Wednesday, May 25, 2022

It has been my observation that many people overrate their ability to communicate. “Excellent communication skills” is often listed near the top of a job requirement list. If I polled an audience of 100 and asked “How many of you have excellent communication skills?” almost all hands would go up. This is based on self-overrating and the overall social desirability of that response. But it is totally subjective and no one wants to essentially declare “I am anti-social” publicly. It is my belief that since this is so subjective, excellent communications skills might just as well not be included on the list.

In the digital age, the way we communicate involves old-fashioned use of telephones, conventional letter writing, and oral presentations, as well as social media and other constantly changing cutting-edge apps to make it easier to “reach out and touch someone.”

I know many professionals and “regular” people who know what to say as well as when and how to say it, and I have gleaned much from interacting with them and paying attention to their pointers. Some of those who excel in this area are “naturals,” who grew up in articulate and highly literate surroundings. Others were not predisposed towards excellence, but developed themselves into sharp communicators. This ability to communicate well manifests at every level: whether you are on radio, TV, making a presentation, or dealing with people one-on-one.

It is somewhat painful to deal with those who have more trouble expressing themselves, by whatever means. Below are some examples of areas that need some work. Most of the people who need to pay attention to these issues are the millennials, but everyone needs to be aware that across the board, some of these things can prevent you from getting the job you wanted. The point is to enhance awareness and lead to more effective and crisp communication. The first step in improvement is self-awareness. This might start with listening to a recording of yourself and making a mental note of what your speech patterns are and what your fillers and clichés are.

1. When you send an email to reach out for information or assistance, it matters if you say please and thank you. Put a please near the top, and end with a thank you. Don’t overdo it. When the person sends you what you asked for, send back thanks or thank you and do not be over-effusive. Obviously, more extensive requests for assistance should come with a commensurate expression or even a token of appreciation.

2. Don’t use clichés and fillers. Tired phrases like “at the end of the day,” “jump on the bandwagon,” “yada yada yada” do not serve the message. Just say what you have to say.

3. Fillers—non-verbal sounds like ums, and throat clearing—are used to close gaps or pauses. “You know, like when you are searching for the correct word”…do not use “you know, like when…” Millennials do this and they also use the word “So…” when beginning a thought. So is a transition word and is most appropriately used in the context of a logical conclusion only after other information has been presented.

4. Put a subject line on your emails. It can make the difference between your email reaching its target or going to spam (many filters will block subject-less messages. Plus, a subject line provides context and helps keep threads organized. Then there is the “recycling trap.” That is when you forget someone’s email address, search on the name, and reply to an email with a subject line from four years ago. Not good form. Copy the email address and pasted it into a new email.

5. Up-speak (or up-talk): Up-talk is when the pitch of a person’s voice rises at the end of a sentence or phrase. The result is a thought being conveyed as a question mark. Therefore, it comes across as less than definitive statement. This is not a good idea especially when you are introducing yourself and appear unsure of the autobiographical information you are expressing.

6. Common grammar blunders: There are many from which I might be able to choose. Ostensibly they should apply equally to writing and oral communication, but some tend to be more prevalent in one or the other modality. I will point out two here:

“Please see Darla or myself after the interview.” The correct word should have been “me” which is an object pronoun. The word myself is a reflexive pronoun and should only be used in limited cases. For instance, in a scenario where you are already in the picture, the reflexive pronoun is appropriate in context. “I hurt myself” or “I decided to print out the document myself” would be correct.

“A company has to make sure that their advertising campaign is relevant to potential customers.” This is an issue of old-fashioned agreement. The word should be “its advertising campaign.”

Proper grammar will always make you look good. And one way to improve one’s writing is to look at what Microsoft Word has marked up for you, and making the necessary changes.

7. In today’s mobile phone age, we are reachable wherever we might be. When taking a business call be sensitive to where you are and what someone else might hear. This would ostensibly also apply to calls to and from landlines where the other party can hear kids fighting in the background. Whether you are initiating a business call or receiving something which might be important, please move to an uninterrupted space. Other options are letting it go to voicemail or offering to call back from a quiet place.

8. Pardon the interruption: Have you ever been at an event, you are engaged in a conversation, and someone intrudes to speak to either the other party or you? When the person leaves, you often find yourself asking, “Where were we?” in resuming your conversation. So, when you are in the other position, it is best to just wait quietly, maintain your distance as to not appear as if you are eavesdropping, and then find a pause to make your move. Such politeness demonstrates your patience and reflects well on you professionally.

Elly D. Lasson, Ph.D., SPHR is a commentator on issues related to careers, employment, and job search. He has appeared recently on the Nachum Segal Network and other general media outlets. He studied in Yeshivas Ner Yisrael (B.T.L.) and earned his B.A. in Psychology from UMBC as well as his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Organizational Psychology from Wayne State University.

By Elly D. Lasson, Ph.D., SPHR

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