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The Most Common Communication Errors Made By Business Leaders (and How to Overcome Them)

Good communication with your employees is key to ensuring the effective operation of your business. Your staff will feel compelled to perform if they know the expectations before them. But when bad communication engulfs a company, it can be disastrous.

You’ll feel the effects of poor communication through errors, missed deadlines and a complete cluster of bad decisions. Keeping the lines of communication open with your staff can help them engage more. They will be more successful in their roles and with their responsibilities, while your company will reap the rewards with improved operations.

Below, 15 members of Forbes Coaches Council share the most common communication errors they’ve seen by leaders and how they’ve helped these individuals overcome the issues.

Fifteen members of Forbes Coaches Council share tips for overcoming common communication errors.


1. Deliver A Clear Message

There’s often a mismatch between what we say and what we think we’ve said. Strong communicators use these three principles: 1. Deliver a clear and concise message. Less is more. 2. Perception check — was the message interpreted correctly? 3. What’s missing? What’s next? Explore gaps using open-ended questions to uncover concerns. – Christine J. Culbertson (Boyle), Coach Christine: Building Business, Leaders and BIG Lives

2. Work More On Listening

Leaders are often known for their brilliant words, but eloquence is far less critical to leadership than being a keen listener who can find, notice and cultivate the brilliance and creativity of their team. Learning to focus less on what you’re about to say, and more on what you just heard and how to encourage more exchanges, will pay greater dividends than inspirational pronouncements. – Amie Devero, Amie Devero Coaching & Consulting

3. Clarify Your Message

Two of the biggest communication problems I’ve seen with both my coaching and workshop clients are waffling and being too abstract. Waffling can be easily managed by the “power of three,” which focuses on the three key points they want their listeners to remember. Being too abstract can be solved by adding practical examples and by using metaphors. – Gabriella Goddard, Brainsparker Leadership Academy

4. Tell Nothing But The Truth

The pressure to say the right things not only handcuffs potentially powerful messages, but it also discredits powerful leaders. If you truly want to connect and inspire, just be truthful. – Derrick Bass, Clarity Provoked

5. Understand Your Audience

One of the most common communication errors is speaking from your perspective rather than the listener’s. When you shift your communication style to first understand the key motives and values of your audience, you can then communicate using the right words, tone and phrasing that will unlock their ability to see and hear you. Shift your talk track from you to them for the best results. – Michela Quilici, MQ Consulting and Business Training Inc.

6. Set Clear Intentions

One common communication error I’ve seen many great leaders make is verbalizing a message with heavy emotion (e.g., anger, frustration or disappointment) without providing a clear understanding of their expectations going forward. I’ve helped clients improve their communication styles as leaders by guiding them to enter conversations with an aim to come to an agreement. It helps to collect and write down all your thoughts before addressing situations. – Lakrisha Davis, Lakrisha Davis & Co.

7. Be Brief, Be Brilliant And Be Gone

Some leaders communicate too much, and some communicate too little. Many leaders cannot break their jargon habits and express dismay when their instructions are misunderstood. Make it Sesame Street-style by being clear and direct. Avoid the use of jargon and acronyms. Finally, remember the three Bs: Be brief. Be brilliant. Be gone. Leave your audience wanting more, not less. – James Chittenden, Triumph Business Communications Inc.

8. Mind Your Body Language

A major component to communication is body language. If you’re slouching or frowning, you might be sending the wrong signals that detract from your message. What we say is only part of the equation. How we say it is critical to effective delivery. Work on your posture, eye contact and facial expressions to make sure your body language syncs with your communicated intent. – Erin Urban, UPPSolutions LLC

9. Omit Undermining Language

A communication mistake leaders make is adding unnecessary words or phrases to their communication. Speaking directly and clearly helps leaders display confidence and authority. I coach executives to omit undermining language (e.g., words and phrases like “actually,” “kind of,” “a little bit” and “sorry”). One way to increase awareness and improve is to ask a stakeholder to listen and provide feedback. – Karen Dee, Accendo Leadership Advisory Group

10. Pick Up The Phone

Technology has caused many leaders to attempt to address important issues via email versus verbal conversation. Although an email often provides important documentation, it can also create a greater misunderstanding through back and forth exchanges. I help clients develop their verbal communication skills so that they can have difficult conversations. – LaKesha Womack, Womack Consulting Group

 11. Remember Not Everyone Thinks Like You

Not everyone thinks, processes information or communicates in the same way. Not everyone shares the same core values and beliefs. When it comes to communicating, one size does not fit all. Don’t say much, but say it often, all over the place and in a hundred different ways. For Jedi status, encourage your leaders to ask this question: “So, in your own words, what did we just agree?” – Antonio Garrido, Absolute Sales Development

12. Act — Don’t React

The most common error in communication that I see leaders engage in is communicating when not in a clear, rational state of mind, which prevents them from attaining the outcomes they want to achieve. Whether frustrated, angry or experiencing physical pain, this is not the time to communicate. I have my clients develop an ingrained habit of taking a timeout to stabilize themselves prior to communicating. – Linda Zander, Super Sized Success

13. Don’t Make Assumptions

One of the biggest enemies of effective communication is assumption. It’s common to make our own conclusions based on our personal past experiences and, as a result, misinterpret what is being communicated to us. Instead of assuming that you know what the other person means and what is coming, it’s best to clarify. Repeat the message back in your own words, and ask if you understood correctly. – Masha Malka, The One Minute Coach

14. Stop Avoiding Difficult Conversations

A common communication error I’ve observed repeatedly in leaders I coach is avoiding difficult conversations until the situation is out of control. If an employee behaves in a manner that isn’t supportive of your team or organization’s goals, address it immediately and clearly articulate consequences of that behavior on the individual, team or organization. – Kimberly Jarvis, All Career Matters Inc.

15. Pause Before Answering

When you’re talking with someone and they’re either asking for advice or asking you a question, don’t answer right away. If you do, your answer will come across as the first thing that came to your mind. Instead, pause and rephrase the question to make sure the other person feels understood. Pause again, take a breath and then finally answer. Doing this shows that you really care about them as a person. – Ruben Gonzalez, Olympian Motivation

About Michela Quilici

International Business Growth Coach, Award-winning Marketing Strategist, Best-Selling Author, Speaker and Forbes Coaches Council. Known as a Business Navigator, Michela works with growth-minded business owners, service professionals and CEOs who want to ignite their businesses and accelerate growth, while building a business aligned to who they are.

She is passionate about creating roadmaps that ignite leaders to take inspired action to navigate their growth on purpose using strategy, systems and self-leadership, so they can get noticed, get clients and get profitable.