable.
  3. Starting with the details. This one is a struggle for me. I tend to dive deep right off the bat, but reframing how I summarize has been monumental in my effective communication journey. To demo on email: begin with a bullet point summary section and afterwards drill down into the details. This gives those who have limited time an opportunity to quickly scan the email and gather the key facts, but also the option to go in-depth if desired. In a meeting format, kickoff with results. These are top of mind and should go top of presentation as well. Then, you can get into the fun tech specs.
  4. Not taking initiative. Most of the time, people will not specify their preferred method of communication. You can ask, but some people may not even know their preference. The best compromise is to err on the side of over-communication and then verify how that method sits with them (and adjust as needed).
  5. Staying stagnant with your check-ins. Take an iterative approach to your communication. “Read the room” as some would like to say. Internally evaluate how your communication style is working and then seek external evaluation for confirmation. Switch up your style if necessary.
  6. Communicating identically to every team member. People are unique and we often have differing preferences for receiving information. Take this into consideration, especially during one-to-one meeting interactions. Maybe your coworker prefers direct, concise information. Maybe they would rather talk about the details of a project. Some want constant updates; others want lengthier but less frequent updates. Also — where they want to receive that communication could be different. Email, Slack, Microsoft Teams, and in-person meetings are all options and should be considered. A lot of the time, the method they will contact you with is the method they’d like to receive contact as well.
  7. Forgetting about LinkedIn. Again, another point I am guilty of myself. Keeping up to date on your LinkedIn is a great way to develop a professional voice. Stay curious about what your internal and external network is up to, but don’t be afraid to post content yourself. Your posts and content can be a fun time machine to see how you have progressed in your field as well as your living resume.
  8. Getting caught up in the numbers. As a data scientist, this is pretty easy to do. Numbers can speak volumes, but only if you give them the space to do so. Sometimes you need to describe why a metric is valuable or change the number into a visualization to truly run your point home. Perspective is needed to appreciate the numbers, and it is up to you as the data expert to provide that perspective.
Photo by Mark Pan4ratte on Unsplash

This is by no means an exhaustive list — I am still learning and adding to it every day. Communication requires emotional intelligence but I believe EQ can be both practiced and learned. Think of communication as your secret weapon to get recognized for the work you are doing.

Got any tried-and-true communication tips of your own? Feel free to comment below your do’s and do not’s of communicating effectively to round-off my list.

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