How many of you had a class in school that taught you how to communicate well? And I’m not talking about in college. I’m talking about K-12 grades. And I’m not talking about giving speeches in English class. Here’s what I mean: Did your teachers give you advice on how to work through arguments with people? Did they teach you to be a good listener? If they did, they didn’t do it through the formal curriculum. I should know. I’m a communication professor, and I tried very hard to get some schools to adopt a communication curriculum. Unfortunately, I was not successful. Communication can make or break our world. I know that is an extreme statement, and I know I’m biased because I teach these skills. But it’s true. Bad communication leads to broken relationships, and it is also a part of the reason why we don’t have world peace. Very few people really have good communication skills. But here’s the good news: It’s never too late to learn. Here are 15 common communication mistakes that you might be making, and you don’t even know it:
1. Not using “we” language.
Newsflash: Relationships are not a competition. Or at least they shouldn’t be. But so many people view the other person as the “enemy.” They speak with “me vs. you” language. You need to reframe it and think of yourselves as a team. Work together, not against each other. Work to solve a problem, not to be victorious.
2. Not giving eye contact.
How many of your are guilty of staring at your phone when someone is talking to you? Or typing on your laptop? Or watching TV? Even if you don’t catch yourself doing this, I’m sure you all have. But all of us have also been on the other side – when people are not looking at us when we talk. How does that make you feel when it happens? Yeah, not good. Right? So why not live by the golden rule and give other people the same courtesy that you want to be given?
What does it say to someone when you interrupt them? It says, “What I have to say is more important than what you have to say.” Not a very nice message, huh? Women tend to interrupt out of excitement and/or being afraid they will forget what the are going to say. Men tend to do it more as a power move. Either way, it still says, “I’m more important than you.”
4. Having negative or apathetic body language.
Ninety percent of the meaning of a message is contained in body language. That’s huge. Eye contact is part of body language, but it’s only a small part. What about your posture? Do you lean in toward the other person or are you positioned in a way that screams, “I really don’t care what you’re saying?” What about your head tilt? What about how close or far you sit from someone? All of these send strong messages. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words.
5. Not paraphrasing and restating what the other person says.
Have you ever said something to someone and you had a bad feeling that they didn’t actually hear what you said? Sure, they might have said, “Mmmm hmmm…” or “Yeah…” or “Yup…” But you know they didn’t really hear you. That’s where paraphrasing and restating comes in. Try saying something like “So, what I hear you saying is that when I am late, it makes you worried? Did I hear you correctly?” That shows the other person that you not only heard them, but you care enough about paraphrasing it in order to show them that you heard them.
6. Making assumptions before you hear the whole message.
You probably have rolled your eyes at people, thinking, “Oh I don’t even have to hear the rest of this – I already know what they’re going to say!” Well, maybe you do, but maybe you don’t. Don’t do that. We don’t like when people make assumptions about what we are saying, so don’t do that to other people either.
7. Letting your emotions control what you say.
You’re so angry that you think the roof is going to blow off your house. Okay, yeah. We’ve all been here. But it’s what you do when you’re feeling that way that really counts. Don’t let your emotions get into the driver’s seat. Go cool off so you don’t regret what you say. Then, when your logical side has kicked in, sit down and approach the conflict with “we” language. Remember #1 – you are a team. It’s not a competition.
8. Not asking probing questions of other people.
Saying things like, “Tell me more about that” or “So how did that make you feel?” lets the other person know that you care about them enough to ask for more information. That’s called a probing question. Ask people to elaborate. It makes them feel good.
9. Referring to yourself and your life more than asking people about theirs.
If you never ask other people what’s going on in their life, then you look pretty darn self-absorbed. I have people in my life who spend about 95% of the time we are together talking about themselves. Not that I mind that much, but it would be nice if they ask how I’m doing once in a while. Can you relate?
10. Needing to “win” an argument.
I’m going to repeat this again. Relationships are not a competition. Admitting that you’re wrong is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of maturity. No one is right all of the time. Don’t think you have to “win.” Acknowledging your mistakes will not give away your power. It shows that you are the better person because you can be honest.
11 Attacking other people’s character instead of what they say or do.
How many times have you said (or heard) something like, “You are such a JERK!! I can’t stand you!” And maybe you regret it later (you should). We all have bad behavior from time to time. And we will never agree with everything everyone says. But you need to disagree with their words or their actions, not their character. Don’t tear people’s self-esteem down. Build them up.
12. Expecting people to be a mind reader.
No one is. So why do we expect them to be? Women tend to be guilty of this more so than men. Women use indirect language. But if you really want someone to understand you, you have to speak directly. Otherwise, you can’t hold them accountable if they misinterpret your cryptic message.
13. Giving up your power with your words.
Women also tend to use “powerless” language. This is excessively polite language that gives up the power to the other person. For example, “I’m sorry, but am I bothering you?” That gives them the opportunity to say, “Yes you are! Go away!” Or how about “This might be a dumb idea but …” The other person can come back and say, “You’re right! That IS really dumb!” Own your power. Don’t give it away.
14. Letting anything distract you from giving your full attention.
Your phone. The TV. Your thoughts. Your bad attitude. I could go on and on about all the things that distract us from paying attention when someone talks to us. Be mindful of when you are giving into these things. If you don’t, it sends the message that “this is more important for me to pay attention to than you.”
15. Not being empathetic & realizing that perception is reality.
You see it your way. Someone else sees it another way. Who’s right? Is a Republican right or a Democrat? Is a Christian right or a Jew? It all depends on who you ask, right? Sometimes there is no “objective” reality. It’s all how an individual sees it. Remember that. Having empathy and realizing that the other person’s experience is very real to them is key to good relationships. Being a good communicator takes effort. It’s like being a good athlete – you have to practice if you want to be good at your craft! I hope that you take these 15 things to heart and start working on them today. And please share them with others as well. I wish you all happy, healthy relationships!
Featured photo credit: Claes Josefsson via flickr.com