December 5, 2013

How Language Sabotages Workplace Communications

Shy sad businessman with his alter ego shouting at him

Language is a funny thing. A given order of words can mean different things to different people depending on how those words are delivered. How you are presenting yourself through language may also be undermining your efforts to appear professional and self-confident. If you’ve ever ended uncertain statements with the hint of a question mark or began a constructive critique with a preemptive “I’m sorry, but…” you know what I mean.

What you may not know is that you may be hurting your chances for promotion or in otherwise getting ahead in your career. Why? Because you are communicating in a wishy-washy way, which makes you appear to lack authority and reeks of uncertainty. Take a look at the following common communication mistakes so that you can keep them in check at work.

1. Transforming statements into pseudo-sentences unsurprisingly makes you seem unsure about what you are saying and can lead to your listener wondering if you are fishing for approval and just trying to say what he or she wants to hear. Once everything you say starts coming out sounding like a question, you’ve lost control of the conversation. The trick to this problem is to get behind whatever you have to say before your self-doubt begins to derail the conversation. Make sure you understand your arguments or beliefs before you start your presentation. Once you know that what you are saying is backed up by facts, you can present your case with confidence and retort with reasoned responses should you be challenged.

2. A common sub-conscious conversation faux pas occurs when you apologize for things that are not your fault or when an apology is not an appropriate response. Of course, there are always situations where an “I’m sorry” is necessary, but taking the blame for events that were not your fault only makes you appear meek. Similarly, apologizing before delivering valid criticisms has no positive effects. In a way, you are taking the responsibility for the fault of others when you should be placing it where it belongs. Bottom line: Drop the unnecessary apologies. They aren’t softening your delivery or making anyone feel better, but they are making you appear to lack confidence.

3. On the fence can be a dangerous position in the workplace. Sometimes others will want your recommendation in making important decisions, and if you aren’t willing to make a case for one choice you can seriously undermine your credibility. You should never seek to be seen as the person who always plays it safe and never makes final decisions. This has the effect of making you appear weak-willed and a crowed follower. Instead, when you are asked for a recommendation, pick your answer and stick to it. Even if you end up changing your mind in the end, at least your reputation will be one of strong stances, not of weak acquiescence.


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Joshua Bjerke, from Savannah, Georgia, focuses on articles involving the labor force, economy, and HR topics including new technology and workplace news. Joshua has a B.A. in Political Science with a Minor in International Studies and is currently pursuing his M.A. in International Security.