The Art of Effective Communication for Administrative Assistants

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August 15, 2018
Author: Tamala Huntley
Organization: Tamala Huntley International

The Despair of Ineffective Communication

There are many problems that can be quickly and easily solved if the parties involved were to communicate effectively.

One small misunderstanding can have extremely damaging consequences for an entire organization.

Poor communication causes:

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  • Frustration among managers, bosses, co-workers and executives
  • Missed deadlines and incomplete projects
  • Unnecessary work and re-work

Resolving Conflicts and Removing Barriers

An all too common mistake…

Having and giving others proper expectations are both important in working and personal relationships.

I always say, “I can’t hold a person responsible for something that I did not give them proper instructions about.”

What does that mean?

It means, what I communicate to you, whether professionally or personally is all that I can legitimately expect you to respond to or manage. For example, if I don’t tell you that I need the financial report back by Tuesday at 3 pm, I can’t be upset when you don’t deliver it by Tuesday at 3 pm. By the same token, if I tell my manager that I can have a project done in 2 days then by golly, I better be able to deliver it in 2 days… because I gave him/her that expectation.


Having and setting wrong expectations

Here’s the thing:

=> You can only expect from people that which you make perfectly clear to them.

And you should be held responsible for any expectation which you set pertaining to your skills and your ability to deliver based on job requirements. Many secretaries underestimate what’s required, first, for the job overall and, second, for specific tasks.

When this happens, honesty is always needed… immediately.

Be honest and upfront with your manager about what you can handle. Conversely, never be afraid to communicate what you expect from him/her. If there is one thing that I have learned, it is that communication is not just you talking. What I mean is that if the person you are talking to does not grasp what you are saying, you have not really communicated your point. The goal of communication should be mutual understanding and not just to spout out a bunch of information.

When communicating with managers, co-workers and even vendors, you should confirm everything. You should be wary of people who never carry paper and a pen or never make the attempt to get paper and a pen when communicating with you because they trust and rely on their memory and they want you to do the same.

You should also be wary of people who don’t ask additional questions about an assignment or instruction because few instructions are complete at the beginning. When people don’t ask additional questions about an assignment, they are not giving any thought to it. Lastly, avoid people who always reply to your requests with “I will try to get to it” because they will never get to it.

If you are this person, get yourself together quick. When given an assignment you should be asking questions like “Is there a deadline?” or “When do you need to have this budget completed by?” or “Is there anything else I should know about this project?” When communicating to a group of people, you can use comparisons ensure that everyone understands.

Restate your important ideas in different words or use illustrations and specific instances of something similar to what you are trying to convey. Remember, your goal is to be understood and not just heard.

Skill in communication involves a number of specific strengths. Strength in listening is vitally important. The following list provides some suggestions for effective communication:

  • Give your full attention and fight distractions
  • Listen openly, with empathy for others
  • Ask, repeat or rephrase what is being said to make sure you fully understand
  • Judge the content, not the messenger
  • Pay attention to non-verbal cues and body language
  • Ask the other person for as much detail as she can provide
  • Respond in an interested way that shows you understand what is being said
  • Ask others for their views or suggestions
  • State your position clearly and be specific
  • Communicate your feelings but don't act them out (attack the problems, not the people)
  • Be as descriptive as possible
  • Don't totally control conversations, acknowledge what others are saying, and don’t interrupt them
  • Decide on specific follow-up actions with specific due dates and make sure all parties agree

Defensiveness is a major source of problems in communication. It is a result of our tendency to take easily take offense. Taking offense is a choice and we should not give in to the temptation.

People who make the effort to communicate effectively are aware that defensiveness is a typical response in a work situation especially when negative information or criticism is has to be presented. Realize that when people feel threatened or that they are being attacked, they will want to protect themselves and try to make adjustments to compensate for their likely defensive stance.

The offended person may become angry, aggressive, competitive, or solitary. A supportive and effective communicator:

  • Focuses the discussion on the information needed and does not stoop to attacking a person’s character
  • Uses probing questions to keep dialogue going
  • Is not afraid to ask tough questions to get to the root of an issue
  • Keeps eye contact and uses welcoming body language
  • Reiterates their understanding of what they are hearing
  • Summarizes the key points and always focuses on resolutions that are win-win for all involved parties

In your career you may spend over 75% of your time talking to and dealing with people. It is no surprise that at the root of a large number of challenges is poor communication. Effective communication is an essential component of our success.

It is no longer acceptable to hide behind deficiencies. Learning to communicate well with others is critical in order to be successful in getting your job done in excellence. As distasteful as it may be, it is necessary.

Remember, small changes produce great results. Focus on becoming better one step at a time.

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