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  • Writer's pictureJilian Houghton

Communication Killers: Phrases to Avoid if You Want to be a Good Communicator

We recently gathered for a quick team huddle about this week’s projects. As we did a rundown of projects, tasks and timelines, one team member used the phrase:

“Well, obviously you need to….”

To the team member’s credit they only got out a few more words beyond those initial two before trailing off and realizing their mistake. They had used one of the infamous conversation killer phrases that can lead to annoyance at best and at worst wedges are created over time.

We all have our own lens or paradigm through which we view the world. It makes us unique, creative, innovative and productive. But it can also lead to us making assumptions, judgments, and mistakes when interacting with our coworkers. Unfortunately we often project that lens onto others inadvertently through key conversation phrases that we lovingly refer to as: conversation killers. These conversation stopping phrases come out when we consider our thinking to be the only way of thinking and we inevitably diminish the team’s ability to communicate and connect which quickly reduces productivity and efficiency.

My favorite quote when trying to convey just how critical effective communication is in any workplace is:

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. -George Bernard Shaw

This is a well worn quote for all of us. We use it in our trainings, coaching and wedge removal. And to be honest, we will even reference it in the office because effective communication is something we all have to be constantly fine tuning and working on. All too often we don’t realize the way we’re projecting our paradigms onto others; we cannot be a productive unit if we don’t communicate effectively.

Here is a quick (though not comprehensive) list of some serious conversation killing statements:

1. Don’t you think….?

While this one isn’t quite as offensive as others might be, it is a leading question. The person receiving this questions is left feeling like they are supposed to agree or risk some serious unpleasantness by not validating the speaker’s thoughts.

2. You’re overreacting.

Really any commentary to someone’s emotional response in a given situation is probably not a great idea. Unless the person is taking out their emotional response on you, it’s best to allow them their own feelings and experience. Validation is key in connection. You don’t have to agree with them, but validating someone else’s thoughts, feelings and experiences helps them feel seen and valued.

3. You’re being too sensitive/get thicker skin

There are many variations to delivering this message and they all kind of feel the same when on the receiving end–invalidating and isolating. You’re left feeling like you don’t matter on the team and you don’t get a say in what your workplace culture looks and feels like.

4. There is only one right way to do that.

Every once in a while there may be only one way to do something whether that be due to compliance or procedural restraints. That information can and should be conveyed as part of a positive coaching and educational experience for the team rather than condemning their initiative to try something new. However, if those limitations don’t exist then let’s be open to the reality that there are any number of ways to solve a problem. And while experience, knowledge and our paradigm may be telling us we’re “right”, we can be open to other ideas.

5. Everyone knows that…

This fun phrase can also have fun qualifiers attached to it like:

Everyone knows that the best

Everyone knows that at work we…

All add up to some form of leading all other conversation participants to realize that they must comply with this thinking or they’re out of loop, ignorant, or foolish.

You can also classify words that dismiss differing opinions to this category of phrasing. Words like “obviously” imply that you’re not open to discussion or other thought patterns. Workplaces are made up of so many different people from varying generations, cultures, and backgrounds. All of this shapes our work expectations. However, we cannot get caught in the trap of projecting that personal lens onto everyone around us. We will miss out on opportunities to learn, grow, connect, and develop as leaders.

It can be easy to look at this list and start to roll your eyes, or feel like people need to just let the little things go. But think about what more open communication provides? It allows ALL team members to be heard, it creates buy-in from everyone, an almost tangible synergy and efficiency, and ultimately leads to a culture of innovation and inclusion.

Workplaces allow us to associate with people we may never have had the chance to get to know otherwise. In our modern workforce teams span generations, continents, and cultures. We have the chance to communicate in powerful ways that not only increase productivity but belonging and connection. So next time you find yourself ready to ask that very leading question, or you want to roll your eyes at the ridiculous solution proposed, pause for a moment and ask yourself:

Am I going to be a conversation killer?

If you want to fine tune your team's communication and conflict resolution skills feel free to reach out to one of us and we can brainstorm solutions for your workplace relationship challenges with you.

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