The biggest mistake when communicating and the four secrets to getting it right

By Fliss Wingrove

- Last updated on GMT

Fliss Wingrove, founder of The Ultimate Advantage, shares her four secrets to successful communication for food and drink leaders
Fliss Wingrove, founder of The Ultimate Advantage, shares her four secrets to successful communication for food and drink leaders

Related tags Leadership

Well honed communication skills are key for food business leaders to succeed. Psychology of language expert Fliss Wingrove explores the biggest mistakes we make when communicating and the secrets to getting it right.

Biggest Mistake

Growing up, I was told to speak to people how I​ would wish to be spoken to. Which, on the face of it, is great advice. It engenders empathy and shows a willingness to connect, right? Sadly no. It’s one of the worst pieces of advice and one of the biggest mistakes that we all make communications-wise – whether in the Boardroom or on the shopfloor. Because, when you speak to people how you ​want to be spoken to, you’re firmly overlaying your personal preferences, filters, and biases on them, which is rarely a comfortable fit.

It’s the equivalent of getting off the Eurostar, stepping foot on French soil, shouting loudly and slowly in English, and then getting frustrated when the person you’re speaking to doesn’t understand what you’re saying to them. Just imagine how much more powerful it would be for you to take responsibility for your message landing, and instead speak to the person (or people) you’re communicating with how they​ would wish to be spoken to. Think of it as learning their language.

So how do we achieve this?

The Onus Is On Us

The first thing we all need to really take on board is that good communication, and making sure our message lands as we intend, is wholly our responsibility. 100% ours. And taking that responsibility is not just the right thing to do, but it’s also a smart move commercially because it avoids the potential for misunderstanding, miscommunication, or allowing any mis-steps. Instead, the person you’re speaking with, the team you’re briefing, or the recipients of your email feel confident, they fully understand whatever the objective may be, and they’re empowered to be brilliant, productive and efficient. Get *really* good at it, and you’ll often find that you’re the most compelling and magnetic person in the room, drawing the very best people to your side (and keeping them)!

Your Truth Is Not The​ Truth

The second point to really take on board is that each and every one of us is perfectly unique. We look at the world through our own stained glass window sunglasses, and each and every pane of glass alters how we see the ‘truth’ of any message. Those panes are shaped and coloured by our individual experiences, by the cultural paradigm we grew up in, our lived experiences, and the preferences and ‘truths’ we’ve learned since birth.

Two individuals looking at the same large diamond in front of them, for example, would see its colour, shape, and how it refracts the light. They would each experience a vastly different view - depending on where they’re standing and based on their personal perception. Both are right, and absolutely their ‘truth’. But it’s not ‘the’ truth. And it’s essential that we all really understand this distinction.

So, next time a message (whether an email, conversation, briefing, letter, etc…) triggers you, pause and ask yourself if what you’re perceiving is ‘the’ truth or ‘your’ truth.


We’re all primed to tell ourselves stories – it’s how the brain evolved to keep us safe – to predict someone’s intent, to judge what they might mean, and to sense what may come next. But this ability to storytell also doesn’t come from a completely neutral place. It’s coloured and flavoured by our experiences, our self-image, and the hundreds of filters that we each run. So, check-in with yourself about that too.

Does this message really mean that your team member is being unhelpful, or your line manager disapproves of the decision you’ve made? Or are you telling yourself a story about it that might not have any basis in truth? And it’s well worth considering this first, before you respond.

 Assuming their intent will absolutely impact your response and a perfectly neutral (albeit potentially clumsy) message delivered that sees a defensive or negative response, will undoubtedly lead to a negative exchange where one might never have been required.

Individual Preferences

Added to the potential minefield of preferences and filters, we have one of the most potentially-catastrophic (if you get it wrong) distinctions. And that’s the density and depth of detail that we require before we feel ‘safe’ to complete a task. We’re divided into four camps, the biggest picture ‘why’ people, the ‘what’ people who need a framework around the task but no more, the ‘how’ people who want to know the tools needed to deliver success, and the ‘what if’ people who are the most detailed and want to model the response to every potential hurdle.

Each is powerful and necessary to a team, but when a ‘why’ person briefs a ‘what if’ it’ll likely feel sparse in detail, far too top-line, and will leave the recipient with limited understanding of what success looks and feels like, let alone how to get there. Ditto a ‘what if’ briefing a ‘why’ person, can feel like a tsunami of content, and it can be impossible for that recipient to pick out the important pieces of information.

 In both cases this isn’t just a missed opportunity, or a failed briefing, it’s a cause of genuine stress – physiological, mental, and emotional – and a massive cause of mental dis-ease and poor productivity in the workplace.

What’s Next…

Miscommunication, misunderstanding, and a misalignment of styles is the most common cause of disconnect. Effective communication is not just a ‘nice to have’ or tick box exercise – it’s essential in keeping the very best people by your side and for operations to continue running smoothly. In a recent study​, 50% of respondents admitted that poor communication increased their stress levels, and almost a quarter considered looking for alternative employment because of it.

It’s vital that you take the time to recognise what works for you communications-wise, and that you bring an awareness to your personal preferences. Once you have those in mind, get curious about them in the people around you and start to consider what they might need from you, and how you can pivot your message to best land for them. Think about where you are, where they are, and how you can most easily fill the gap between you both.

And when it comes to briefings, if you’re not sure of someone’s preference for detail – or you’re speaking to a group of people – keep in mind the structure marketeer’s use for websites. Start with the compelling headline message, move into a chunky paragraph of more context, add the four or five bullet points of detail, and then give them the equivalent of the ‘click here for more information’ that you’d see at the end of the page. People will self-select out when they’ve had sufficient information and you’ll be able to meet the needs of every person you’re communicating with.

Armed with the knowledge about the biggest communication mistake, as well as these four secrets to success, you’re absolutely on the path to revolutionising the conversations you have – whether one-to-one or one-to-many, on email, on the phone, or in-person. They will gift you the ability to be your most authentic and empowered self, ensuring the person you’re communicating with feels seen, heard, and fully understood. It’s the ultimate win:win.”

Launched in March 2022, The Ultimate Advantage is on a mission to empower leaders to communicate with impact, to own their part of the world, and to unapologetically and powerfully command their ‘stage’ – whether that’s a literal stage in front of 20,000 people, a Boardroom with a dozen, or a meeting room with just two. They train senior leaders and teams with the tools and tactics to be their most compelling selves. 

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