Communication Breakdown: Five Mistakes at Work

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Robert Half International

We all communicate a multitude of messages in a variety of ways at work. While what you say is important, your nonverbal actions are, too. The following are five common behaviors that could lead your colleagues to pick up a different meaning than you intend, and advice on how to send the right signals.


1. You shoot off brief but confounding e-mails.

Nothing breeds more misunderstandings in the workplace than e-mail. It's easy to simply write "OK" in response to a verbose message from a colleague or client, but you risk your brevity being viewed as dismissive or rude. While most professionals are time-crunched in today's fast-paced business environment, your communications should clarify, not confuse. Instead of immediately sending an informal, terse and potentially perplexing reply, take a moment to craft a grammatically correct response that is succinct yet clear.


2. You always keep your door closed.

Professionals close their office doors for a host of legitimate reasons. For instance, if you're engaged in a confidential discussion or are on a conference call, it's obviously beneficial to have some privacy. But if you keep your door shut all the time, it sends the message that you don't want to be bothered -- ever. If you like to work with peace and quiet, leave the door slightly ajar with a note saying, "Feel free to knock." When working under major time constraints, consider taping a message to your door that reads, "Currently on deadline. Please leave me a note, and I'll get back to you as soon as possible." Explaining your situation will foster more goodwill than shutting out people completely.


3. You take the 'casual' in business casual to the extreme.

Office-appropriate attire has certainly changed over the years. Even though formal business suits aren't a requirement in many workplaces, etiquette rules still apply. Comfort may aid productivity, but steer clear of wearing flip-flops, sweat suits and tattered or revealing clothing. Also, the work environment isn't the proper place to show off your flashy "night on the town" clothes. You might think you are expressing your individuality, but you could be sending the message that you're not a serious professional.


4. You constantly wear headphones.

Some professionals say music is an impediment to productivity. Others, however, feel music improves their mood and ability to concentrate. If you listen to tunes to help you focus, you could unintentionally be telling co-workers that you prefer being alone or, worse, are not engaged with your projects. Hit the right note by going earbud-free at least part of the time.


5. You display overly personal items in your work area.

Different people are inspired by different images. When decorating your office or cubicle, the key is to give your space some "personality" while not inadvertently alienating or offending others. You may have fond memories of a college excursion to Mexico, but wacky or revealing photos of wild events should be relegated to your mantle or home office. Remember: Items you feel send the message that you're "fun loving" or "humorous" might be deemed "unprofessional" by someone else. It's also wise to avoid controversy by not displaying political materials. There's a big difference between hanging a poster featuring an inspirational quote from a former president and posting a current candidate's political sign.

Despite your good intentions, workplace misunderstandings will occur from time to time. But by thinking about the myriad messages your actions may be sending, you'll significantly minimize misinterpretations.

Next: Worst Things to Say At Work >>

Robert Half International is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 350 offices throughout North America, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. For more information about our professional services, please visit www.rhi.com.

Copyright 2007 Robert Half International.

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