Fix these communication mistakes to stay on target

One of the most valuable tools leaders have for driving results and improving performance is conversation. Your conversation can either grow your business or slow your business.

This post offers three examples of ineffective communication skills and what you can do to improve your communication so that your conversations drive performance. 

1. Stream of consciousness

If you’ve ever struggled to stay focused on a conversation, it’s likely because the conversation was boring, irrelevant or going in circles. For this reason, it’s important that leaders steer clear from unfocused stream of consciousness conversations. What is a stream-of-consciousness conversation? The conversation jumps around from subject to subject with little focus and no structure.

Why it’s Ineffective: The more you make employees work to understand your direction, the less likely they are going to give you good results.

How to improve: Before conversing with employees do some prep work and clearly define your end result -- out loud and to yourself. For example: By the end of this conversation, I want the team to complete the paperwork for the project and offer three possible solutions with price points for redesigning the client’s front lobby.

If your conversation includes a meeting, start with a clear agenda and stick to it. Whether your conversation is a one-on-one or a group meeting, start your conversation by stating your end result. End your conversation by reiterating your end result and putting dates on the calendar for follow-up.

2. Stuck on process

Confusion often occurs when you start the conversation talking about the process before defining the vision. I call this habit “getting stuck on the rock called HOW.”

For example, I was doing a facilitation for a client and realized that the room needed to be set up differently. Before defining my desired end result, I started talking about how to move the tables. Fortunately, an assertive colleague said, “Tell me your end result, then we can figure out how.”

Why it’s ineffective: It wastes time to talk about how before you have defined and agreed upon the end result. 

How to improve: Think about what you want to accomplish first, then how to do it second. Getting into the “what-first-who-second” habit will save you a lot of time and make your communication clearer. Once people have a vision, the process seems to fall into place much easier.

3. Lack of follow-through

Ideas are exciting in the beginning, but if there isn’t an end date, the project gets pushed to the back. Although the job has been delegated, it’s up to the leader to be the completer. The biggest challenge I see is failure to use the calendar effectively.

Why it’s ineffective: Dropped balls means re-work, frustration and possibly lost customers.

How to improve: When you assign a project, make sure you put dates on your calendar as checkpoint reminders. If you use Outlook, you can also put your benchmarks in the notes section. Ask the employee to do the same. Now that your calendars are aligned, it’s easier to keep the project on point. Many leaders and employees overlook this detailed action because it takes time. However, if done effectively, these calendars will maximize your time and help you avoid overwork.

Conclusion: High-level conversations create high level results. The better and more efficient the conversation, the higher the effectiveness and productivity.


Marlene Chism is a consultant, international speaker and the author of "Stop Workplace Drama" (Wiley 2011), "No-Drama Leadership" (Bibliomotion 2015) and "7 Ways to Stop Drama in Your Healthcare Organization. Visit her at and Connect via LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

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