Communicating at Work

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Stop Asking, “Does That Make Sense,” After Explaining Something — Here’s Why

Two communication experts explain why that and two other expressions could be holding you back at work

Photo credit: Diego Schtutman/Shutterstock
Photo credit: Diego Schtutman/Shutterstock

Our conversations at work are often peppered with corporate-speak that can be more irritating than useful — “Don’t reinvent the wheel,” “Think outside the box,” “We’re making a paradigm shift.” People don’t mean to be annoying — we employ these terms in the interest of efficiency, using shorthand we all easily and quickly understand. But used in excess, they can make you seem uninspired and uninventive, and sometimes, even rude. 
“One or two clich├ęs aren’t going to derail your value in a meeting. But constant reference to buzzwords and jargon can make others roll their eyes,” or worse, feel condescended to, Jay Sullivan, a communications expert and author of Simply Said: Communicating Better at Work and Beyond, tells Thrive Global. 
To more effectively get your point across, avoid these three phrases:
“Does that make sense?”
When this question is posed after an explanation, it can be particularly irksome. While it often comes from the right place — to be sure the person you’re communicating with is understanding what you’re saying — it implies that the listener doesn’t have the wherewithal to ask for clarity on his own. It also makes the speaker look weak. “If somebody says, ‘Was that clear?’ ‘Did that make any sense?’ It also sounds like they are questioning their own ability to be clear, Sullivan says. 
Joseph A. Devito, Ph.D., of The Interpersonal Communication Book, adds that the phrase can also be misconstrued as a final verdict. “As if to say, ‘I hope that makes sense to you and that you now, finally, understand what I’m talking about,’” he says. Even more reason to scrap it altogether. 
Try this instead: “What additional information on that would be helpful to you?” In that formulation, Sullivan suggests, no one is belittled and the dialogue can continue freely and productively.
“That’s a no-brainer”
When a manager tells his or her underlings an idea is a “no-brainer,” it destructively implies that any thought to the contrary is wrong, DeVito points out. That challenges our ability to communicate with compassionate directness, surfacing problems with openness and creativity. If the person or team finds the “no-brainer” brain-intensive, Sullivan adds, it can squash their confidence and prevent them from sharing their opinions. 
Try this instead: “That makes sense to me,” Sullivan says is a better way to communicate your stance without belittling those around you. As a manager, it’s important to remain cognizant of the fact that not everyone’s skill set is at the same level, he emphasizes. What’s easy for you may not come as easily for someone else, so claiming something is a “no-brainer” just doesn’t help.
“To be honest”
Who isn’t guilty of this one? But “to be honest” can have the opposite effect of what we mean. “It’s a problem phrase because it may be taken to imply that the speaker is not always honest, or that the listener is assumed to be suspicious,” DeVito says. 
Try this instead: Delete this one from your vocabulary and replace it with a pause before speaking, which makes you seem thoughtful and respectful, Sullivan says. If you’re feeling bolder, and know the person well, Sullivan suggests trying: ‘I have some thoughts on that. Do you want the diplomatic version or the direct version?’”
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Communication in the Workplace


Try This Now: Stop Sending a “Gentle Reminder”

A popular way to nudge a co-worker is to employ this phrase, but it misses the opportunity to be compassionately direct.

Photo credit: Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock
Photo credit: Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock

Often, receiving an email with a “gentle reminder” can feel stressful… and not at all gentle. If anything, it feels passively hostile. And it definitely runs counter to compassionate directness, the idea of encouraging everyone on a team to surface problems and raise questions with straightforward clarity and kindness.
Instead of sending a “gentle reminder,” a better approach would be to say: “I completely understand that you’ve got a lot on your plate, but I need to hear back from you on this today.” This wording is more effective — and better underscores the urgency — because it expresses appreciation for the person’s busyness, but also offers a clear call to action, says Joseph A. Devito, Ph.D., author of The Interpersonal Communication Book. “It also confirms the person’s importance to the larger organization by emphasizing their ‘full plate’ and the importance — the need — of the individual’s contribution.”
Follow us here and subscribe here for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving.
Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.