Intelligent, qualified, capable women sometimes kill their professional credibility by communicating in a way that doesn’t align with their expertise.
Mastering effective written and verbal communication in the workplace is a must.
Knowing and avoiding major communication pitfalls can be one of the most straightforward steps to making a big career difference. Here’s what you need to stop doing now.
1. Relying on Filler Words.
So, unfortunately, let’s just, like, honestly talk about something that’s seriously a real problem for professionals.
Read that sentence out loud and you’ll hear the filler words, verbal crutches that diminish anything important you are trying to say, whether that is in a meeting, in an email, or on stage. Zero-calorie words make it longer to get to the point, distract from what’s important and do more harm than good, implying inexperience and hurting credibility.
Your job is to convey your points in a concise, confident manner that demands attention.
Please save the word ‘unfortunately' for natural disasters or when the information you’re conveying is literally unfortunate. If something is actually or honestly true, just say it’s true. Resist the urge to start a sentence with ‘so' and get to it. It’s OK to pause mid-sentence and form your following words. Silence can feel (and sound) scary, but embracing comfort in a pause echoes louder than your ‘like's. With practice, you’ll leave the fillers behind. One of my early career wins was secured because the hiring manager was impressed with how I didn’t use ‘um' during our conversation.
2. Over Apologizing
The only thing that makes you sorry is when you use “I’m sorry” when there is nothing to apologize for. It's cringe-worthy when women apologize on calls if they were late to join, when a client reacted negatively to news, or responded to an email about a project mishap. All understandable situations, but they weren’t exactly ‘sorry' material.
It's all about radical responsibility. If there is a time to be sorry or to be sorry on behalf of a company error, say it, but don’t say it if you aren’t.
Apologizing when you are not at fault can make women seem insecure, unsure of what to say, or over-concerned about being liked by others. Over-apologizing gives off vibes that you’re submissive and weak instead of confident and strong. Plus, if you’re saying it all the time, how do others know when you actually mean it? If you regret doing something and feel remorse, that calls for an apology. Late to a meeting or didn’t turn in your best work? That’s also an appropriate time to say sorry.
For everything else, there are a few tricks you can start using. One way to stop apologizing if you aren’t responsible is to validate how the other person is feeling. “Thank you for being patient. I’ve had a busy week.” sounds a lot better than “I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner.”
3. Not Being Prepared.
When discussing career communication pitfalls, being unprepared is one of the big missteps you can make. This is career time, not college, so you can’t always wing it in every meeting, especially when you’re speaking to an audience. And yes, I’m talking to you, people who read verbatim off their PowerPoint slides. If you have an idea to launch a new campaign, research it and share your findings and why you think it’s a good idea.
Focusing on preparation tells your audience that you value their time and care about the material you share. This doesn’t mean hours of practicing and memorizing your words but going into any situation knowing what you want to say. If it helps, jot down some high-level notes or bullet points that you can look at it to trigger what you plan to cover. And if you get into a subject and forget what you’re going to cover, take a breath and fake it until you catch your next thought. Do it confidently, and no one will be the wiser.
This use of certain vocal inflections stands out in a bad way. The most empowered, confident person on a call or in the room doesn’t come across that way if they’re speaking as if everything they say sounds like a question (aka uptalk).
There are linguistic differences in how each of us communicates, and it's not about normalizing women’s vocal patterns or shying away from inclusion. But you should feel comfortable saying what you need to without needing a voice. Speaking in a non-intelligible way comes across as insecure and can impede your trustworthiness.
5. Lack of Communication.
From checking in with clients to building new relationships and business to educating clients in presentations, communication is critical. Silence is death when it comes to career management. If you are working on a project, send detailed emails and put everything in writing to keep team members updated and spare the “what is happening with ___?” types of follow-ups.
Too many women feel like they are being “pests” or “bugging” management by speaking up when in fact, it’s the squeaky wheels that get the career grease. Silence can be a killer — a lack of communication can make or break relationships, hurt your bottom line, and leave clients unhappy or teams confused.
6. Replying All.
Quick netiquette point – a written communication pitfall that happens all the time is not knowing when to ‘Reply All'. You want to ‘Reply All' when you and your colleagues are on an email chain, and you need to share information to keep the larger group informed about updates.
When information is shared, you don’t want to leave people on a project out of the loop. It sucks to wait for a client to share their feedback on an email chain with your team. To you, it looks like they dropped the ball when, in fact, they replied directly to your colleague, who was in meetings most of the day, and things got dropped.
‘Reply All' doesn’t work, though, if two people can’t resolve an issue within a reply or two. Too often, a small group of coworkers will causally reply and start a conversation that can spiral into 50+ emails that are rabbit trails most of the chain doesn't need to read.
If you’re on an email thread and need to strategize with someone who will take some back and forth, Reply works best.
Communicate With Confidence
Now that you know where not to walk, it’s time to talk the talk and incorporate this information into your repertoire. Start refining your speaking proficiencies by saving your sorries. Swap out the filler words for the good stuff, and soothe your vocal fry.
And speaking of confidence, know that being nervous is NORMAL, and in fact, it actually boosts communication if you understand the psychology of it!
If you’ve never driven a car with a stick shift, there’s a sweet spot of easing off the brake while pressing the gas simultaneously that keeps you from stalling out. Similarly, when stress levels are elevated when stepping outside your comfort zone, it’s called optimal anxiety—and it’s your sweet spot to master when communicating.
Those little butterflies aren’t bad! It is a feeling that shows you care, and that you’re there to put your audience at ease. And the more you experience this feeling, the more you can use this heightened state to your advantage.
What you don’t want to happen is go too fast, let the excitement throw you off your game, or succumb to a nervous feeling.
Own the content and your role in the workplace. You are there for a reason. Speak confidently, and you’ll command the attention and respect you deserve.