4 Communication Mistakes to Avoid At All Costs

September 30, 2019

Communication mistakes to avoid at all costs in high stakes situations

High-stakes situations are the micro career-defining moments when every word counts. The people putting you on the spot have the power to alter the course of your professional life. 

“It can take a lifetime to build rapport, but it only takes a second to lose it,” explains Jenna Lange, in her course High-Stakes Communication.

To get the raise, the promotion, or buy-in for a project, you need to communicate quickly and clearly. But how do you do it under pressure?

The first step is to recognize and avoid these four mistakes.

4 Communication Mistakes to Avoid at All Costs—Especially in High-Stakes Situations

#1 Don’t tell people what they already know

In high-stakes situations, you need to get to the point ASAP. Do your best to get a sense of what they already know so you don’t waste time repeating information. 

Let’s take interviewing for example. The person conducting the interview has almost certainly reviewed your resume. So, when you get the classic, tell me about yourself, don’t run through a laundry list of previous roles.

Instead, craft a focused “message,” such as why your previous experience culminates in skills that make you a perfect fit for this new role. And be ready to share it quickly, in the first five minutes of the interview.

Use every question and opportunity to show your ability to provide insight and think creatively to achieve shared outcomes. 

#2 Don’t share too much information

A classic mistake when the pressure’s on is to over-share, but the key is to use as few words as possible to clearly and succinctly make your point. 

“Use the precious time they’re giving you to streamline the message and get to the point,” says Lange.

Easier said than done. You can hone this by practicing this type of communication at work. For big presentations or high-stakes meetings, prepare in advance by anticipating questions you’ll get asked and deciding how you’ll succinctly answer them. 

#3 Don’t go into the room doubting yourself

You may doubt yourself going into a big meeting or even providing your opinion but don’t.  People can feel that. 

Lange reminds us of a quote from the Buddha: “The mind is everything. What you think is what you become.” 

Overcome this by doing some mindset prep before your next big meeting or conversation. Lange says to visualize the situation and practice all of the worst-case scenarios and see the ways in which you can still succeed. When it’s time for the real moment, it’s like you’ve already done it. 

#4 Don’t get defensive

Picture this familiar scenario: a major project you’re heading up has gone sideways. And your boss wants an update. 

When the heat is on, especially around explaining a perceived mistake, it’s easy to get defensive. But don’t do it. 

Lange explains that a question doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong. It means your stakeholders don’t understand. “A question is an opportunity for connection,” she says. 

Choose to connectwith  two simple steps: 

  1. Show empathy. Put yourself in your boss’s shoes and consider his perspective. 

  2. Serve your audience. Give an honest answer to their valid question. 

As Marlene Chism writes in 9 Steps to Mitigate Your Big Work Mistake, you can’t control how your boss responds. You can only control how you communicate during the conversation.

Career-defining moments like these leave many people floundering. But with the right preparation, you can show up with quick thinking, clarity, and confidence.

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