But sometimes, you’ll come across someone who isn’t moody or confusing—she’s downright awkward. The issue herein is that relationships are currency, and if you can’t even get through a conversation with someone, how are you supposed to work with him?
Read on for three of the worst office communicators—and how you can best work with them. (Bonus: We’ve included a handy guide so you can make sure that you’re not committing one of these communication crimes.)
1. The Comedian
Maybe it’s a vibe I’m sending out, but lately I keep meeting people who laugh throughout entire conversations—even when they’re pretty mundane. For example, the story of you getting to work 10 minutes late because your alarm didn’t go off really isn’t that hysterical.
But if this person is your client (or your boss), staring neutrally, or even placating her with a “That’s funny” can lead to awkwardness.
In most cases, I’d recommend being authentic, but in this instance a “work laugh” can go a long way. Of course, you shouldn’t overdo it like Monica and Chandler, but you can smile wide and give the same sort of chuckle you would if your grandmother told you a story and you wanted to look amused.
Instead of viewing the situation as one where you’re forced to be insincere, think of it as a kindness. Either it’s a nervous habit (in which case pointing it out will only make the other person feel worse), or he’s hoping to connect with you—and he’s choosing to do so by trying to make you laugh. So, try to let a few out: It just may smooth the way toward a better working relationship.
2. The Disinterested Person
Sure, discussing last quarter’s numbers is no Broadway show, but it’s your job. And it’s pretty uncomfortable when your co-worker spends an entire 20-minute meeting looking painfully bored.
Honestly, there’s nothing you can do about your co-worker tapping her foot or yawning. The only thing you have control over is how you internalize it. You can think, “She has someplace better to be,” or you can ask yourself why it’s bothering you so much. Yes, it’s rude—but why is it driving you crazy? Are you afraid that you’re actually boring your whole team? If so, ask a co-worker you have a close relationship with for some honest feedback. Are you eager to please this person because you think it will increase your odds for promotion? If so, ask her for targeted feedback.
Just be sure you come from a constructive place. Forgo the targeted, “Am I boring you?” and try, “Susan, do you have any suggestions for how I might spice up the middle part of my presentation? I feel like I might be losing my audience for a bit in there.”
3. The Person Who Speaks in Internet Slang
Sometimes, you have to work with people who downright confuse you. Case in point: Someone who uses obscure slang. I’m not talking about slang anyone who watches primetime television would know, I’m talking about slang you’d have to really troll Instagram for. For example, you say, “John, Could you give me an update on your latest project?” Then he responds with, “It’s on fleek.” Umm, what?
This is a definitely a time you want to approach the communication gap head-on, but you can do so in a slightly self-deprecating way. Try this: “I’m afraid I don’t know what that means—I’m never up on the latest slang. For starters, is that a good thing or a bad thing?” Addressing the situation in a light-hearted way shows that you’re not talking down to him, but also makes it clear that you’re going to need him to use words you know. (Bonus: This approach also works for people who speak like their main goal is to demonstrate how advanced their vocabulary is.)
Now, if this person is a subordinate, you’ll want to set aside a time to talk about communication in the workplace. It’s a pretty straightforward conversation—just as you can wear ripped jeans and sweatpants outside the office, but at work you try to keep up a more polished appearance; you should view language in a similar way.
Are You the Culprit?
Maybe you don’t come into contact with any of the people mentioned above. (Lucky you!) But before you do a happy dance, let’s make certain that you’re not the one committing the faux pas. If you regularly see the faces below, you may need to change up how you communicate—don’t worry; we’ve got you covered:
1. You’re the Jokester
You think you leave your team in stitches. But you may be mistaken if their laughter looks like this:
If so, rein it in a bit. Instead of lightening every conversation with a joke, try to cut back and be a bit more serious. Believe it or not, this will actually lighten the mood, because your employees won’t feel pressured to laugh.
2. You Look Bored
Not that you’d ever try to look like Britney Spears at work, but you should never look like this:
Even if you’re not that obvious, you might be putting other signals out that there’s someplace you’d rather be (think: checking your phone or never asking follow-up questions). Next time, try to consciously look engaged and interested.
3. You Don’t Make Sense
Not everyone will be comfortable telling you they have no idea what you’re talking about. But you probably need to make a change if they look at you like this:
Look familiar? Start taking an extra moment to think before you speak and translate what you might type to a friend into more formal language.
Navigating different communication styles will help you connect with more types of people. So, be empathetic and try to adapt. And hey, you never know when your “work laugh” will come in handy.