Communication issues are the number one reason couples split up, with 65% of couples citing this issue as the primary cause of divorce according to a 2013 survey. But it’s not only romantic relationships that are affected by communication issues—they are often at the root of conflicts in our everyday lives.
Perhaps we fail to say what we mean, or we misinterpret the words of another. Whatever the blunder, we could all benefit from recognizing our communication mistakes and turning them into communication skills.
Here are 10 common communication problems and mistakes:
1. NOT TRULY LISTENING
When we are communicating with someone, we often are not committing our full attention. We might be looking at our phones, watching television, or even daydreaming about something else.When we don’t actively listen to the person we are speaking to, not only do we run the risk of making the person feel invalidated, but we also miss important nonverbal cues and may not fully understand the person’s message. To avoid communication mishaps, it is best to give the speaker 100% of our attention. Effective listening skills include making eye contact, asking clarifying questions, and remaining engaged.
2. ASSUMING YOU KNOW THE MESSAGE BEFORE THE PERSON FINISHES
We’ve all done it. We’re listening to a friend speak, and we already assume we know what is going to be said before they finish their sentence. When we assume we know what the person will say, we miss what is actually being said. Honor the speaker by remaining openly curious and listening intently for the message rather than predicting what will be said. In addition, if we have areas of insecurity or resentment, we may filter what another is saying or meaning and pre-judge their motive.
3. INTERRUPTING THE SPEAKER
We’ve probably all interrupted another person mid-sentence once or twice. It can happen accidentally, or we may get so excited about what we want to say and fear we will forget our response if we don’t just go ahead and say it. Others may interrupt during arguments as a power move.
Whatever the intention, interrupting can make a person feel invalidated, as if what they have to say is unimportant. Have respect for the other person, and allow them to finish the message entirely before you respond.
4. USING “YOU” STATEMENTS INSTEAD OF “I” STATEMENTS
When we are discussing our feelings with another person, we need to own those feelings rather than place the responsibility on the other person. It can be easy to say, “You did this” or “You didn’t do that.”
When we use “I” statements, we take ownership of how we feel and are less likely to make the other person feel attacked. Instead of saying, “You didn’t call me back…” try saying, “I felt hurt when you didn’t return my call.” It’s always important to understand our role in communication breakdown.
5. LETTING YOUR EMOTIONS DICTATE YOUR RESPONSE
When we react emotionally, we are likely to say things we don’t mean. A good communicator allows emotions to sit for a while and then chooses to carefully respond rather than react. Reacting will perpetually cause repeated problems with communication.
6. FAILING TO ACCOUNT FOR CULTURAL DIFFERENCES IN COMMUNICATION
Cross-cultural communication can be difficult. Words can take on different meanings, and cultural norms surrounding nonverbal communication may vary. When communicating with people from other cultural backgrounds, it’s important to account for cultural differences in communication styles. If we don’t, we may accidentally offend or miscommunicate with someone.
7. MISINTERPRETING THE MESSAGE
We may misinterpret others more often than we think. To avoid this, it is best to give the person our full attention and paraphrase the message back to the speaker to ensure we have understood correctly. “Let me make sure I am hearing you correctly as I want to respond in the best way possible.”
In today’s society, we are more susceptible to misinterpretation, as we rely heavily on technological communication. Without tone of voice and nonverbal cues, it can be easy to misunderstand each other. When using text or email communication, be sure to use appropriate punctuation and ask clarifying questions to ensure you understand the other person.
8. BEING INDIRECT
Being subtle and/or indirect is usually ineffective. We can’t expect other people to read our minds. If you want someone to understand you, try being direct and try not to “beat around the bush” in conversation. Just be careful to not confuse “direct” with; brash, condescending, haughty, or controlling.
9. ATTACKING CHARACTER RATHER THAN BEHAVIOR
When we are upset with someone, it is easy to say things such as, “You’re a jerk” or “You’re an idiot.” Rather than attack someone’s character, an effective communicator should address the actual behavioral issue and leave it at that. ” Ohh…that wasn’t the way that was supposed to be done. Maybe you misunderstood something along the way… I’m sure you wanted to do a good job at that.”
10. AVOIDING DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS
When faced with the possibility of a difficult conversation, many people choose to avoid or prolong the conversation as long as possible. People usually perceive a conversation as difficult when they are faced with telling someone something that person doesn’t want to hear. It might be delivering bad news or bringing up a conflict of some kind.
An effective communicator remains open and honest to address issues as soon as they arise rather than avoiding or prolonging important discussions. Whatever the topic, avoiding difficult conversations only makes matters worse long term. Tension, assumptions, and judgements can build and you may end up bringing the issue up at the wrong time, which could create additional conflict. Withholding information can create distance between you and the other person. You also run the risk that the person will receive the information from a third party first.
Remember, if someone has to win and someone lose, everyone loses. The key is all parties taking responsibility for their part in the breakdown of communication. Work towards this end. Otherwise you will likely end up with stand offs, eroding relationships, broken relationships and more.
BH/Good Therapy – Adapted