Three Communication Styles That Can Derail Your Career

How not to be your own worst enemy.

Your communication skills determine how you are perceived and how successful you are in leading, influencing, and participating in the workplace. Develop yourself as an effective communicator, and you’ll go far in your career. Alternatively, you may be your own worst enemy when it comes to career advancement.

There are three communication styles that may impede your career progress:

1. You’re a watchmaker in a time-teller world.

Everyone knows someone who missed the memo to “keep it brief.” It’s the individual you see heading toward your office, and you pick up the phone or make like you’re late for an urgent meeting to avoid being trapped for an extended duration in an incredibly detailed and often one-sided interaction.

Watchmakers are individuals who communicate with deep context. Sometimes, the context is so deep, we have no idea what they are talking about as they ramble. Blend an extreme level of detail with a bit of randomness and those within earshot of this individual are in store for a wild communication journey. “When you ask them the time, they tell you how to build a watch.” And, sometimes they give you the instructions in random order.

There’s a time and place for deep context and long stories—for example, campfires. In the workplace, it’s imperative to focus your message, engage colleagues in a dialog, and let everyone move on in pursuit of their respective challenges.

Sadly, most individuals who exhibit this long-talking, deep context syndrome are unaware of their tendency and the impact it has on how others perceive and value them. This is no surprise given the chronic shortage of quality feedback in many workplaces.

Ask for feedback from trusted colleagues on your communication style, including whether you are known for sharing ideas and communicating in a crisp, transparent manner. Or, ask an open-ended question: “How can I do a better job communicating with you?” and see if the feedback suggests you need to embrace brevity as a way-of-life. If you do, my message mapping approach is ideal to help you learn to focus and share clear, coherent, well-supported messages in group settings. (See: The Career Enhancing Benefits of Message Mapping.)

2. You’re a chronic interrupter.

Many solid citizens exhibit this communication tic, interrupting colleagues and often finishing their sentences for them. While the Interrupter perceives this as a positive sign of understanding, it is pathologically annoying to the person speaking and an impediment to clear verbal and non-verbal communication. It is also disrespectful to the other party.

This particular poor habit is relatively easy to monitor and self-censor. Once you are aware you do this, try this simple approach to reduce and eliminate this habit: count to two in your mind at the conclusion of the other party’s comment and then begin speaking. The deliberate two-count pause will teach you not to interrupt. Keep a log of the number of times you violate the two-count during a day and strive to keep reducing this number.

3. You’re the arguer.

I come from a family that viewed arguments over politics, economics, sports, or even the weather, as a sport. It’s fun in this setting, but it becomes a grind if you continuously take the opposite position of every idea and try and argue things out until you get your way.

People might initially appreciate your enthusiasm and critical thinking. I was an arguer early in my career, quick to take an opposing viewpoint and to suggest a different way forward. Thankfully, a mentor observed this behavior and encouraged me to develop as someone who drew out ideas from others instead of bludgeoning them with mine. This guidance proved priceless!

In reality, the arguer wears on people over time and shuts down free-thinking and collaboration. Just the presence of the Arguer in the room forces people to suppress ideas, not wanting to feed the hungry bear. It’s never a sign of success that people are weary of dealing with you and prone to suppress their ideas.

In my experience, it takes coaching based on actual observation to help individuals check and change their argumentative tendencies. During these engagements, I help individuals strengthen as listeners, learn to ask questions, and strive to understand a person’s real interests at a deeper level. I also teach former arguers to use tools of positive persuasion. However, the hardest part for anyone striving to give up their argumentative ways is changing their overall thinking about their interactions. Moving from critic to contributor is hard. It’s doable, just difficult.

The bottom line: If you manage individuals displaying the tendencies described above, provide clear, behavioral, business-focused feedback and work with them to identify ways to adjust their approaches. And remember, it’s not your job to create a collection of communication clones. These people aren’t broken, but instead they need a bit of help to strengthen their emotional intelligence as it relates to their communication style.

If you recognize yourself in the descriptions above, kudos on the recognition. Now, you need to do something about it. Seek help from a workplace buddy, a thoughtful manager or mentor, or if possible, an outside coach. Just don’t let sloppy communication habits get in the way of your success.

Art Petty is a coach and consultant working with executives and management teams to unlock business and human potential. He writes the Leadership Caffeine blog.