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Communication dos and don’ts

Managers still spend a great deal of time communicating face to face, despite the proliferation of technology. However, because of technology, verbal communication skills sometimes take a backseat to written communication skills.

Nevertheless, how you say something can be as important as what you say. With this in mind, here are communication dos and don’ts.


Make sure your mood matches the message. Undoubtedly you have a lot going on, and your internal hard drive is processing it all at warp speed. This makes for an array of emotions that can be difficult to rein in, try as you might. Still, when you’re talking about a serious matter at work, you can’t be bubbling over with joy about your upcoming vacation. By the same token, when you’re trying to get your staff excited about office changes, you don’t want to project the sadness you’re feeling about a family member’s illness. Consider the message you’re delivering, and make sure you come across accordingly. Does this require becoming somewhat robotic? Perhaps. Professional? Definitely.

Choose appropriate words. Similarly, the message you’re conveying should dictate word choices. Good news can be delivered in a lighthearted way, and you can use words that are more casual and fun. Bad news, on the other hand, calls for greater sensitivity and a more carefully crafted message.

Pay attention to body language. Word choices matter, but so does body language. Pay attention to the basics, such as smiling, frowning, and folded arms. You don’t want to grin like a maniac when delivering bad news. At the same time, you don’t want to frown. Meanwhile, you do want to look happy when the news is good. Body language also includes all-important eye contact. Make the connection immediately and maintain it.

Engage with the audience. Whether it’s an audience of one, a group at a meeting, or an auditorium full of conference attendees where you are a presenter, remember the purpose of communication. Hint: It’s not to hear the sound of your own melodious voice. You want to make sure you’re reaching your audience. Ask for confirmation that your audience hears and understands what you’re saying. This might only require a “yes” or a nod of the head, but even such a simple reply will tell you that your audience is paying attention—and it will tell your audience that you care about connecting with them.

Be in the moment. You may have read about the movement toward mindfulness in business. In part, this requires being present and in the moment, which is a valuable business, career, and personal strategy. Allow yourself to fully focus on and engage in the task at hand, which in this case is communicating with your audience of one or more. You will do a better job, and achieve better results.

Focus on remaining accessible, even when the message is difficult. There is a tendency, especially when sharing difficult information, to separate yourself (the messenger) from the message. Do your best to fight this impulse. The more you own the message, the more accessible you remain to your audience; and the more accessible you are to your audience, the more likely they will hear—really hear—what you are saying. Accessibility speaks to authenticity, which is arguably an important leadership characteristic.


Rely too much on hand gestures. People who talk with their hands have a tendency to overdo the gesturing. All you have to do is watch a presidential candidate debate to see the difference between effective hand gestures and those that are destined for parody. If you know you use your hands too much, explore solutions to this problem. Try holding onto the desk or the podium when speaking. Or keep a notepad and pen in your hand. If addressing a group at a meeting, you might want to use a whiteboard. It will keep your hands busy and allow you to emphasize your points without physical gestures.

Rely too much on volume for emphasis. A monotone lulls people to sleep, so you do want to modulate your voice when speaking. Beware of excess, however. Again, watching presidential candidates will provide insight into what not to do. How do you feel when someone is always raising his or her voice in order to make a point? Do you feel like someone is shouting at you? Don’t shout at your audience.

Allow nervousness to manifest itself in nervous ticks. Try to catch yourself if you start exhibiting nervous behavior. You know the stuff: tapping a pen, playing with your hair, looking over the tops of people’s heads. Find a way to get centered. If, for example, you have a pen and paper handy, make a note. Take a drink of water. Or, pause and ask a question.

Confuse leadership with bullying. Communication is about connecting with people. Yes, you are the office manager and as such are charged with leading the office. Be careful, however, that you are leading and not bullying. People respond to—and respect—managers who, when communicating, share the why and what-for in a friendly manner, as opposed to dictating what has to be done, with or without an implied “or else.” Therefore, pay attention to how you deliver the message.

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