More than anything, we all want to be heard and understood. It seems like it should be so simple, but of course it’s not. Language is multi-dimensional and can get us into all kinds of trouble. Sometimes, it may seem safer not to say anything at all. Sound familiar? Not only do we have to choose the “right” words, we need to think about our tone, timing, and the result we want from the interaction. Despite our best intentions, the following are common roadblocks that cause breakdowns in communication across all relationships and disconnect us from those we want to be close to. Many of these responses are fear based.
Can you identify which roadblocks to listening you struggle with most and when it happens?
The Mind Reader
…. assumes what the other person is feeling and/or thinking—without checking in and asking. Frequent guilty parties: couples and parents.
…. evaluates what the other person is saying from his own perspective, not the speaker’s. Frequent guilty parties: parents and kids.
….. finds it hard to stay “present” in the conversation and gets “lost” in past memories or future fantasies.
…. is overly ready to agree without really taking in what the other person’s concerns are. Often this will sound like, “I know …. or “You’re right ….”
…. is missing what’s being said because he or she is busy rehearsing a response.
…. only pays attention to what’s important to them and ignores the rest.
…. is focused on a solution instead of understanding what the other is trying to communicate.
…. changes the subject as soon as they feel the topic is something they find threatening or uninteresting. Note that teens are especially skilled at derailing. Watch out parents!
…. argues with the other person instead of letting them be heard. Teens can be great Debators!
He/she who Must Be Right
…. this person resists any suggestions that he or she could be wrong.
How to Change these Patterns
1. The first step in changing these patterns is to become aware of WHAT we’re doing.
2. The second is to be curious about WHY we’re being triggered to respond in a certain way, feelings that arise, and who most triggers unhelpful reactions (usually those who mean most to us).
3. The third step is to learn HOW to adopt new ways of communicating.
We often need the help of a counselor or psychotherapist to identify and understand our communication style. As I work with clients, I examine carefully how they make contact with me and the environment. Learning new vocabulary may be part of what’s needed to change communication patterns like those above. We may have had poor role modeling in our family and literally don’t know the words to use so we “have a voice” in the conversation in a way that keeps us connected to someone, especially when a difference of opinion or conflict arises. The good news is that change is always possible.