Common Pitfalls in Communication

What are some common communication problems that we all face?

The biggest and the most common is not listening and this is where active listening really comes into play. You see if you don’t listen it creates several other problems.

It might mean you assume you know the message before the person finishes speaking. You know the old acronym; Assume = “Ass-out-of-you-and-me”

You might interrupt the speaker which means the person doesn’t finish expressing and communicating what they wanted to say.

A lack of empathy is a major pitfall in communication. For example, they might be failing to take into account the intercultural communication differences.

A lack of emotional intelligence is another pitfall in communication which results in letting your emotions dictate how you interact and respond to others.

Not taking the time to qualify the message. That means you are not taking the time to make sure you understand what the person is really trying to say.

There are some simple and cool techniques you can use that will help you ensure you understand the other person’s message correctly. Techniques such as paraphrasing and metaphrasing both help you clarify that you understood the message correctly. Both these  techniques save time and give you the opportunity to increase productivity. Not to mention help you prevent conflicts and arguments later due to misunderstandings.

An example paraphrasing would be, “From what I understood, you are saying XYZ?”

Compared to metaphrasing where you repeat back the exact same words.

Metaphrasing is a double-edged sword. It can help you with the communication but if used incorrectly can hurt rapport.

That’s because, sure, it helps clarify the communication. But if used improperly metaphrasing can be interpreted by the speaker as you’re trying to antagonise the person who you Metaphrasing. Or that you are making fun of what they just said. So careful

Therefore, I would most often recommend using paraphrasing when trying to clarify and confirm that you understand what it is that the person is saying.

Metaphrasing is powerful when used correctly but it is an advanced communication skill that I teach as a corporate trainer to leaders and clients.

Another common pitfall in communication is when people are indirect in their communication. Here I am not talking about passive aggressive communication.

But what I am talking about, you will hear this a lot overseas. For example, in southern Europe, people tend to be more diplomatic in their communication than their counterparts in northern Europe.

An example of northern european communication style might be that the Germans and the Dutch can be almost brutally upfront, frank and honest.

Sometimes to the point that it might even hurt your feelings. You should realise that they most likely are not trying to insult you or hurt your feelings. However, the upside to this communication style is that there’s little room for misunderstanding.

However, in southern Europe starting from France and moving south to Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece, when people communicate, they tend to soften their messages. This is particularly true if the message is criticism or negative feedback. This communication style can be less effective and efficient. Because it can lead to confusion and misunderstanding.

Here’s an example I first encountered a few years ago when I first moved to Madrid. People in Spain generally don’t like to use the word “NO”.

They much prefer when answering with a negative to say things like; “that is difficult” or they might say something like “to accomplish that would be very complex”.

On a funny side, and due my own naivety because of my anglo perception, I understood that just because something is difficult doesn’t mean “NO” or that  it can’t be accomplished. Therefore I didn’t understand that I was being told “NO”

So due to my own ignorance, I would continue to press forward for a solution. I simply did not understand that what they were saying was “NO”.  Either because they aren’t interested, or from their perspective it’s impractical or it’s too much work taking into account the effort  and rewards ratio.

To learn more about intercultural intelligence and cross cultural training read here.

Other common pitfalls in communication

pitfall communication

Avoiding difficult conversations, oftentimes people prefer just to completely avoid, ignore or deny situations. So they don’t have to confront the situation. They feel uncomfortable being assertive in communication.

This type of person’s solution is to find an excuse to avoid that difficult conversation altogether. The problem is by doing so, it creates the opportunity for resentments and grudges to build up over time. It manifests in the form of bitterness and resentments. Which most definitely can create stress, unhappiness, bitterness and not good in a workplace environment.

An effective communicator, you would use assertive communication and be open to dealing with difficult conversations. Obviously in a difficult conversation you want to be diplomatic, use your empathy. So you at least limit or avoid hurting the other person’s feelings.

Such as in the following example:

You want to avoid attacking and talking about the person’s character. You want to separate the bad behaviour from the person. If the person feels attacked, the response will be that their defences will go up. Then you will have much more difficulty in communicating with them because they won’t be listening to you.

When people feel attacked they will start thinking about how to come up with all sorts of excuses to justify their behaviour and why they are right and why you are wrong.

In order to be an effective communicator, achieve positive change and get the results you want, you’ll need to avoid the pitfalls in communication, not to lash-tongues others or create feelings that they are under a verbal attack.

It’s a natural psychological defence mechanism that nearly everyone defaults to. If they feel they are under a personal attack.

Perhaps all you want to do is address bad behaviour or even a lack of behaviour, like not taking out the garbage.  But if you want to get a positive result, you want to avoid the mistake of making the other person feel like they are being attacked. Particularly, avoid attacking or commenting on their character, personality or things they can’t change about themselves. 

One of the best tricks I know is to show the other person why it’s in their best interest to modify the behaviour and how they will benefit and reap the rewards by adjusting their behaviour.

It’s in their best interest

You simply want to FOCUS ON and discuss the behaviour you want to change.

Another important FREE tip:

It’s important when giving negative feedback or when you are having a difficult conversation with someone. Be very careful when you use the pronoun “you”. Because the pronoun “you” can spark all sorts of emotions that can often trigger the other individual to feel like they are being attacked. And you don’t want that because it’s counterproductive if you want to produce positive change.

In order to keep the channels of communication open it’s important to avoid that the other person does not feel threatened or insulted.

In order to keep the channels of communication open and keep people open to listening. Each person needs to keep their emotions out of the conversation in order to have a productive dialogue.

What happens if you’re speaking with someone who does not have a developed level of emotional intelligence, let’s say their communication skills are subpar. Then you need to take the responsibility to make sure the communication goes well. And to accomplish this you need to implement communication skills and techniques I have shared with you up to now.

How do you communicate with a person?

Well as an experienced and effective communicator you need to learn to control your own emotions. First be careful that they don’t feel like you’re accusing them or attacking them.

You can frame the situation as though you’re trying to help them. People love to feel important and receive advice on how to be even more important.

A really good example of this was when I once witnessed a senior executive let go of an employee. The senior executive’s communication skills were phenomenal.

The person being dismissed was made to feel that they were special and it was in their best interest to find another opportunity elsewhere. It was present so that it seemed the senior executive and the company were in fact doing him a massive personal favour.

That the decision to leave the company was his own [person was being fired]. The senior executive presented himself as if he was acting as a friend to help facilitate this “change” by dismissing him from his position. Granted it might sound weird, even manipulative but it was very effective for the desired outcome.

The senior executive said things like, “I’m going to help you. I’m going to help you find a new place where you’ll be happier and where you can continue to grow more.” Your leaving us is a good thing for you because it’s best for your future and I’m helping you accomplish this positive change.” 

It was truly incredible to observe.. You might think it’s strange but remember the man who was dismissed actually left happy and in an upbeat mood!

But communication with positive language can have an incredible impact on people. Try it and see.

Now that’s an example of excellent communication skills. Which we can teach you in our corporate training communication skills workshops.

So you see, much of the time it’s just the way you phrase things that can have a massive impact on the listener, regardless if it’s a stressful event like a dismissal from a job or whatever the case might be.

In general, the way you communicate is key. Particularly if it’s a very negative event and very stressful.

But if you learn to communicate properly you can change the other person’s perception. So much so that the person might feel as though they are receiving preferential treatment. This is why emotional intelligence and active listening are so crucial for good communication skills

Active _Listening

You can learn emotional intelligence and active listening skills

The trick is to learn how to handle their ego correctly. If you learn when it’s appropriate to use silk gloves, so to speak, so as not to bruise or to hurt their ego. The ego is one of the most vulnerable and important aspects of the human psyche. If you apply good communications skills you’ll experience more positive outcomes when dealing with others and avoid this pitfall in communication.

Another common pitfall in communication is allowing yourself to be distracted while listening to someone.

Distractions are far more common today than in the past because of technology.  Smartphones, WhatsApp, notifications, beeps, DM messages and on and on. People are continually being distracted by different platforms.

Even your desktop is constantly competing for your attention with a bombardment of superfluous notifications; ads and so forth. Windows10 offers a smorgashboard of possible distractions.

At times, I find myself focused on writing an email and then suddenly I start to receive all sorts of notifications that I previously had opted out of such as news etc…

If you stop to think about it, it’s a paradox because we are offered so much help that it’s actually counterproductive!

We are all flooded 24/7 like waves of an ocean that compete nonstop for your immediate attention for this or for that. It’s like a sea of never ending pop-up, opt-ins, etc… I bet you might even get one while reading this article!

But it’s really important when communicating with another person face-to-face that they feel like you are listening to them. That they feel they are the most important thing for you in this room, at this moment.

Think about how you feel when you speak to someone and they’re looking at their phone, or looking away, looking at their watch, looking around etc… How does that make you feel?

Now imagine you are sharing some very personal matter with them? Especially, if you feel uncomfortable talking about it or even worse, sharing something with them that makes you feel vulnerable.

pitfall communication

It’s very bad manners to busy yourself with other tasks when speaking with others.

I understand the urge you might have to check that important message that I’ve been waiting for all week. But ask yourself can it wait another 5 minutes in most cases it can wait.  Unless of course someone might actually die if you don’t answer! But you know that’s extremely rare. So get a grip and learn to control yourself.

Do you remember the experiment of pavlov dog?

If you know it or read it then wink 😉 wink… get the idea?

I had to learn to train myself not to touch the phone, not to look at my watch. I taught myself to look directly at the person in the face as they speak. It’s not only respect for another human being but it shows good manners, empathy and qualities of a leader.

Do you remember the old Golden Rule? I wonder if it still applies today?

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!”

It’s not “Get what you can and run.” 😆 If people were to live their lives based on the golden rule, what a beautiful world it would be.

A last and important pitfall in communication to know

Always keep an open mind, avoid having expectations of others, prejudices and stereotyping how you will be treated or have too many preconceived ideas before you first meet someone new.

Go into the interaction with an open mind.

Give others a break, give them a chance.

Unfortunately, I see this negative tendency more frequently in North America than I do in other places. And it’s unfortunate how people can be conditioned to stereotype. Stereotyping only limits your ability and your possibilities.

So keep an open mind! Who knows you just might learn something new.


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