By Greg Alcorn
Have you ever said something at work you wish you hadn’t? Sometimes you just blurt out the wrong words to another employee or a client. The first step in fixing common communication blunders on the job is to know what those blunders are. Then you can say something the smart way versus the dumb way.
Here are the biggest, most common verbal communication blunders:
Using Bad Bookends
The biggest blunder is starting and ending what you say with the wrong phrasing. Conversation bookends are the small comments or questions just before or right after a full statement or request for action. Learn to be better with your starting and ending bookends. Presentence bookends as a tool can be engaging, demeaning, or distracting.
Names are great bookends. Starting a sentence with the name of the person you are talking to warms up that person. “Mary, may I put you on hold?” Saying your name last in your introduction makes it easy for the person you are talking with to remember your name. “This is the helpline. My name is Jack.”
Starting with the Wrong First Words
Are you familiar with the term “getting off on the wrong foot”? Conversations have first impressions, and they begin with your first three words. Hint: one of the words should be the other person’s name. Using names is important when speaking on the phone, especially on conference calls. Conference call principle number one is that if you’re going to call on somebody, start with their name. Instead of saying, “What were the metrics on our operations yesterday, Frank?” ask the right way: “Frank, what were the metrics on our operation yesterday?”
If you don’t start with the name, you might catch the person by surprise. It certainly catches people’s attention when you say their name first.
Not Choosing Your Words Well
The words you choose paints a picture for the listener. Your words express your attitude and your personality. Keep it positive. Don’t start a sentence with the word no.
Even in introductions, you can’t go wrong with saying the person’s name first. A person’s name followed by “I need your help” is a winner. “Rachel, I need your help.” This is especially powerful in a situation in which you might be the boss and the other person might be a manager or you might be in a perceived superior position.
Poor Questions and Bad Listening
Meaningful questions always stay on subject, keep a conversation moving forward, and ensure that the other person feels heard and understood. Becoming a better listener is easier than you might think. It starts by committing to master the skill and making an active choice to listen. Ask good questions and then really listen. This is the “two ears and one mouth” principle.
Making it all about you is a turnoff for others. This is not a technique; this is an attitude. The best way to describe a benefit is to describe the feeling received. “I came by as soon as I heard you lost the sale; I’m sad.” Your fellow employee can recognize the extra effort and surely appreciates the sentiment. It’s a powerful sentence: a special visit, a sense of urgency, and a sincere feeling. Empathy shows feelings.
The Wrong Tone
People feel more comfortable with pleasant, variable tone quality. Voice tone consists of rate, pitch, and volume. Think tone and don’t drone. The tone of our voice helps others to hear our empathy.
The rate, pitch, and volume of our statements of empathy help express feelings. Usually, but not always, we hear implied empathy when somebody slows down speech and lowers the pitch and volume.
Say “I’m sad to hear that you lost the supermarket account,” and I’ll bet you will automatically say it slow and low. The same with excitement at the opposite end of the spectrum. Say “Team, we won the hotel account!” You can’t help but say it fast, high, and loud. Tone expresses empathy.
Not Diffusing Difficult Drama
Avoid stressful conversations, or drama, by mastering word selection, listening, and questioning skills. Drama can be inevitable, however. You can defuse most stressful situations when you apply the three Rs: recognize, restate, and reassure.
Ask others: “What would you like to see happen?” Those are seven magic words that can defuse difficult drama. Speech is just a tool, like electricity, is a tool. And like any tool, words can help or harm. Electricity can cook a meal, or it can burn dinner. Words can turn people on or turn people off.
Nobody wants to say dumb things, but we all do. The first step toward reducing the number of dumb things you say is to know what the dumb things are. Then don’t say them—say something smarter.
Verbal communication expert Greg Alcorn, CEO of Global Contact Services of Salisbury, North Carolina, is the author of 7 Dumb Things We All Say. He speaks to thousands of people each year on improving verbal communication at work. His company has one thousand employees and averages thirty thousand customer service conversations every day. GCS, which Alcorn founded in 2001, serves retail, insurance, financial, and government clients.