No matter where you are or what you’re doing, communication is king and queen! Your ability to communicate could be the difference between getting a job and getting a job. It could be the difference between getting promoted or getting passed up for promotion and it could be the difference between having successful healthy relationships and having difficult, challenging, and downright frustrating relationships. You get the point. Communication matters. But it’s easy to get it wrong, no matter who you are. Communication mistakes are easily made, and the result of some communication mistakes can be catastrophic. In this post, I’m sharing some of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen people make, and mistakes I’ve made myself! 

These are common communication mistakes that I’ve seen people make in interviews, in meetings with clients, in meetings with senior stakeholders, and between colleagues and friends, with terrible results. 

10 Common & Costly Communication Mistakes

1. Not setting a clear agenda 

You might think setting an agenda is only for formal meetings. But setting a clear agenda is important for more than just work meetings. It’s important for all communication with the goal of achieving something. 

Think about it, without an agenda, you could be in the middle of a heated argument with someone, going round and round. You and the other person completely losing sight of the point of the argument. What does each person want to talk about? What are the most essential things that must be covered? 

Setting an agenda will help everyone stay on topic. Let’s face it, we’ve all been in those conversations that end up branching onto so many different things that by the end, no one knows what anyone’s talking about. And while this is fine when you’re just hanging out with friends or out having drinks (remember those days), there are far too many instances when the lack of a clear agenda could really trip you up. 

If you’re setting an agenda for a work meeting, clearly you might need to make it more formal. By sending the written agenda to all parties ahead of time for example. While you probably don’t want to send a written agenda before a conversation with your other half or friend, outlining what you want to cover in as little as one sentence is still valuable. Especially if you’re having a conversation about topics that might be emotional, heated, or drawn out. 

2. Not having clear desired outcomes 

Another common communication mistake is not having clear desired outcomes. Or having them but not communicating them clearly to the other parties involved. 

While this might sound the same as setting an agenda, it’s not. An agenda is what you want to talk about, what topics you want to cover, the outcome is the result you want. 

What do you want to get from the conversation? Basically, what’s the goal of the conversation? Beyond just sharing your thoughts or concern. 

It’s also important to understand what all parties want out of the conversation because only knowing the outcome you’re after is also a big communication mistake that’s easily made. 

So, as well as letting everyone know what you want to cover, make sure everyone is clear on what the desired result of the conversation is. 

Typically, the desired outcome will most likely be a decision being made, everyone coming to some agreement, or a plan being made to improve a situation that’s not going well. 

Whatever the desired outcome, making sure everyone’s on the same page will make the conversation a million times more productive and effective than going in blind. 

And even if your only desire is that the other person understands how they upset or hurt you, then state this from the off as well. 

3. Not listening 

We all know that we’re supposed to listen. You probably even know all about active listening. But this doesn’t mean that you always do it. 

So here’s a reminder, make sure you listen. Really listen. 

The thing about listening is that it’s very easy to seem like you’re listening. All the while thinking about your next point or wondering why the other person would ever say such a thing, or frankly worrying about a deadline you have looming. 

Doing these things means you’re not listening. 

As hard as it can be, especially when we’re having difficult conversations, not listening can lead to a world of pain later, or even in that moment – we all know how it feels when you think someone’s not listening to you!

This leads me to another common and often costly communication mistake…

4. Not checking in 

I mentioned before how important it is that everyone’s on the same page. One mistake that I’ve certainly made is not checking in and confirming that myself and the other parties were on the same page and that we had the same understanding about next steps. 

As you can imagine, this didn’t end well.

And yet it’s a communication mistake that can so easily be avoided. All it takes is for everyone to check-in. This could be several times, if you’re in a long conversation or having a meeting with lots of points being covered, or at the end of a short communication. 

Here are a couple of  simple questions that can help you check in:

My understanding of what you’re saying is this, can I check that I’ve understood correctly? 

You said ( repeat their sentence back to them) Am I right in understanding what you’re saying is ( insert what you think they mean)?

As silly and crazy as this all sounds, It’s saved me so many times before and stopped me from going off on the wrong track. 

It’s a lot easier to have someone tell you in no uncertain term what they mean than to try and decipher what they mean according to you. 

And of course, if you are in a meeting scenario, make sure you always recap what’s been agreed as the next steps and any key action points. Better yet, send that follow-up email to confirm what was agreed. Everyone will thank you.  

5. Not maintaining eye contact

One way we feel listened to is through eye contact. Now, I know there are some cultures where it’s impolite to look senior people in the eye, but generally speaking, if you’re in the UK, the US, or somewhere in Europe, most people expect and like eye contact.

There’s nothing worse than speaking to someone and wondering who on earth they’re looking at behind you! 

6. Not having a tailored approach 

Are you someone who likes to do things fast or do you prefer to take your time over things? 

Communication, like many things, is connected to your personality style, and different people have different styles. Whether that’s to the point, fast and no-nonsense, more long-winded and detailed, or something in between. Everyone has their own style. 

And when two opposite styles communicate, there’s another communication mistake that happens. No one tailors their style and approach.

When this happens, problems are bound to come up. It’s when you hear phrases like “ slow down!”  and “ Can you get to the point?”

Ideally, you’re talking to someone who communicates just like you do but since this is planet earth, that’s not always the case, so you’re likely going to need to tailor your approach and style somewhere along the line. This can be especially important when you’re talking to senior leaders in organizations or even your immediate boss.  

The most important thing to remember is that there’s no point in a conversation if the other person doesn’t hear what you’re saying. So, however frustrating it might be to have to slow down to what feels like an unnatural pace ( if you’re me), or to have to prepare your points in advance so you can get to them faster, the efforts worth it. 

I honestly think that one of the biggest listening challenges is wondering when the other person will ever get to the point. 

Of course, if you set your agenda and you both know the desired outcome, moving things along will be a lot easier. 

7. Interjecting and interrupting

Have you ever been in a conversation where there didn’t seem to be a pint anywhere on the horizon? I know, it hurts! I compare it to needing the bathroom – desperately. Not a comfortable feeling!

But, here’s the thing, more often than not, this isn’t the situation we’re in when we interject. We just can’t wait to make our point. 

And if you’re so desperate to get your point across that you have to interject the chances are you’re not listening fully. 

As hard as it can be, it’s important to let people finish their point. Because only then will you be sure of what they were going to say. There’s nothing more embarrassing than assuming they’re going to say one thing and interjecting, only to find out they were heading in a completely different direction! (Not that I’ve ever made that mistake, of course!)

What’s more, it’s simply rude and sends the message that you don’t respect the other person enough to even let them finish or/and that you don’t really care about what they have to say.  

So, next time you feel that bubbling sensation of wanting to get your words out at that moment, hold back and instead, dig deep to let the other person finish. 

But in case you are in one of those terrifying situations with no point on the horizon, even after waiting patiently, there are a few ways you can politely let it be known that they should probably get to the point…

Here are  few ways to try and move the conversation along…

Remind the other person of what was the agreed purpose of the conversation and ask them how the current point they are trying to make fits in with this.

Politely let them know that you’re a little lost on the point they’re trying to make because let’s face it, you probably are. 

Ask them if the conversation will need a lot more time, because you want to make sure you don’t run out of time and want to give them your undivided, but right now you must dash. 

The great thing about each of these points is that if the person really rambles on, one of them will likely fit the bill. As long as you make sure to apologize for the interjection and be polite. Ideally wait till they take a moment to breathe before interrupting if possible.

I think these options are perfectly polite since, they’re not about trying to jump in and get your own point across, but rather, they’re about making sure you both stay on the same page and topic. 

8. Not reading the signs 

On the flip side of interjecting is not reading the signs. 

Does the person you’re talking to keep looking at their watch (a classic), do they seem in a rush to get somewhere, or are they flustered and anxious and clearly not giving you their full attention? 

While it’s easy to think that it’s them who is making the communication mistake of not listening properly to you, it’s also important to recognize common non-verbal cues that people give. 

Rather than being rude, it could be that you caught them at an awkward moment, or something unexpected just happened that they need to tend to. 

When you see these non-verbal cues, don’t assume, instead, check to make sure this is a good time because they might be worried about cutting things off depending on the circumstances. 

For example, perhaps they know you’ve been going through a difficult time lately and they don’t want you to think they don’t care, or perhaps the conversation’s been planned for ages and they feel terrible to cancel or change things at the last minute. 

Whatever the situation, it’s in everyone’s interest that you read the cues and address the situation. 

9. Not picking the right time 

Speaking of time, a communication mistake I see people make all the time is not picking the right moment. 

You’ve heard that timing is everything, in life as in conversation. If you’re trying to get someone to hear your point of view and understand your perspective, catching them off guard and in a hurry is not the way to go. 

And if you want to talk about something that’s been bothering you, a little heads up is always appreciated. 

Picking the right time to talk about things will have a huge impact on how the conversation goes, as well as the outcome. 

If you want to get a specific outcome, like a decision in your favor or some sign-off, it’s probably best if the other person is in an open-minded and receptive mood.

Avoid picking the moment when they just walked in the door from a bad day at work or when they’re just stepping out of a stressful meeting. Or even when they’re heading home for the day. 

Come to think of it, there are lots of times that are the wrong time! So be sure to avoid all of those. And approaching people when they’re hangry is at the top of the list of times to avoid.

10. Not being present 

Last but not least, one of the most common communication mistakes everyone makes these days is not being present. If you’re going to be in a conversation with someone, then be in the conversation. 

We’re all much more distracted today than we’ve ever been. Whether it’s a mobile notification, social media feed that we’re desperate to scroll or that amazing tune that just popped into your head, the one you’ve been trying to remember all day, the distractions are endless. 

This is what makes this such a cardinal sin. It’s hard to get anyone’s undivided attention, but giving it makes our interactions so much more worthwhile. 

So, as hard as it is, next time you feel the urge to check your phone, just this once, over dinner, focus on the person in front of you and really listen to what they’re saying. 

This way, they’re less likely to have to go over the same ground again. And who knows where the conversation might take you or what you’ll learn about yourself from not giving in to that instant, yet short-lived, gratification we get when we give in to distractions. 

I’m sure there are other communication mistakes that people make and I’d love to hear if there are any that I didn’t cover here!

Want to learn more about communication, why not check out this post on The Most Effective Communication Styles In The Workplace