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8 Communication Bad Habits You Need to Break

Posted on January 16, 2019
Scrabble-type tiles spelling out the words: eight communication bad habits, with the word bad at an angle

I’ve written about good communication skills and how to improve communications skills, but I haven’t written about bad ones. There are far too many to list, so I chose eight “big” ones to outline - ones you should correct immediately.

Keep in mind, poor communication speaks volumes about you. Don’t let these eight communication bad habits define you.

Avoiding Eye Contact

When your eyes dart about or you look away from your speaking partner(s), you give off the impression that you are not confident, or worst, you’re hiding something – neither of which is beneficial to you or your career.

Not Listening

It is both infuriating and rude. When someone in a meeting leans over and starts talking with the person next to them or spends the meeting responding to emails to conveys a lack of interest. If you are too busy to attend, then don’t. If you can’t stop yourself from talking to your colleague, then sit next to someone you won’t be tempted to speak to.


We all have vitally important tidbits to interject, but refrain. Wait until there is an appropriate pause in the conversation to share your ideas. When you interrupt, it’s rude, but it also diminishes the voice of others and everyone at the table has an equal right to be heard.

Using Verbal Placeholders

Using words such as “like” and “um” is distracting to those listening. Now…we all do it, but we need to stop. We use them because we are uncomfortable with the silence as we process our thoughts into words and sentences. Silence is okay. Let me repeat that, silence is okay. When you fill that silence with “like” and “um,” it makes you look less intelligent and/or you lack credibility.


Don’t be a negative Nellie or Norman. It is a downer for everyone. Of course there are times when caution or concern is warranted, but if you are constantly negative, co-workers will shy away from you, and not listen when you might have important “negative” information that must be shared.


Water cooler talk is fine as long as it is not about the company or your co-workers. Talk about last night’s episode of This is Us or the unbelievable play at yesterday’s football game, not about how the Assistant Manager has a bad attitude or how Bill is getting a divorce. If others are engaging in gossip, walk away, better yet, step in and change the subject. Don’t partake and don’t tolerate. Water cooler gossip may seem harmless (when it isn’t about you), but the reality is that it is often one of the main reasons for high turnover rates.

Not Responding to Email

Respond to all emails in a timely manner and if you can’t respond to the request, then explain you are waiting on someone to provide the information, etc. This way, the recipient knows you are working on their question or issue. This is especially important on time sensitive matters.

Lacking Contact Info in Signature Line

I would love to conduct a study to see how much time is lost in a day by having to look up a colleague’s or client’s telephone number because they did not include it in their signature line. While it may only equate to a minute or two a day for me, if you multiple that by 100 people, that is a little more than three hours a day or 15 hours a week of lost productivity.

Some of these bad habits are easy to fix. It should take you no more than a minute to review your email settings to ensure your contact information is included in your signature line, but increasing eye contact or refraining from connecting thoughts and phrases with the words “like” or “um,” will take longer. But you cannot break these habits until you acknowledge them. Pay attention to your communication bad habits. Ask a trusted colleague if you partake in any of these. Once you have identified your bad habits, make a plan to eradicate them. Work on one or two at a time until you achieve success.

Poor communication habits not only make you look unprofessional, but they can prevent you from getting that deserved promotion or a raise, or even a new job. Don’t let bad communication habits get in your way.


Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Clinical Professor
Department Head of Graduate Studies
Goodwin College
Drexel University

Photo credit: acwillkomm
Posted in interpersonal-communications