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6 Bad Communication Habits That Harm You

Communication — it’s what life is about. It’s what all interactions are about. Poor communication with your clients can lose the project. Poor communication with family and friends can create huge gulfs — broken relationships.

For something that we do all the time you would think we’d be awesome at communicating. Sadly we make so many mistakes. These mistakes harm our communication since communication is only successful if the person on the other end actually understands what we’re trying to say.

If you can avoid these mistakes you will improve your communication skills and thus your relationships.

6 Bad Communication Habits That Harm You

Assuming malice

“Never assume malice where ignorance could be the answer.”

It’s time to start living by those words with the people around you. Do you really think that your friend intentionally was rude to you last night? After 10 years of knowing each other they made a choice to be mean?

I didn’t think so, but why are you angry. It’s because you assumed malice in their actions even if it was an unconscious assumption.

It’s likely they didn’t realize their tone was rude and if they knew you were mad they’d say sorry. Sit down and talk with them about it and clear the air. Start with the assumption they didn’t realize and keep that relationship strong.

Simply waiting for your turn to speak

We love to tell stories about ourselves. We love to tell stories that make us feel important even if they aren’t about us. The thing is that much of the time the stories we tell are really just a contest to see who has the ‘winning’ story of the moment.

Your friend caught a big fish, you know a guy that caught a bigger one. Then they have a story about a crazy fishing day, and you have a crazier one. So the loops go as you each wait your turn to tell a story that stumps the other person.

Yes these story swapping times can be fun. You’ll laugh at the ridiculousness of some of the stories as you recount getting in to trouble but they miss something so much deeper as you simply wait for your turn to tell a bigger and better story.

What the people around you really want is to be heard. They want to tell their story and have you ask questions. You can tell they’re done when they start asking you questions. Learn to wait for that and you’ll find much deeper communication happens.

Choosing your words poorly

“Hey we’re here to learn how to sell better which means we make more money. Money is what it’s about right. It’s not like we’re saving dolphins or anything.”

In The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Anchor he tells that story just before he speaks about happiness. With the words above the manager told the people in the room that their job isn’t actually meaningful, like saving dolphins would be. You’ll be able to measure the decrease in performance from that team for months.

A single set of poorly chosen words can kill a potential deal with a prospect. Poor words can create a gulf with friends that will take months to close.

Choose your words carefully. People want to be doing something valuable. They want to be seen as important and they want to be cared for. When you say anything that implies they aren’t those things to you, you’re undermining the relationship and possibly causing harm that will take a long time to repair.

But it’s just how I am

“But that’s just how I talk”

I’m sure you’ve heard that from an acquaintance. I say acquaintance because you never dug in to the relationship more. They were simply rude.

Saying that your communication style is ‘just how you are’ is an excuse for poor behaviour. We’re all capable of learning to communicate more effectively. Stop making excuses and start learning to communicate with others better.


You know that multitasking is terrible for you. It decreases your focus and makes sure that you do 5 tasks poorly instead of one well. Why do you do it when you’re having coffee with someone? In the middle of dinner you pull out your phone just to check on things and all this does is show disrespect for the person you’re talking to. They’re not important enough to hold your attention.

A strategy my wife and I use is to simply trade phones for the night. The babysitter can still get in touch with us but neither of us can really check anything because we don’t have our phones.

When it comes to meetings with clients put that phone or laptop away. Pull out a paper notebook and take your notes there. Taking notes on paper has been shown to increase the retention of the material so use this to your advantage and keep your electronics away and focus on your client.

Keeping your devices away when your meeting with someone will build the relationship of trust?

Avoiding conflict

Conflict is hard, that’s why it’s called conflict. Many of us want to simply have relationships that are easy. As soon as we need to expend effort we want to go hid.

Even with those really close to us, we avoid conflict. Instead of addressing an issue head on as soon as it crops up we pretend the disagreement didn’t happen. That conflict is still there when you wake up the next day. All you’re doing is giving it time to turn into something bigger as you add more minor slights on top of the ‘hidden’ issue. It won’t go away if left long enough, it will explode in to something 100 times bigger than it was.

I had a client last year and we both weren’t happy with how things were going. We actually didn’t like working together and we were both thinking of walking away. Then we had a phone call and spent 20 minutes talking about the issues. Both of us left the call happy and this single client yielded 20% of my revenue last year. All it took was 1 slightly painful call where I dug in to the issues and we came up with a plan to move forward.

With your clients make sure you air any issues as soon as possible. With your important relationships schedule time to simply talk. Let them know up front what you want to talk about and spend time investing in the relationship so it can be stronger.

Final thoughts

We all want to be heard and deep down we want to hear those around us. The only way we can do this is to reduce the mistakes we make when communicating. By using these tips you can have better communication with you clients and your peers and in the relationships around you.

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