Communication Breakdown

He never listens to me!argue

She says one thing and means another!

Do either of these statements sound familiar to you?

What one thing can keep marriages healthy, friendships growing, and countries living in harmony?  Good communication!  Yet that is the one thing that fails most regularly.  Why?  Many reasons, but the prime reason is that different genders and generations communicate in different ways.  The most common complaint that I hear from my clients is that their spouse/significant other, or co-worker or employer doesn’t listen to them.

This communication breakdown is the subject of numerous studies by everyone from professionals to couples at a dinner party.  They usually focus on the differences between how men and women talk, listen, and interpret.  More scientific (or physco-analytical) approaches focus on the right and left hemispheres of our brains and how the we react differently depending on which side of our brain hemispheres dominate (right side being creative and emotional, left side being critical and analytical).  Some just blame it on diverse lifestyles that render opposites (opponents) unable to relate.

I boil it down to two concepts.

1.   People do not LISTEN to each other.  And by listen, I mean hear what the other person means, what they are really saying, not necessarily their words.  Instead of feeling their intentions, and trying to understand their motivations, we react to their words, before their actions have a chance to clarify anything misunderstood.  Then we are further confused when their actions do not match our expectations.

2.   People do not SPEAK CLEARLY.  I am a huge proponent of being honest and asking for what you need from another person.  When you cover the true need with superfluous embellishments, apologies, caveats, etc., your message (intent) is lost in translation!

commAs an example, say you need more help at home from your spouse, or to remove something from your over-burdened “plate” at work.  Instead of saying I need help.  I’m stressed and feel in over my head, you say is there any way that I could possibly have you do me a favor?  It won’t take long, if you can’t that’s okay, I understand, oh never mind. What that much fluff around your true intention, is it any wonder that all the other person hears is “yada yada yada could you…okay, never mind?

So how do we repair our communication breakdowns?  I employ two simple techniques.  Streamlined questioning followed by active listening.

1.   Before you ask a question, know your true intentions.  What do you really need to ask?  Are you beating around the bush?  Are you afraid to come forward and ask for what you really need? Don’t play the martyr, people don’t respect it.

Be reasonable, be straight-forward, and 99% of the time, the other person will gladly honor your request.  Hopefully, they in turn, will be honest and tell you if they cannot or are unwilling to comply.  That goes for you too.  You must be honest with yourself and others when called upon for help or a favor.  If it’s too difficult for you to achlistenieve at this time, for whatever reason, just say so.  Doing someone a favor when it makes for a hardship in your life, helps no one.

2.   Listen to answers…think before you speak.  Try to not to anticipate, or have expectations of what you want to hear from another person.  This will eliminate the feeling of disappointment if the answer isn’t what you had hoped for.

Take a moment to digest what has been said, or how you wish to respond.  Keep in mind all the variables that can change perception.  What are they/you doing at this moment?  Do you have only half their attention or vice versa?  Are there distractions, complications?.  Was the question clear?  Does the answer need clarification?  What does their/your body language say?

Once you get in the habit of straight-to-the-point (but not tactless) questions, and active open listening, your communication skills will improve.  This will boost the communication skills of those around you as well (especially in intimate relationships).  Teach these techniques to your spouses, children, and co-workers.  Though this may not improve global communication, if one person at a time make an concerted effort to be honest and listen well, our world may have a lot less bickering!


  1. Pingback: Communication Breakdown Part 2 | A Kick In The Butt
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