As a business owner, you should count your voice as one of the most powerful tools at your disposal. With nothing more complicated that your words, you can close sales, negotiate deals, motivate employees, and clinch investment. But with great impact comes great danger. Anything that can radically improve your fortunes when employed well can also profoundly undermine your effectiveness when used poorly.

So what are the ways we most often go astray when communicating? That was the topic of a quick but enlightening TED talk by author and The Sound Agency founder Julian Treasure. In it, he outlines the ways poor communicators end up alienating their listeners and eroding the power of their voices.

Want to be a great communicator able to use your voice to change others' behavior? Avoid his "seven deadly sins of speaking."


Gossip may have its uses, bonding teams and shaming slackers into better performance, but if you want to come across as a powerful speaker, avoid it. People aren't dumb, Treasure points out: "We know perfectly well the person gossiping, five minutes later, will be gossiping about us."


Some people think that speaking powerfully is about being right and convincing the other person of that fact, but truly great communicators know that arguments are rarely won by bombarding the other party with evidence. Telling people they're wrong or bad is actually a lousy way to get them to change. If you want to be a great communicator, avoid triggering other people's defensiveness. "It's very hard to listen to somebody if you know you're being judged and found wanting at the same time," Treasure says.


This one doesn't need much explanation. A few run-ins with the dismal guy in the office--the one who's guaranteed to respond to "how's it going?" with doom and gloom--is enough to convince most of us of the people-repelling power of negativity. Don't be that guy.


The twin sister of negativity, complaining might offer more immediate pleasure than pure negativity (who hasn't enjoyed a bit of a communal moan now and again?), but Treasure points out that, over time, repeated complaining is bad not only for your effectiveness as a communicator but also the collective mood. "Complaining is viral misery," he says.


When the going gets tough, certain coworkers will just throw you (or someone else) under the bus to save themselves. "Some people have a 'blame thrower.' They just pass it on to everybody else and don't take responsibility for their actions," Treasure says. Having the strength to own your mistakes is a great way to win the respect of others.


Ahem, startup folks, this one may be for you. Sure, you need to project confidence and sell others on your business, but going overboard with your positivity can backfire. "It demeans our language, actually," Treasure says. Don't be the person whose language others have to continuously mentally discount: "Oh, he said it was awesome? Must mean it's mildly positive."

And, of course, if you take this too far, it becomes simple lying, which just about everyone agrees will do very little to convince others you're worth listening to.


Treasure defines this deadly speaking sin as "the confusion of facts with opinions." Bombard others with your opinions packaged in the certainty of truths and they'll quickly realize you're either deliberately misleading them or that there's no room for conversation. And they'll tune out.

Check out the complete 10-minute talk to find out not only about sins to avoid but also Treasure's four cornerstones of truly powerful communication.

Are you guilty of any of these deadly sins of speaking?