10 Communication Problems and Mistakes We All Make

woman texting on dateCommunication problems 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.

3. Interrupting the Speaker

We’ve probably all interrupted another person midsentence 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.”

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.

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.

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 in communication 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.

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.

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 interest.

An effective communicator remains open and honest to address issues as soon as they arise rather than avoiding or prolonging important discussions.Perhaps you dread telling your children about your cancer diagnosis or don’t want to hurt your partner by revealing an affair. Whatever the topic, avoiding difficult conversations only makes matters worse long term. Tension 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.

An effective communicator remains open and honest to address issues as soon as they arise rather than avoiding or prolonging important discussions.

Relationship, couple, and marriage and family therapists can help individuals, couples, and families learn how to improve communication skills by addressing their issues and offering solutions for more effective communication. If you are experiencing communication problems in your relationships or just need some relationship advice, consider seeing a therapist.

References:

  1. Family Therapy: Tips to Improve Communication. Behavioral Health Evolution: Innovative resources for treating substance abuse, mental health, and co-occurring disorders. Retrieved from: http://www.bhevolution.org/public/effective_communication.page
  2. General Information about Communication Problems. (2008). International Training Program on Intractable Conflict. Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado. Retrieved from: http://www.colorado.edu/conflict/peace/problem/commprob.htm
  3. Poor Communication is the #1 Reason Couples Split Up: Survey. (2013, November 20). Huffington Post: Divorce. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/20/divorce-causes-_n_4304466.html

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  • Nola

    Nola

    September 19th, 2015 at 8:46 AM

    I think that there are times when am so busy trying to formulate what I am going to say in response that I truly do not take the real kind of necessary time and effort to listen to what the other person is trying to say to me.

  • brett

    brett

    September 21st, 2015 at 7:39 AM

    It is hard for me to focus on what I am really wanting to say when I get the sense that someone is not really paying that much attention to me. For some reason I am such a better speaker when I feel that the other person is truly engaged in what I am saying, that they are paying close attention to me and that they are actually processing it and want to know what I have to say. If I feel them moving away from me it is almost like that is a distraction to me.

  • Carol

    Carol

    September 21st, 2015 at 2:39 PM

    I really find it difficult to have a meaningful conversation with someone who will not make eye contact with me.

    If they don’t then to me it is like their thoughts are elsewhere.

    Acknowledge me!

  • Tim

    Tim

    September 22nd, 2015 at 7:38 AM

    We all do it, we all make mistakes, but all you can do is dust yourself off every time and try again. And try to follow the above rules as much as possible! ;)

  • Anetta

    Anetta

    September 23rd, 2015 at 10:59 AM

    How is it that most of us communicate with other people ALL DAY LONG and we still seem to struggle with doing it the right way?

  • natasha

    natasha

    July 22nd, 2019 at 7:38 PM

    I felt the same way because that day is my birthday 23rd September 1643. I love what you said

  • lois

    lois

    September 28th, 2015 at 10:43 AM

    Most of the time I have learned that those who are really bad listeners? They only hear the things that they actually want to hear but if it is something that doesn’t go along with what they perceive to be the game plan that is when they are really going to tune you out.

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