7 Popular Communication Myths Debunked

Ask every manager you know for their best communication tips and you’ll get a different answer. Of course, we all have different techniques and the best communicators know that different people react differently to different forms of communication.

However, there’s a lot of bad communication advice out there. With that in mind, here are 7 popular communication myths…. busted.

1. The proverbial “sh*t sandwich”

Even if you haven’t heard the term “sh*t sandwich” before, you’ve almost definitely experienced one. The (admittedly disgusting) phrase refers to the popular managerial device of delivering a piece of bad news between two “slices” of good news, typical in performance reviews.

The idea is that the good news, or praise, will soften the blow of the bad news, or criticism. The evidence, however, suggests otherwise…

For her research paper “Tell Me What I did Wrong”, University of Chicago professor Ayelet Fishbach asked half of her class to provide one-on-one feedback to the other half, suggesting that their performance was unsatisfactory and needed improvement. As it turned out, the feedback receivers interpreted the feedback as positive, thinking that they were performing well.

Fishbach concluded that the main problem was with the feedback being given, saying that the negative feedback “is often buried and not very specific”. In other words, trying to hide negative feedback among positive feedback actually renders it confusing and makes it difficult for feedback receivers to understand.

According to communication expert Steven Gaffney, the sh*t sandwich is more likely to upset your team than the criticism itself…

“The truth is, the “sandwich method” is so obvious that people immediately identify the strategy and feel manipulated.”

2. Tell jokes to engage people

Jokes are great… if you’re good at them. Unfortunately, most people aren’t comedic geniuses.

Remember that something you find funny could be considered offensive by one of your coworkers. Business writer, Jenna Goudreau considers “off-color” jokes to be one of the worst communication mistakes leaders can make…

“Telling inappropriate jokes makes people uncomfortable, revealing an inability to properly read the audience and environment.”

Also beware of using jokes to spice up your presentations. Speech coach and presentation skills trainer Dr Michelle Mazur believes using jokes in presentations can put you under too much pressure…

“Starting a presentation or conversation with joke puts a TREMENDOUS amount of pressure on you. If your joke flops, you face a room so silent you can hear the air conditioning whirring in the background or worse getting the pity laugh from the crowd.”

3. More communication is better

As with most things in life, quality of communication is more important than quantity.

Geoffrey Tumlin, author of Stop Talking, Start Communicating, believes that too much talking is the root of most of our communication problems…

“A distracted and overloaded communication environment is notoriously error-prone and is detrimental to meaningful connection. As a result, folks are communicating more, but not better, and their most important work and home relationships are suffering under the strain of increasing conversational errors.”

Tumlin recommends putting more focus into what you don’t say than what you do…

“The words you choke back, the fights you never start, and the pointless criticisms that never see the light of day will be the heroes of your personal and professional relationships. Paradoxically, these invisible communication achievements will provide some of the best evidence that your conversational skills are improving.”

4. Nobody wants to hear a broken record

Nobody wants to sound like a nag or a broken record but if you’re only communicating your message once, there’s a good chance it’s going to be ignored or forgotten.

Scott Edinger of the Edinger Consulting Group thinks you can’t expect your team to remember everything you tell them…

“Don’t expect people to remember each element of a strategy or every key point that you make just because you told them once. People forget things or sometimes don’t take in every detail. Be prepared for that reality and review the critical themes of your messages whenever you have the chance and the forum to do so.”

5. Body language is more important than verbal language

While the most effective communicators are aware of their body language, and use it to get their message across, body language is not everything.

Matt Monge of The Mojo Company points out that body language should only be considered in context…

“Be careful about isolating one piece of non-verbal communication and using it construct a person’s entire mindset or attitude… Body language cues have to be read in concert with other cues. They also have to be place in their appropriate emotional contexts, and must be interpreted in the context of the person, place, situation, etc.”

For example, have you ever been told that sitting with your arms folded shows that you are closed or resistant to an idea? And how often do you fold your arms simply because you are just comfortable in that position? Exactly…

6. I need a strict open door policy to keep communication open

The concept of an open door policy, where managers keep their office doors open to encourage employees to approach them for help or support, is a great idea… in theory. However, like many management theories, the open door policy should be taken with a pinch of salt. While ideally you would be approachable at all times, it’s just not feasible if you want to actually get things done…

Time Management Ninja, Craig Jarrow hits the nail on the head with his non-literal interpretation of a productive open door policy…

“An open door policy should mean that you have the right to walk in my office, that I am approachable, not that the door has to always be physically open.

People should know that a closed door means, “Work in Progress.” If they have an emergency, they can knock on the door and interrupt. Lower priorities can be taken elsewhere or wait until a more appropriate time.”

7. Sensitive information is for managers only

While you don’t have to tell everyone on your team everything about your business, keeping secrets can be detrimental to trust and future communication.

Suzanne Bates, CEO of Bates Communications, warns about the dangers of hiding bad news from your team…

“Bad news always gets out to employees. They hate it when you hide bad news; they consider themselves partners in the company, and they long for a chance to contribute and make a difference, especially in tough times,” said Bates. “The surest way to motivate people is to empower them even with terrible news, so they can come to terms with reality, think their way through the crisis, and contribute to creative solutions going forward.”

Know of any other communication myths we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below!

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