Workplace Communication Rules (Part 2)

In the last post, we started discussing some key rules of communication including making your key points up front, presenting those important ideas slowly and clearly, and using proper pronouns.  Here are a few more rules of good workplace communication.

Don’t use wishy washy language.

“Maybe we could…”  “I think that perhaps” or “Umm, well…”  All kinds of verbal cues that express your uncertainty or hesitation will make you seem less confident, and less likely to be trusted. Speak distinctly, directly and without the qualifiers.  If you need to give qualifiers (I’m a lawyer, so I do this all the time), be specific and definitive about those, as well.

Don’t speak over people or cut people off.

Let others finish talking. Make sure they’re done conveying what THEY need to before you jump in and try to “help” or anticipate what they’re saying. I have to admit that I’m particularly guilty of this one.  Partly because I’m high energy, partly because I’m Latina (and we’re used to speaking over each other), and partly because I’m simply impatient.

But regardless of the reason, this is a horrible habit to get into in the workplace.  It is disrespectful and doesn’t allow others to tell you all they need to say.

So take a breath, and if you’re guilty of this one as I am, do little things to remind yourself to let someone finish speaking before you jump in.

When you mess up, own up to it, and say what you’re going to do differently.

When you have made a mistake in the workplace, the first thing to do is to own up, call it your own, and state precisely how you will address the situation, either now or in the future.

For example, if you didn’t tell your boss about a key client communication and she was asked about it by her superior, you can say “That was my mistake.  I’m very sorry about that.  Next time I’ll make sure you know about a similar type of issue promptly.  Is there anything else you want me to do to ensure that doesn’t happen again?”

Although you may have had an excellent reason not to tell your supervisor (you were told it wasn’t that big a deal, or you didn’t find out until 5 minutes ago), those are issues you can bring up later.  If you start with “explanations,” they sound like excuses.  Instead, own it and figure out how you can be proactive next time.  Once your boss knows it won’t happen again, she’ll be more amenable to hearing what really happened.

If in person, make eye contact.

When you are speaking with someone in person, make sure your body language and non-verbal cues show that you are paying attention and focused on the person you’re speaking with.  Nodding your head, leaning forward and smiling are also things that indicate this.

Often when we’re with someone who we perceive to be ‘above’ us, we may look down or away because either we’re intimidated or don’t want to take up ‘too much space.’  Similarly, with someone we perceive to be ‘beneath’ us, we may multi-task and not focus only on what they’re saying.

If you’ve begun to engage in conversation with a colleague, regardless of who they are, take the time to focus on what they have to say, and show that you are engaged and care about what they have to say.

This is important, also, because you want the same courtesy paid to you.

If on the phone, smile (and if in an important meeting, stand up).

On the phone, we often unknowingly give verbal cues about our engagement.  If you are making a phone presentation, and it’s important to come across strong, stand up while you’re talking.  No, they won’t see you, but they can ‘feel’ the change in the energy.

Likewise, when speaking with someone with whom you want to build rapport, make sure to smile as you’re speaking to them.  We can all hear a smile in someone’s voice.

If you follow these simple rules, you will avoid a number of problems, and get yourself heard!  The importance of communication cannot be overstated, and it’s about understanding on both sides.  If you work hard to make sure others understand you (and make it easy for them), while working hard to likewise understand others, you’ll be an invaluable resource in the workplace.

Aurelia Flores is Senior Counsel at a Fortune 500 company and former Fulbright Fellow who graduated from Stanford Law School. Her website,, offers stories of success, along with resources and programs focused on Latino empowerment.

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