6 Traditional Communication Rules You Can (And Should) Break

In today's world, it seems like we're in such constant communication with the people around us that your odds of having a miscommunication are naturally higher. "One of the things that's happening is that the quantity of communication has, unfortunately, become more important than the quality of it. We need to ask ourselves more: Is what I'm saying thoughtful and meaningful?" says Jennifer Putney, Vice President Total Retirement Solutions Marketing & Strategy at Prudential Retirement, who has honed her communication tactics after more than twenty years of conveying key messages to staff and building successful story-telling campaigns geared towards clients.

In a landscape of ever-evolving conversations, we might have to consider that the old way of doing things isn't necessarily always the best way. Putney shares her thoughts on why the traditional communication guidelines are just that -- guidelines.

The "Traditional" Way: Change someone's mind by making them see the flaws in their own argument.
The Alternative: Ask questions.

When faced with someone who disagrees with you, it may seem like a good idea to tell her all the reasons why her idea just won't work, and to show her why your side is stronger. But Putney argues that this might not be the most productive method. Poking holes in someone's argument might end up making them go on the defensive. Instead, Putney suggests asking questions. "That can be really helpful for persuading someone without becoming argumentative," she says."Instead, try looking for common ground. I'm asking questions to see if we can get closer to a place where I can then give a little bit in order to create an intersection. It comes down to being curious and having an open mind."

The "Traditional" Way: Wait for the right moment.
The Alternative: Speak up immediately.

When you commend your coworkers on a job well done, they feel motivated and self-confident. Researcher Dan Ariely actually found compliments to be more motivating to employees than monetary rewards. But a Psychological Science study found that the longer you wait before giving each compliment, the less value it will have to the recipient. Consider setting up some kind of recognition platform where employees can congratulate one another on a job well done. Putney's team also has an internal database where they can share client success stories. "I find that doing that really helps remind us why we're in this business," she says.

The "Traditional" Way: Explain your choices so others can understand your reasoning.
The Alternative: Say less.

If you want someone to see something from your perspective, you've got to let them know what you're thinking. This one just makes sense, right? But maybe not--especially if you're a woman talking to a man. Putney thinks that men and women tend to communicate differently and that women should consider talking to men slightly differently than they would talk to their female coworkers. "I think women tend to over-speak sometimes," she says. "I think men sense that as an insecurity, and they also get bored and stop listening." So try using fewer words when communicating with men to see if that helps you get your point across more effectively. For example, if a coworker asks you why you made a certain choice, rather than giving them the play-by-play of your decision-making process, keep it simple by saying, "I analyzed all of my options and felt this was the best decision because of X."

The "Traditional" Way: Ask a person to discuss something with you by diving right into your request or the topic.
The Alternative: Show them what's in it for them.

Tell whoever you're speaking to exactly how following your request will benefit them. Putney shares that when her husband wants to talk about financials with her, he'll often say something along the lines of, "Honey, come in here. I want you to look at this spreadsheet with me." This usually results in Putney having to stand over his shoulder while looking at his computer. "That is not the way to get me to talk to him about finances," she says. "There is nothing encouraging or motivating about that request." Putney suggests being more specific with what you're asking--and making it clear why they'll want to listen. "If he instead said, 'I'd like to talk about something that I think we could do better for the kids' -- something that makes it more personal or behavior-related--then I'd be much more motivated to have that conversation," she says.

The "Traditional" Way: Listen politely and don't interrupt.
The Alternative: Speak up by opening with something positive and then asking for clarification.

Never interrupting isn't necessarily a bad tactic, but it can prevent you from getting what you need out of a conversation. For example, if a coworker is pitching his idea to you with facts and figures but zero context about how the data will be implemented -- Putney doesn't hesitate to ask questions. "I think sometimes women are intimidated to some degree to ask for a conversation to be directed in a different way," she says. "You can start by saying 'I appreciate you collecting this data, but...'" Otherwise, you might leave a meeting while thinking: I have no idea what was just decided or how it will be applied.

The "Traditional" Way: Keep your cards close to your chest to avoid conflict.
The Alternative: Be transparent.

Let's say you have to make a decision that you know some of your coworkers won't like. It might seem tempting to avoid any tension simply by not talking about it. A study in the Journal of Trust, however, suggests that this might hamper employee relationships. In a cross-cultural examination, researchers found that employees were far less likely to want to leave a company when they felt they could trust their coworkers, particularly those in leadership positions. By being more straightforward, especially when faced with tricky situations, you're more likely to foster a positive work environment.

*Additional reporting by Jessica Demarest