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5 Communications Mistakes You Should Avoid At Work

We’ve all been there. You’re presenting a new idea to colleagues or clients or talking to your boss or Board.

And you find yourself tongue-tied or rambling; later you kick yourself for not putting your best foot forward. While many companies focus on “career development,” very few highlight how best to effectively communicate in the workplace. Even when experts do share communications tips, they often don’t acknowledge the significant differences in the way men and women communicate.

So, what to do? Here are a few tips that work.

Master the art of self-promotion

Talking about your accomplishments at work is critical yet so many women are not comfortable doing it. It’s important we understand there is a stark difference between self-promotion and arrogance.

“It’s tricky for women to talk about our accomplishments and our abilities for a few reasons,” Tara Mohr explained to Goop. The author and career coach says that “good girl conditioning” teaches us to never do anything that could come across as “full of ourselves.” In addition, young girls learn how to excel as students, but that strategy doesn’t always transfer well to the workplace. “In school, we get used to doing heads down, quiet, quality work without ever having to talk it up. In the workplace, the rules change.”

If you struggle with self-promotion, try this – think of your accomplishments as “wins” that can help others on your team. In other words, think about how your accomplishments can be of service to others. As I tell my clients (and studies back this up) once you focus on purpose, it changes the way you perceive your own words. And it will be easier to talk about your accomplishments if you perceive them as part of a larger goal and not just simply self-serving.

Stop self-sabotaging

Have you ever been on a Zoom call or in a meeting and an idea comes to mind? And you timidly lean in and say, “I know this may be a dumb idea but…”

This is what I call a social safety net – and many of us use them. But we must stop! Sure, it’s an easy way to cushion the potential blow; if others don’t like your idea, you simply nod along agreeably as if you knew from the start that it was a no-go. But beginning a thought this way predisposes your audience to think negatively. They know you have no conviction in your idea so why should they? If you state your well-thought-out ideas confidently, trusting your own abilities and judgment, others will perceive you, and your ideas, with credibility.

Dump the crutch words

Crutches, or fillers, are those pesky little words we often use but aren’t even aware we’re using them. Think of words like “and,” “well,” “so” and “you know,” and also simple sounds like “ah,” “um” and “er,” says Shivani Divecha. The LinkedIn branding expert says that even the words “literally,” “actually” and “basically” are fillers. Also be on the lookout for phrases like “to be honest” (you weren’t before?), “frankly” (ok, only now are we getting the real scoop?) or, my new favorite as you begin a conversation, “” (which is it?). All these words and phrases rob you of credibility.

While filler words can easily become habit, that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with them forever. It’s helpful to record yourself speaking so you can see what filler words you use and what triggers you to use them. Often the problem is we are not well prepared; that’s when they sneak in because we feel uncomfortable. So never “wing” a presentation or even a discussion. Have an outline in your head and practice the conversation aloud so you feel more comfortable. We also often use fillers because we’re afraid of dead air – so we throw meaningless words in to fill it. Remember, it’s perfectly fine to have pauses in your speech. In fact, I often recommend that my clients purposefully add pauses – the amount of time it takes to tap your foot – so your presentation seems measured, intentional and well thought out.

Practice your ending

When communicating at work, we tend to focus a lot of time and mental energy on how we are going to start a speech, a question or even a response to a question. But we often ignore the ending. There are few things more uncomfortable, however, than listening to someone ramble, struggling to find an eloquent way to wrap it up. It often can diminish the great presentation you’ve just made.

Before you start your speech, raise your hand to ask a question or begin your response, give thought to the order in which you will present your ideas and, importantly, how you will finish. Between the introduction and conclusion, make sure you have clearly stated your bottom line – what do you want your audience to take away from the conversation? And don’t forget “the ask” – what do you want them to do with your information? Then conclude with a well prepared ending. Finishing your talk confidently and concisely makes it more enjoyable for your audience to listen, and even easier for them to remember and take action.

Dress to progress

I’ve written before about the importance of power dressing. The goal is twofold; to feel confident in what you’re wearing and to stand out in the crowd. If you’re going to be in a boardroom full of men in dark suits, or on a stage in front of a dark background, consider wearing a dress or power suit in a vibrant color, deep jewel tone or soothing neutral. The power color of 2023 was red, or Viva Magenta as the color experts at Pantone declared. This year’s Pantone Color of the Year is called Peach Fuzz and sits on the color wheel between pink and orange.

If you’re sitting on a stage, and are wearing a dress or skirt, be mindful of the length. Having to keep your legs crossed, constantly adjusting your position in the chair or pulling at your hem will distract you and chip away at your confidence. And remember, your tailor is your best friend. Ill-fitting clothes can be bothersome and distract you from your presentation. Anything that distracts—detracts.

Try out these tips —- and see what a difference a focus on good communications can make.

Jane Hanson, Bentley Lewis Advisor

Learn more about Bentley Lewis

*Original Article: ForbesWomen by Jane Hanson