7 subtle communication mistakes that limit your influence

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You have a leadership position of some sort, or maybe you’re a central part of your circle of friends. 

Either way, you want to shape your group in the best possible way you can.

Clearly, communication has a lot to do with being influential. And even subtle mistakes can cause offense or lead to resentment.

Thankfully, you’re about to find out what they are, so you can make sure to avoid them. 

Watch out for these 7 subtle communication mistakes that limit your influence. 

1) Giving direct orders rather than asking questions

As a leader, you may be in a position to give people orders. This by definition means you already have some influence over others.

But the way you do it can either increase or limit your influence.

In the famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People, one of the tips that Dale Carnegie gives is to present orders as questions.

So instead of saying “make that presentation for me, and send it by the end of the day”, you can ask “How about prioritizing the presentation next?”

Of course, this may depend on your group dynamics, personality, and the communication style of your team members.

However, this will help the person feel like you’re working with them and value their input too.

2) Trying to force a “yes” out of them

This next communication mistake is something that might seem pretty contradictory at first.

I found out about it from the book Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss. Basically, the mistake is making people feel like you’re forcing them to say “yes”.

Think back to the typical telemarketing call you get. They ask you a series of pointed questions carefully formulated to make you keep answering “yes”, until you feel like you’re trapped in a corner. 

Do you value your money and consider it important to spend wisely? So if there was a way to save money, you’d surely take it right? Well then you’d obviously want to get this insurance!

Most people I’ve talked to agree that they feel immediately uncomfortable with the interaction, because they’re being pushed into something.

And that’s why it’s much better to ask questions that allow the person to say no

For example, “Would it be wrong to assume that you’re someone who values money and thinks carefully about how they spend it?” 

It helps them feel like they have power and freedom to decide — which they always do anyways, at the end of the day.

But at least here you’re building your influence with communication that feels comfortable for them. 

3) Pointing out mistakes too directly 

Any leader will have things they need to improve or fix in their team. You do need to address mistakes of course, but be careful about how you point them out. 

If you’re blunt and straightforward about it, no matter how much of a growth mindset the person has you will inevitably make them feel bad at least momentarily.

Instead, do it in a more indirect way. For example, you can talk about results and processes rather than their specific actions. So “you didn’t send the report on time” could be “the client did not receive the report on time.” 

You can also use the passive voice — “the report was not sent on time”. Or alternatively, you could use “we” rather than “you” — “we didn’t submit the report on time.”

If you really must criticize someone, then you can lessen the tension by talking about similar mistakes you’ve made to humanize them and put both of you on a level playing field.

Any one of these strategies will keep the team member from feeling attacked, and they will be sure to appreciate your compassion and tact. 

4) Not noticing improvements (even small ones)

This communication mistake goes hand in hand with the one above — while you avoid pointing out mistakes directly, you should also turn your focus to noticing improvements.

Countless communication and relationship experts have said that one of the best ways to shape a person’s behavior is appreciation.

It helps the person feel good about themselves and truly valued. You’ll establish the team as a safe and supportive space for everyone. 

And they’ll associate all these positive feelings with you — since your appreciation is what brought them up. 

Definitely be sure to use this tip if you notice improvements related to a problem you pointed out — there’s no better way to keep a person motivated to continue improving. 

But you should give appreciation generously and freely. After all, nobody has ever complained, “my boss appreciates me too much!”

5) Not using the person’s name

Here’s a pretty simple communication mistake — and it’s so subtle, most of us don’t even think about it.

It’s another one that Dale Carnegie mentioned. Essentially, if you want to build your influence you should use people’s names when talking to them.

I would add that it’s pretty important to notice if the person actually likes their name.

One friend I know isn’t really a big fan of her name, but she never changed it because she has dual citizenship and it would be a big hassle.

She uses a similar name as a nickname, but she has to use the official one on all documentation including her work contract.

She did introduce herself to everyone by her nickname, but her boss clearly went by her documents, and continued to call her by the name she didn’t like. 

Though she liked working with him a lot, she couldn’t help internally wincing every time he addressed her, which naturally limited his influence with her on a subconscious level. 

So if you’re going to use this tip, make sure you approach it individually and take notice of each person’s preferences. 

6) Talking more than the other person

A lot of people mistakenly believe that the more they talk, the more leadership and authority they appear to have.

But actually, doing this limits your influence.

True leaders don’t need to prove their influence to anyone — others prove it to them, by listening to them and coming to them for help.

You won’t be able to make someone respect you more by pushing your advice on them, or monopolizing the conversation in an effort to gain power.

Instead, focus on giving other people plenty of space to talk and listening openly when they do.

They will notice your open-minded approach, and when they ask you for help, you’ll know it’s because they truly want to hear it. They’ll be much more likely to follow it too

7) Not asking questions

A few years ago, I was having a coffee with a startup owner. He told me about this last communication mistake.

“The one asking questions is always the one with the upper hand,” he winked.

This made sense to me — after all, at any sort of interview, it’s always the person making the decision who’s asking the questions.

But truthfully, this shouldn’t be done as a power play. Your questions should be genuine, and come with the intention of gaining a better understanding of the other person.

You’ll be someone who cares about establishing common ground and getting to know various perspectives. 

Plus, if you ask more questions, you’ll be making it much easier for yourself to follow the tip above as well. 

Final thoughts

Whether you’re a manager, a volunteer leader, or just the “leader of the pack” with your group of friends, influence will help you shape the group to reach your objectives.

Be careful to not make these 7 subtle communication mistakes. Many people overlook them, and inadvertently limit their influence. 

So you’re already one step ahead — now it’s up to you to put what you know into action. 

Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash has years of experience writing relationship articles for single females looking for love. After being single for years with no hope of meeting Mr. Right, she finally managed to get married to the love of her life. Now that she’s settled down and happier than she’s ever been in her life, she's passionate about sharing all the wisdom she's learned over the journey. Pearl is also an accredited astrologer and publishes Hack Spirit's daily horoscope.

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