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15 Common Communication Mistakes That You Might Be Making (But You Don’t Even Know)

15 Common Communication Mistakes That You Might Be Making (But You Don’t Even Know)

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?

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3. Interrupting.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

More by this author

Carol Morgan

Dr. Carol Morgan is a communication professor, dating/relationship and success coach, TV personality, speaker, and author.

Dealing With Anxious Attachment: Advice from a Relationship Therapist Practical Advice for Overcoming Problems in INFP Relationships Learn the Different Types of Love (and Better Understand Your Partner) How to Become a Motivational Speaker and Influence Millions of People Why It’s Okay to Hit the Wall and How to Overcome It Fast

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Last Updated on January 15, 2019

How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

Many of us feel awkward talking to strangers. I’m a very outgoing person, even though I sometimes feel uncomfortable walking up to someone and asking a question or starting a conversation. I consider myself pretty high up on the extrovert meter. So what is it that makes us pause and become worried or anxious about talking to people we don’t know?

In this article, we will discuss why we feel this way as well as some tips on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

Step right up, don’t be shy!

Why We Feel Awkward Talking to Strangers

The next time you feel uncomfortable talking to a stranger, tell yourself that’s completely normal. There are numerous reasons why it’s actually natural to feel awkward talking to strangers:

Our Stress Levels Rise Around Strangers

Numerous studies have show that our levels of cortisol go up when we are around strangers.[1] Cortisol is the hormone inside of us which produces stress responses.[2]
So there you go, right off the bat you can see part of your standard response to strangers is due to a chemical reaction!

A very interesting by product of increased cortisol is that it makes us less empathetic. More than likely this can be traced to our evolution. The increase in the cortisol and the corresponding decrease in empathy makes us want to stay away from strangers. We are biologically wired to feel concern around strangers.

Evolution Taught Us to Be Wary

Evolution has also taught us to be wary of strangers in general. Humans as a whole have spent a large chunk of their history banded together in small protective groups. We did this in order to help protect each other and maximize resources.

When you think about it in this context, outsiders to our small groups or strangers are considered potential threats. Fear of strangers is common across almost all human cultures.

Culturally Conditioned

We can also thank our society for helping us feel uncomfortable and sometimes afraid of strangers. The term “stranger danger” is something most of us can relate to either growing up or raising kids. Or both.

I remember hearing this from my parents, mostly about not getting in someone’s car I didn’t know. And as the father of 2 teenage girls, you can be sure I’ve talked to them about this very concept more times that they want to hear.

The thought that strangers can be dangerous is built into us as it is. Toss in the amplification of the media on strangers doing things such as kidnapping kids and it takes it to an even higher level.

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Now that we’ve reviewed some of the reasons why we are nervous, let’s look at why you should talk to strangers more.

Benefits of Getting over the Awkwardness

Let’s take a quick look at some of the advantages of how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward. These are some high level benefits of talking to strangers.

1. Broadens Your Network

After you talk to someone, you didn’t know previously they become someone you know at least a little bit. This alone helps broaden your network of people you know. This is helpful in many ways whether it is work related or socially related.

2. Improves Your Communication Skills

I am a huge proponent of the value of solid communication skills and have written about it often. The more you talk to people, especially people you don’t know, the better your communication skills become.

Interacting with a wider variety of people will bring the added benefit of improving your communication skills.

3. Continually Learning

So many of us don’t actively seek to learn new things. This is one of the primary keys to staying engaged in life and our own personal self fulfillment.

Almost every time I speak to someone I didn’t know previously, I’ve learned something new. When we speak to strangers, it pushes us out of our comfort zones and we tend to learn new things.

4. Increases Self Confidence

Every time we learn to do something we were previously anxious about, we feel better about ourselves.

Forcing ourselves to talk to strangers will lead to increased self confidence. As we get more and more comfortable doing something that previously made us feel awkward, our self confidence will go up and up.

So, how to talk to strangers to reap these benefits?

How to Talk to Strangers

Here are some tips to on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

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1. Say Hello

Putting “say hello” first may seem a bit obvious but let’s take a deeper look. Much of the social awkwardness when speaking to strangers is simply breaking the ice. The first words that will engage someone.

Most people will respond when someone says hello or hi to them. And those that don’t, you probably don’t want to talk to anyway.

Practice being the person that opens the door to a conversation. Say hello.

2. Ask About Them

Something that I have noticed over the years is that people love to talk about themselves. Even fairly private people tend to open up when asked about events in their lives.

You can ask leading questions that get people to talk about themselves and recent events. Things like recent movies watched or the summer vacation are great to get someone talking.

As a father, I also know that people love to talk about their kids. Asking about kids is a fairly easy topic to bring up and in general, most people will expound upon all the great things their kids do or are involved with.

3. Just Do It

One of the biggest reasons we don’t do things we want to or know we should is because we overthink it. Quit thinking about it so much and just do it.

When you give yourself the time to analyze every little angle about a situation, you also give plenty of time to talk yourself out of it. You’ll wind up thinking what if this happens or what if that happens.

Try to force yourself to jump right in without thinking about it too much. Whenever I have done this, I always feel great about it afterwards, no matter how it turned out.

4. Don’t Take It Personal

One of the greatest lessons in life I ever learned was don’t take anything personally. We all go through life with our own sets of experiences and see things through our own lens. The way people react to different situations has almost nothing to do with us. It has to do with previous experiences and the way people feel about things other than us.

When someone’s reaction isn’t what you’d hoped or expected, chances are it has nothing to do with you. Remember that and keep it in context.

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5. Get a Chuckle If Possible

I used the word chuckle purposely because it makes me laugh. In my opinion, it’s one of those funny words. We all like to laugh because it makes us feel good. And when someone makes us laugh, we typically remember those people in a positive light.

One of the best ways to make a conversation easy and free flowing is to get some laughter going. It doesn’t mean you have to be the master joke teller or anything. See if you can work in a way to make the person you are talking to get a smile or some laughter in. In fact, laughing at yourself maybe a nice try.

6. Detach

A great feeling is when you don’t mind which way something turns out, that you will be fine no matter what happens. Kind of like when I watch my two favorite football teams play against each other. I don’t really care who wins, I just want a fun game.

Treat talking to strangers the same way. You don’t really care how the conversation goes because you are detaching from the outcome. Make it a fun time with yourself and if the conversation goes well, awesome! If not then no big deal, move on.

7. Share Your Stories

Well, all like to feel connected to other people. And many times we wind up hanging out with people that we have things in common with. No surprise here.

To help with how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward, tell stories that have commonalities with the person you are talking to. Kids are an easy one. I have a daughter who was a competitive cheerleader and now plays club volleyball. I have instant connection and stories with strangers I speak with who have kids that play sports. It’s easy to relate to.

So when you are speaking to a stranger and you have a story or mutual connection point, bring it up.

8. Give a Compliment

Almost everyone likes hearing a compliment, whether they admit to it or not. As a general rule, we don’t give out enough compliments. It’s amazing how one small remark someone tosses your way about how good you look can literally make your entire day.

When you are speaking with someone you don’t know, see if you can work a compliment in. Nothing creepy here. Not a good idea to tell someone you just met that they are the prettiest or handsomest person you ever met. However, if you can share how you like their tattoo or shoes or something like that, it will help put the conversation into an easy going, smiling place.

9. Relax Your Body Language

If you go into a situation all worried and nervous, it shows on your body. Your shoulders are tensed up, there’s a look of consternation on your face, things like that.

When you engage a stranger in conversation, make it a point to relax your body language. Take a deep breath before you engage the person, let your body relax, and put a smile on your face. This will help relax you and it has the added benefit of putting the other person more at ease.

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If they see that you are relaxed, it helps them relax. Plus having open, engaging body language is very conducive to inviting someone to open up into a conversation with you.

10. Practice, Practice, Practice

Like everything else in life, talking to strangers gets easier with practice. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Make it a point to talk to several strangers each week and it will definitely help you relax as you do it more and more.

After a while, it will become something you don’t even think about, you just do it. And that takes all of the awkwardness out of being in these type situations.

The Bottom Line

As we have seen, it is perfectly natural to feel awkward talking to strangers. We are biologically built that way and we have our own society constantly warning us how dangerous it is. It’s no wonder we feel awkward talking to strangers!

There are numerous benefits to learning to be more comfortable talking to strangers. See if you can employ some of the techniques mentioned to learn how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

Once you start practicing speaking with strangers more often and utilizing some of the tips, you will become more comfortable doing so. This in turn will lead to a learned new skill and increased self confidence.

Remember, everyone you know was a stranger at one time. Now get out there and make some new friends.

More Resources About Strengthening Communication Skills

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

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