Clear and effective communication is the foundation of any relationships, whether it be a work partnership, a marriage, or the relationship between a parent and child.
Misunderstanding and miscommunication are common causes of the breakdown of any bond, causing fissures that prevent intimacy and erode the quality of the relationship. Even when our intentions are good, our words and delivery can result in hurt feelings.
Here are nine common communication errors, as well as ways to promote better communication in your relationships.
1. Crossing our arms and leaning back
Your words may be sweet and consoling, but if your arms are crossed, you’re communicating an entirely different message. According to Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA, what we say only accounts for 7 percent of the message we send. A whopping 55 percent of our communication is conveyed in body language.
For example, leaning back in your chair conveys a message of defensiveness or disinterest, while leaning forward and touching someone on the shoulder says, “I hear you. I’m listening. What you’re saying is important to me.”
2. Speaking loudly and quickly
Almost as important as good body language is the tone with which we say something. According to Mehrabian, that accounts for 38 percent of communication. If you’re rushing through your words or shouting something in an angry voice, you’re likely to solicit a defensive response. Even a subtle inflection can influence how your message is perceived. Conversely, if you speak slowly and deliberately, even a delicate issue can be discussed in a way that leads to a deeper understanding.
3. Bringing up the past
There are times that revisiting the past is warranted. However, in general, rehashing history is going to set a defensive tone and sabotage efforts to communicate effectively. Whenever possible, try to focus on present concerns, observations, and feelings and resist the temptation to migrate backwards to make a point.
4. Defending our feelings
Feelings are neither right nor wrong, so you need not defend yours. Doing so adds a layer of tension or conflict to the conversation. Effective communication involves two people honestly and openly sharing what they are feeling, using a thesaurus of adjectives or descriptive phrases — including colors, sounds, senses, and metaphors — to articulate feelings as clearly as possible.
5. Judging another’s feelings
Just as defending our own feelings does little to foster meaningful communication, so too does attaching judgment to the other person’s feelings. Statements such as, “I don’t know why you feel that way,” or “That’s ridiculous,” are sure ways to shut down a conversation and close the door to honest dialogue.
Even if you think a person’s feeling does not make sense or you regard it as untrue, it’s not your place to question one’s perception. Simply listen and ask a person why he or she feels that way.
6. Interrupting the other person
You think you know what your partner or sister or colleague is telling you, so you end her sentence for her. Her words jog a thought, so you interject with feedback. Even well-intentioned enthusiasm is rude. Let her finish. Your job is to make her feel as though you value what she has to say. By interrupting with your two cents — even if it’s brilliant advice — you undermine her efforts at communication.
7. Ignoring the other person
There’s blatant ignoring … walking into another room while someone is talking. And there is subtle ignoring — checking your phone, watching TV, or reviewing work notes while someone is talking. While sometimes you need to multitask and talk at the same time — prepare dinner, drive, feed a baby — you should make every attempt to actively listen to the person in front of you or on the other end of the phone.
8. Blaming someone for our feelings
People, places, and things can trigger feelings, but they don’t cause them. We need always take accountability for the way we feel. For example, if your spouse of 30 years suddenly leaves you, it is understandable if you are disillusioned and hurt. While it’s fair to say that your ex triggered such feelings, you own them. Effective communication resists the temptation to blame someone else for your feelings.
Honest and open dialogue happens without agenda. The moment we try to steer the conversation in a certain direction to get desired results, we let manipulation take precedence over effective communication. Even if our intentions are subconscious, they build walls and erode trust. The best communication happens when both parties drops their wish list and simply listen and respond lovingly.