Communications knowledge is like a map, helping you progress along the road of everyday business. With it, the ride will be smooth and fast, but without, and you’ll find a whole load of pitfalls and traps to hinder and slow your progress.

Many communications pitfalls are easily avoidable however, and being aware of them will help you navigate rocky landscapes. After all, once you know about the bumps in the road you’ll spot and swerve them easily, and reach your desired communications destination a whole lot quicker.

1. Poor proofing

You’ll have heard this a thousand times before, but the fact remains; ineffective proofreading makes communications appear unprofessional.
And though everyone’s made them, silly mistakes such as the incorrect use of you’re and your, or the wrong instance of homonyms (words which sound the same, but are spelt differently), can damage message effectiveness. For improved communications quality:

  • Write slower. Rapidly churning out quantity to the detriment of quality should be avoided. Even if you’re pressed for time, writing in a considered, well-sourced manner is better than producing shoddy, error-filled communications.

  • Practice writing quickly. If you must write speedily (taking notes for example), practice until you can do so error-free.

  • Improve your proofreading skills. Anything written should be well proofed to communicate competency. Check and double check (triple check very important things) to revise errors.

  • Use someone else’s proofreading skills. Humans, unlike spellcheckers, review work in context, so are much better at noticing typos and grammatical errors. Because of this, it’s worth asking a fresh pair of eyes to proof important communications such as letters or proposals.

2. Drifting off topic
Even if you’ve a great professional relationship with the person you’re communicating with, remember you’re interacting in a time-restrictive setting. So communications – in all forms – should be pleasant but precise, clear and concise. Say you want to arrange a meeting. Invitations which bury details under chatty ramblings will not achieve much; their key points are difficult to extract, and may be misunderstood.

3. Becoming lost in the realm of email
Most day-to-day communication depends largely on email, yet swathes of professionals still use it ineffectively. Mistakes to avoid include:

  • Poor organisation. A tidy inbox is an efficient one – poor organisation leads to late, scatty and ineffective communications. From correct filing, to organising contacts and synching calendars, developing good mail habits improves productivity and response times. (Plus being able to quickly track important email chains when necessary makes you look more professional!)

  • Ignorance of basic features. A surprising number of people are unaware of how to use basic email functions. From knowing the difference between  ‘To’, ‘Cc’ or ‘Bcc’ (for sending to secondary, visible ‘carbon copy’, or invisible ‘blind carbon copy’ recipients) to mastering basic rules of business email etiquette (such as what to forward, or how and when to respond); small touches will enhance the professionalism of communications. Learn how to set out of office responses, filter new messages, and add signatures to your messages for an improved professional image.

  • Clumsy usage. Proofing should not be an exercise restricted to email copy. Once you know your way around an inbox, you can avoid stupid mistakes like mailing too many, or the wrong people. Always check recipients, include concise, clear subject headers, and If using attachments, know upload size limits so you don’t overload other people with excessive files.

  • Badly written content. From over-long, to badly proofread text, poorly written emails restrict action efficiency. Keep business communications clean (language wise), polite but not overly casual, and never write anything which may affect you negatively in the future: derogatory comments about colleagues or partners can resurface in the wrong places all too easily.

  • Not knowing when to transcend to other communications. Unless instructions are direct and actions clear, it’s easy to bounce back and forward in a chain of unproductive mailing and response waiting. Knowing when to just pick up the phone (or talk face to face!) saves time and money, and can be a lot more personal and inspiring than disconnected messaging.

4. Lack of understanding
Lack of understanding is detrimental to all parties concerned. For example, if you don’t fully understand something, how do you expect to effectively communicate it to your audience? Before making presentations, writing reports, meeting with partners or clients etc, ensure you fully comprehend the subject, objectives or actions at hand, and if in doubt, ask! Your colleagues will be happy to clarify things sooner rather than later!

In line with this, always check that audiences have also understood your communications. Repeat key points, openly welcome questions, and never assume listeners automatically understand everything you say! Just because a subject is clear to you, does not mean it will be to everyone else, especially if you use specialist or technical language.

Remember, communication is a two-way process. Listening to, and observing your audience as well as instructing them allows you to gauge their comprehension.

5. Cultural confusion 
Business communications are now a regularly international affair, so understanding cultural differences and preferences can help you avoid cross-cultural communications blunders and misunderstandings.

Problematic aspects of communication when addressing international audiences include:

  • Non-verbal communications. Appearance, body language and even gestures may be interpreted differently by multinational audiences, and if used wrongly could cause offence, or prevent messages from having quite the right impact.

  • Language barriers. These present the most obvious communicative hurdle, but are easily solved through translation.

  • Use of colloquialisms. Certain phrases mean certain things to unique audiences. Colloquialisms, if taken literally, can be incomprehensible to foreign audiences, so try to limit their usage for better clarity. Asking someone if they “want a lift to next Tuesday’s meeting” for example, or stating that “you’re going to hit it out of the park!” could cause some confusion otherwise.

Alastair is a freelance writer working on behalf of Communicaid, a communication skills consultancy offering business writing courses. For more information visit our website