Communication is how we send and receive information to one another, but it's also what we use to form impressions of people, and what we use as the foundation for our relationships. If you communicate inappropriately or ineffectively, it could mean big trouble for your reputation and interfere with any attempts you make to build better, healthier relationships with other professionals.
There are plenty of best practices for communicating effectively in any medium, but instead of focusing on those, I'd like to take the opposite approach by exploring the worst communication mistakes you can make:
1. Forgetting Someone's Name. People love to hear their own name. Our names are tied intricately to our identities, so when someone uses your name, you naturally feel closer to them. When someone forgets your name, however, you can become distant toward them, and possibly offended--even if it's on a subconscious level. Forgetting someone's name shows that you aren't interested in them, and can instantly make you seem selfish or uncaring.
2. Making an Inappropriate Joke. Jokes are perfect conversation fodder, especially with someone you've never met. Injecting some humor into an otherwise stuffy or stagnant situation can make you the life of the party. However, there are some firm lines you shouldn't cross with your humor, and if you cross them, you could be exiled from the group. To make matters worse, these lines are different for different people and situations, but as a general rule, avoid jokes about race, gender, sex, politics, religion, or any specific individual.
3. Being Vague or Unclear. Clarity is what makes communication effective. Just as a car without a working engine is a useless hunk of metal, a sentence without a clear meaning is equivalent in value to empty space. Think carefully about what you want to say before you say it, and proofread all your outgoing emails and text messages. Specificity and conciseness are your best friends.
4. Broadcasting a Vehement Political View. You're welcome to believe anything you want, and you can even share those beliefs with the people close to you. But outspokenly broadcasting those views to a professional, unfamiliar, or general audience is almost universally a bad idea. Even if those people happen to agree with you, you'll still seem inconsiderate for doing so.
5. Babbling. Babbling is usually the result of getting too excited about a particular thread of conversation, or else it comes out as a nervous habit. Either way, babbling is a way of dominating what should be a two-way (or multi-way) conversation. Speak your mind and do so fully, but always leave opportunities for others to respond. Otherwise, it's not a conversation--it's just a monologue.
6. Sounding Ignorant. Nobody knows everything, but being ignorant of a certain topic is not the same as showing your ignorance of a certain topic. For example, if the conversation turns toward France and you don't know anything about France, it's probably better to remain silent, admit your ignorance, or ask lots of questions than it is to pretend like you're intimately familiar with French culture.
7. Being Fake. When it comes to meeting strangers and making a good impression, it's tempting to add or subtract from your personality. You might try to be more outspoken, laugh harder at people's jokes, or give out compliments more frequently. However, being fake can also make you seem insincere and unlikeable--you're usually better off just being yourself and making tiny adjustments to avoid offending anyone. People generally have good B.S. detectors--they'll be able to tell if you're not acting like yourself.
8. Emotionally Overreacting. Emotions are a good thing; they're a big part of what makes us human. Accordingly, burying your emotions isn't a good idea when it comes to communication, or else you can seem callous or distant. However, it's even worse to let your emotions fly off the handle and dictate your communicative approach. Speaking out impulsively in anger or frustration can make you seem imbalanced and out of control. Express your emotions, but do so carefully and in a restrained manner.
9. Being Too Negative. We all have negative thoughts and feelings, and it's fine to occasionally express them (especially if you're doing so in the form of constructive criticism). However, being too negative too much of the time will make you seem like a negative person, which will turn people off of talking to you altogether. Even in bad situations, try to see the positive side of things. It may be hard to find at times, but it's always there.
10. Interrupting. Conversations need to be balanced to be successful. Interrupting someone before they're finished speaking is one of the biggest signs of disrespect you can show in a conversation. It proves that you aren't listening, and that you care more about what you're saying than what the other person is saying. Be patient and listen.
Any one of these communication blunders could instantly compromise your reputation, whether you're talking to a stranger or sending an email to a coworker you've known for years. Repeat more than one of these egregious errors too many times, and you could be written off entirely as a fool, or even worse, as a jerk. Work on refining your communication skills and you'll enjoy a more positive reputation with everyone you meet. For more strategies on how to progress in your career through relationships you build, grab my eBook, Climbing the Corporate Ladder: Career Hacks for Modern Professionals.