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Bad habits dilute communication

Bad habits dilute communication

This week I attended the parent open house at my daughter’s school where we were able to experience a condensed version of our child’s daily schedule. During our literature “class,” Mr. Larsen said one of his goals with the sophomore students’ major essay assignments is to have them eliminate all use of the passive voice.

To Mr. Larsen, I say, right on.

It is typically the little lazy things that make communication – both written and verbal – less powerful and effective than it could be. The passive voice is just one example.

A few weeks ago on my Facebook page, I posted a message about a particular word usage that is a personal pet peeve and it elicited responses from friends who offered their own opinions on practices that they believe devalue communication. One person mentioned use of the word “like” in verbal communication as a connector, almost as though it is a new form of punctuation, replacing the period between sentences.

Many, if not most people, don’t even realize that they have introduced these bad habits into their language, especially in spoken communication. I was involved with the Toastmasters International program for several years and one of the greatest benefits of that experience is that it makes you aware of your pre-existing conditions that water down your effectiveness as a communicator.

There are actions we can take to help eliminate these communication pitfalls in ourselves and in our organizations. Here are a few:

  1. Encourage participation in groups such as Toastmasters. You might – like one of our clients recently did – want to start your own Toastmasters Club within your company to give everyone the chance to become better communicators.
  2. Offer speaker’s training for your staff, especially those who represent the organization at public events. In my experience as a trainer, peer-to-peer evaluations during these sessions are very powerful.
  3. For written communication, select a particular style for your organization, and stick with it. In the public relations business, our gold standard is The Associated Press Stylebook. Does it drive you up the walls when people say irregardless? If so, you have friend in AP. According to AP: Irregardless is a double negative.  Regardless is correct.

This is an ongoing challenge for us as individuals and organizations. Just when I think I am making personal progress, out slips a counterproductive expression such as “to be honest with you” and it reminds me that we have to be on guard at all times. Just when we effectively remove one useless expression or one bad habit such as the passive voice, another can creep in and take its place.

Ya know?


2 Responses

  1. Capiz says:

    Thanks, Tom for keeping these issues front and center. It is only through vigilance that we can continuously improve our written and verbal communications!

  2. Debbie says:

    I wonder at what point will formal communications/style be trumped by colloquial style. Social media is the antithesis of formal communications and eventually as people who grew up with it move into business, I’d be willing to bet no importance will be placed on correct usage of language. I sure hope not but looking at the latest additions to the dictionary, I’m not so sure.

    Since this text box is too small to appropriately review my own language usage, I hope it’s ok.

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