What’s That Supposed to Mean? 5 Tips to Improved Communication


Post, text, tweet, email, chat, call – the fleet of options to communicate a message continues to expand with technology and innovation. Yet, in a world with so many ways to exchange information, how is it that we still have a hard time getting our meaning across?

Just because we have more avenues to communicate doesn’t mean we are more effective in transmitting our message. We have to practice how to use the various modes of communication (i.e., telephone calls, email, social media, face-to-face conversation) to better broadcast our ideas.

Check out these five practical tips on how to keep your skills sharp when communicating with others.

Keep your message short, sweet and to the point.
Whether you are writing an email to your team or posting an article on social media, make the message concise. One way to do this is to use action-oriented verbs, suggests Kimberly Joki in her article 6 Tips for Writing Well on Social Media.

“The point of using social media in business or at work is to get your followers to do something, whether it’s read an article, watch a video, join a conversation, or attend an event. A good formula for a social media post starts with a thought-provoking question and an invitation for your followers to take action.”

Beware: Your email could be forwarded!
You never know where your words might end up. In the article The Art of the Effective Business Email, Rob Asghar shares this piece of advice:

“Don’t put something in an email if you can’t afford for a colleague to forward it along thoughtlessly.”

In other words, would you be OK if the email you are about to send would be seen by your boss? Stop and think before you press send!

Don’t multitask while on the phone.
In the article Speak With Impact: 12 Tips For Better Telephone Meetings, Darlene Price, author of Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results, states that multitasking while on a phone call is a common mistake that can cause both miscommunication and awkwardness.

“Since listeners cannot see you, it’s tempting to covertly catch up on other tasks while attempting to carry on a telephone meeting. Not only are you likely to miss critical points in the conversation, the listeners can hear awkward pauses and a tone of distraction in your voice.”

When I’m on the phone, I like to get out paper and pen to jot down action items, important information and deadlines. This helps me stay focused on the topic and ensures I have documented any actions that require my attention.

Spell it out.
In his article 6 Causes of Miscommunication – How to Use Plain Language Effectively, author Michael Lewis identifies several reasons why a message can be misinterpreted. One major cause is that people tend to use sloppy language habits, which are developed over time, and can easily cause misunderstanding. Using acronyms, local vocabulary (or jargon) and even buzzwords can make any message jumbled.

Share the definition of an acronym before using it in conversation or writing to lessen confusion or misinterpretation. Assuming that everyone knows a certain term or organizational acronym will alienate some and cause problems down the road.

Before you can respond thoughtfully and effectively, you must begin the communication process by listening.

In Dianne Schilling’s article 10 Steps to Effective Listening, she suggests picturing what the speaker is saying.

“Allow your mind to create a mental model of the information being communicated. Whether a literal picture, or an arrangement of abstract concepts, your brain will do the necessary work if you stay focused, with senses fully alert. When listening for long stretches, concentrate on, and remember, key words and phrases.”

Lacey Scully is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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John L. Waid

A big help is a Toastmasters program at your office. Toastmasters is an international program where people form clubs and give speeches to each other. They get back feedback from their fellow members. They start with basic skills and work up at their own pace to more complex presentations. If there is not a club at your office, start one or join one nearby. While Toastmasters is focused on speaking, I found the lessons learned spilled over into other methods of communication.

You forgot Toastmasters’ first rule of communication: speak in a language your audience understands. That is not restricted to speaking in a foreign language if necessary but also avoiding jargon and taking into account the experience level of your audience.

Lacey Scully

Thanks for the suggestion, John – Toastmasters is a great way to work on communication skills. And you are right – speaking in a language your audience understands is definitely at the top of the list when considering how to communicate effectively. Thank you for your comment – appreciate it!