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How Mentally Strong People Solve Communication Problems

How Mentally Strong People Solve Communication Problems

Communication and Long-Distance Relationships

In my early twenties, I said goodbye to my family in New York City and moved to Boston for graduate school. While I’d been living in my parents’ house, I talked to my mother, father, and teenage brother all the time, and felt really good about doing so. After I moved out, I wanted to stay close, so I called my family often. However, phone calls with my brother proved a major challenge. I called him regularly but he usually did not call back. My mother encouraged me to keep calling him, and reminded him often to call me – which he rarely did. I was upset and confused by this, as you can imagine, and when I visited NYC and pressed my brother to call me, he apologized, and said he would call back when I called. He did so for a bit, but then stopped again. My mother was distraught, and I was too. Negative feelings and thoughts kept running through my head: why didn’t he call me back? Didn’t he love me? Didn’t he care about me?

This issue festered for a couple of years, until I decided to deal with it directly. On my next extended visit to NYC, I sat down with him, and had a serious conversation. It turned out that my brother really dislikes talking on the phone. This form of communication just stresses him out. He has a much stronger preference for instant messaging as a mode of communication. Moreover, his Elephant brain developed an “ugh field,” a variety of negative emotions, around communicating with me. This was due to the combination of pressure he experienced from my mother and me, and the guilt and shame that came from him failing to call.

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What I Should Have Done

I really wish I knew how he felt! What I should have done was notice that he was not calling me back, and have a conversation about the problem with him right away. I should not have insisted that he call me, but instead express curiosity about why he did not. That way, I would have found out about his anxiety and stress around phone conversations. He would not have felt guilty and pressured. I would not have felt sad and confused. Everyone would have been better off!

Broader Relevance for Communication and Relationships

This story illustrates the importance of adapting one’s communication style to one’s audience. Much has been written about the vital role of communication in the workplace and in civic engagement, especially analyzing and targeting the preferences of your audiences to meet your communication goals. Research shows that such communication is also vital in our personal lives, such as ensuring healthy romantic relationships. Studies of family communication have likewise shown the importance of communicating well and especially being flexible about one’s communication style and preferences.

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Flexibility and Anchoring

Such flexibility was the missing ingredient in my communication to my brother. I had the goal of cultivating my relationship to my brother, but was trying to reach this goal in a way that was not intentional. So I decided to be more flexible and started exchanging Facebook messages with him, using Gmail chat, and other instant messaging services. We grew closer and had a much better relationship. We even worked to solve occasional problems that would come up between one of us and our parents!

Now, why did this problem occur in the first place? Well, from my background growing up, I developed a reference point, in other words a perception of what is normal and appropriate, of the phone being the “right way” to maintain and cultivate relationships with close people. I suffered from the anchoring bias, a common cognitive bias, the scientific name for thinking errors frequently made by our minds. The anchoring bias occurs when people rely too heavily on information they got early onward, and do not move away from this anchor sufficiently based on new information. I had to acknowledge that I failed at my brother’s mind and forgot that my mental map does not match his mental map.

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    Dealing with Anchoring

    So how does one deal with the anchoring bias? A useful strategy is remembering the benefit of re-examining our cached patterns. This term refers to habits of thought and feeling in our mind that we absorbed uncritically from the social environment around us, as opposed to conclusions we arrived at by our own intentional reasoning. Re-evaluating our cached patterns of thought and feeling enables us to see reality more clearly, make more effective decisions, and achieve our goals, thus helping us gain greater agency in personal relationships and other life areas.

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    So whenever you notice yourself confused or upset by something that you did not expect, stop and think: what is the origin of your confusion? Is it coming from some sort of cached pattern, where you think something is the only “right way” of doing things? Think about whether there are any alternative ways of achieving your desired outcome. (This is part of a broader strategy of dealing with common thinking errors by considering alternatives, which research shows is a very effective way for avoiding thinking errors.) Try listing at least 3 alternatives, and describe why each of them can be valid and right, at least for other people if not for you. Remember, relationships are a two-way street, and you need to respect the other person and their preferences in order to communicate well.

    Questions for Consideration

    To help you internalize this information, gain long-lasting benefit from reading this article, and use it effectively in your everyday life for improving your thinking, feeling, and behavior patterns, reflect on and answer the questions below.

    • Can you identify any ugh fields you developed? How do you deal with ugh fields?
    • In what ways, if any, can you be a better communicator in your professional, personal, and civic life areas?
    • Are there any instances where the anchoring effect caused you to make sub-optimal decisions?
    • Do you think you have any cached patterns that might be harmful to your mental well-being?
    • If so, what steps can you take to deal with these cached patterns?

    Featured photo credit: Phone via flickr.com

    More by this author

    Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

    Cognitive neuroscientist and behavioral economist; CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts; multiple best-selling author

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    Last Updated on February 11, 2021

    Easily Misunderstood by Others? 6 Barriers You Should Overcome to Make Communication Less Frustrating

    Easily Misunderstood by Others? 6 Barriers You Should Overcome to Make Communication Less Frustrating

    How often have you said something simple, only to have the person who you said this to misunderstand it or twist the meaning completely around? Nodding your head in affirmative? Then this means that you are being unclear in your communication.

    Communication should be simple, right? It’s all about two people or more talking and explaining something to the other. The problem lies in the talking itself, somehow we end up being unclear, and our words, attitude or even the way of talking becomes a barrier in communication, most of the times unknowingly. We give you six common barriers to communication, and how to get past them; for you to actually say what you mean, and or the other person to understand it as well…

    The 6 Walls You Need to Break Down to Make Communication Effective

    Think about it this way, a simple phrase like “what do you mean” can be said in many different ways and each different way would end up “communicating” something else entirely. Scream it at the other person, and the perception would be anger. Whisper this is someone’s ear and others may take it as if you were plotting something. Say it in another language, and no one gets what you mean at all, if they don’t speak it… This is what we mean when we say that talking or saying something that’s clear in your head, many not mean that you have successfully communicated it across to your intended audience – thus what you say and how, where and why you said it – at times become barriers to communication.[1]

    Perceptual Barrier

    The moment you say something in a confrontational, sarcastic, angry or emotional tone, you have set up perceptual barriers to communication. The other person or people to whom you are trying to communicate your point get the message that you are disinterested in what you are saying and sort of turn a deaf ear. In effect, you are yelling your point across to person who might as well be deaf![2]

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    The problem: When you have a tone that’s not particularly positive, a body language that denotes your own disinterest in the situation and let your own stereotypes and misgivings enter the conversation via the way you talk and gesture, the other person perceives what you saying an entirely different manner than say if you said the same while smiling and catching their gaze.

    The solution: Start the conversation on a positive note, and don’t let what you think color your tone, gestures of body language. Maintain eye contact with your audience, and smile openly and wholeheartedly…

    Attitudinal Barrier

    Some people, if you would excuse the language, are simply badass and in general are unable to form relationships or even a common point of communication with others, due to their habit of thinking to highly or too lowly of them. They basically have an attitude problem – since they hold themselves in high esteem, they are unable to form genuine lines of communication with anyone. The same is true if they think too little of themselves as well.[3]

    The problem: If anyone at work, or even in your family, tends to roam around with a superior air – anything they say is likely to be taken by you and the others with a pinch, or even a bag of salt. Simply because whenever they talk, the first thing to come out of it is their condescending attitude. And in case there’s someone with an inferiority complex, their incessant self-pity forms barriers to communication.

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    The solution: Use simple words and an encouraging smile to communicate effectively – and stick to constructive criticism, and not criticism because you are a perfectionist. If you see someone doing a good job, let them know, and disregard the thought that you could have done it better. It’s their job so measure them by industry standards and not your own.

    Language Barrier

    This is perhaps the commonest and the most inadvertent of barriers to communication. Using big words, too much of technical jargon or even using just the wrong language at the incorrect or inopportune time can lead to a loss or misinterpretation of communication. It may have sounded right in your head and to your ears as well, but if sounded gobbledygook to the others, the purpose is lost.

    The problem: Say you are trying to explain a process to the newbies and end up using every technical word and industry jargon that you knew – your communication has failed if the newbie understood zilch. You have to, without sounding patronizing, explain things to someone in the simplest language they understand instead of the most complex that you do.

    The solution: Simplify things for the other person to understand you, and understand it well. Think about it this way: if you are trying to explain something scientific to a child, you tone it down to their thinking capacity, without “dumbing” anything down in the process.[4]

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    Emotional Barrier

    Sometimes, we hesitate in opening our mouths, for fear of putting our foot in it! Other times, our emotional state is so fragile that we keep it and our lips zipped tightly together lest we explode. This is the time that our emotions become barriers to communication.[5]

    The problem: Say you had a fight at home and are on a slow boil, muttering, in your head, about the injustice of it all. At this time, you have to give someone a dressing down over their work performance. You are likely to transfer at least part of your angst to the conversation then, and talk about unfairness in general, leaving the other person stymied about what you actually meant!

    The solution: Remove your emotions and feelings to a personal space, and talk to the other person as you normally would. Treat any phobias or fears that you have and nip them in the bud so that they don’t become a problem. And remember, no one is perfect.

    Cultural Barrier

    Sometimes, being in an ever-shrinking world means that inadvertently, rules can make cultures clash and cultural clashes can turn into barriers to communication. The idea is to make your point across without hurting anyone’s cultural or religious sentiments.

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    The problem: There are so many ways culture clashes can happen during communication and with cultural clashes; it’s not always about ethnicity. A non-smoker may have problems with smokers taking breaks; an older boss may have issues with younger staff using the Internet too much.

    The solution: Communicate only what is necessary to get the point across – and eave your personal sentiments or feelings out of it. Try to be accommodative of the other’s viewpoint, and in case you still need to work it out, do it one to one, to avoid making a spectacle of the other person’s beliefs.[6]

    Gender Barrier

    Finally, it’s about Men from Mars and Women from Venus. Sometimes, men don’t understand women and women don’t get men – and this gender gap throws barriers in communication. Women tend to take conflict to their graves, literally, while men can move on instantly. Women rely on intuition, men on logic – so inherently, gender becomes a big block in successful communication.[7]

    The problem: A male boss may inadvertently rub his female subordinates the wrong way with anti-feminism innuendoes, or even have problems with women taking too many family leaves. Similarly, women sometimes let their emotions get the better of them, something a male audience can’t relate to.

    The solution: Talk to people like people – don’t think or classify them into genders and then talk accordingly. Don’t make comments or innuendos that are gender biased – you don’t have to come across as an MCP or as a bra-burning feminist either. Keep gender out of it.

    And remember, the key to successful communication is simply being open, making eye contact and smiling intermittently. The battle is usually half won when you say what you mean in simple, straightforward words and keep your emotions out of it.

    Reference

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