6 Unintentional Ways People Sabotage Effective Communication

by John M Reisinger

Making moralistic judgments, Making Comparisons and Denying Personal Responsibility are the 3 unconscious habits that block effective communication. I discussed these in a previous article and gave examples of how they cause Communication Frustration for both people. This article will help you see the other forms those habits can take in your communication at home and work.

1. Giving Analyses: Whenever we think we know why something was said or done based on our opinions we are analyzing. Here’s what my wife and I experienced. Whenever Kay would signal she wanted affection that I wasn’t giving her I’d call her “needy and dependent”. Whenever I wanted affection Kay wasn’t giving I’d call her “selfish and insensitive”. As we studied compassionate communication we both realized our analyses were actually expressions of what we both wanted and needed.

2. Mistaking Morals for Values: A value judgment helps us decide which qualities we value in life; for instance we might chose honesty, respect, peace, or freedom. These are always a reflection of how we believe life can best be served. With moralistic judgments we are attacking people and behaviors that oppose our value judgments. For example, “We say violence is bad, and people who murder others are evil”. This was a struggle for us to change our language from “Violence is bad” to “I’m fearful of the use of violence to solve conflicts; I value the resolution of human conflicts through other means”. Because, for us, our church was where we experienced the most confusion over morals and values.

3. Manipulating: Making children, spouses, friends, and co-workers unwillingly do what we want is manipulating. It seldom produces the results we’re after because fear, threats, guilt-trips, and comparisons are the tools we use to force their behavior. Some ways Kay and I experienced this: When Kay wanted word done around the house, she would ask why couldn’t I have the handy man prowess of her best friend’s husband. It never made me do the yard work or projects around the house the when or the way she wanted. Me explaining to my youngest son Mitchell, who’s dyslexic, that JD, his gifted brothers, taught himself to read never motivated Mitchell to read faster. Even if you think you have good intentions (like we we did) for manipulating others the only thing that’s sure to happen is wounding you relationships and others deeply.

4. One-way Philosophy and Politics: Philosophy is your world view. Politics is your actions in it. It really shocked Kay and me to see how our Philosophy and Politics were starting unintentional conflicts. We missed out on learning new ideas, making deep friendships, and having bigger opportunities when our philosophies and politics were a one-way conversation. People create conflicts about Philosophy or Politics because they mistake their moral judgments as facts. We know we did.

5. Blaming Actions on Others: When we blame other’s actions as the cause of our behavior we are shifting personal responsibility. What Kay and I discovered: Me yelling at the boys because they were silly at the table makes them responsible for my yelling. Me going golfing with my neighbor when I promised to shoot baskets with the kids makes my neighbor personally responsible for my commitments. Maybe you’ve encountered these as well: “He was jerk so I charged him more”, “My job makes me miserable, but I stay because my family depends on me.”, “I can’t leave early because my boss will kill me”. “I made her cry because she pushes my buttons”. When we are not conscious of our responsibility for how we behave, think, and feel we are dangerous.

6. Policies and Rules: This is when we shift responsibility to those in authority and unexamined procedures. Examples you might encounter would be “I have to suspend your son because it’s the school policy”, “I’m not authorized to help you”, “The computer says”, “My boss would kill me”, “Our policy is not to make exceptions”, “My boss says”, “We’ve always done it that way”. Responsibility shifted to policies, rules, and management does not validate the behavior.

There’s a lot to consider here. While you consider what you’ve read have compassion with yourself and what you find. You’re not broken, in need of fixing, and there isn’t anything wrong with you. Place attention on where these habits are showing up and creating unintentional conflict for yourself and others. Just patiently observe how you interact with people. You can also share this article with your spouse or friends and ask which ones they think show up most.


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