Are arguments and drama a daily occurrence? Maybe you are making basic communication mistakes.

It happens to each of us to make a mistake when talking to another person. Judging, over-advising or comparing our interlocutor with himself or herself are just some of the actions that can discourage him or her from approaching us. What types of emotions can cause us to make communication mistakes? What should we not and should we say to the other person to make him feel comfortable with us?

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Mistakes in communication — Gordon’s dirty twelve

Communication mistakes happen to all of us. Unfortunately, even if we have very good intentions, sometimes what we say can have the complete opposite effect on our interlocutor. Psychotherapist and family counselor Thomas Gordon has compiled a universal list of mistakes we most often make when conversing and interacting with another person. The list is called the “dirty twelve,” and includes behaviors such as:

  • criticizing,
  • overbearing,
  • making diagnoses (analyzing),
  • praising combined with evaluation,
  • commanding,
  • threatening,
  • moralizing,
  • questioning,
  • giving advice,
  • distracting (distracting),
  • arguing logically,
  • reassuring.

What are examples of the above communication errors? What kinds of emotions can they evoke in our interlocutor?

Communication mistakes — criticizing

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Criticizing further is often used by a large number of people for motivational purposes. A parent, teacher or boss may claim that a critical appraisal will motivate the other person to behave in a certain way, learn or work more efficiently. Unfortunately, expressing negative opinions about an interlocutor’s behavior, feelings, views, actions or achievements can have the complete opposite effect. Being criticized by others very often creates a barrier in us in dealing with people, leads to emotional closure and internal conflict.

Communication mistakes — overbearing

Overbearing, demeaning and stereotyping the other person is a very quick way to discourage someone. “Well, yes, a typical woman,” “You’re just like other men,” or “You act like a fool,” is a kind of labeling that will most likely trigger a defensive attitude in your interlocutor, and prevent him from opening up to you. This type of reaction will block the way to getting to know the other person. Unfortunately, very often we assign labels to other people at the very first contact, based on our beliefs about their appearance, style of dress or how they should express themselves. Pigeonholing the other person, without giving ourselves a chance to get to know them, can lead to missed opportunities for many valuable relationships and connections in our lives.

Communication errors — making a diagnosis (analyzing)

Do you know that feeling when you try to communicate something to another person, but they try to tell you that they know more about you than you do? This type of communication error happens extremely often. Unfortunately, many and many of us lack the ability to actively listen to our interlocutor, and instead of focusing on his or her feelings, we try to analyze his or her behavior, and play “therapist.” “You’re doing this because…”, “You’re acting in such a way as to upset me”, is a very quick way to end a conversation, after which distaste may remain in the other person.

Communication mistakes — praising combined with judging

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Praising the other person may seem to us like a good behavior that will influence him or her on a positive motivation basis. Of course, most often praise is received in just this way, but there is one conversation pattern that we should avoid.

“You’re smart, I’m sure you’ll figure something out,” or “You’re brave, I’m sure you’ll do well,” is so-called praise combined with evaluation. Unfortunately, it is very often a tool of manipulation, used to get the other person to behave in a particular way to achieve hidden benefits. In addition, the abuse of praise can make the interlocutor stop believing in it, and thus lose trust in us and feel used.

Communication mistakes — commanding

“You have to do it immediately!”, “Go home right now!”, are messages based on force and aggression. Many people believe in their effect, but in the long run they can lead to very negative consequences. Creating conflict with the other person, lowering their self-esteem, or causing rebellion on their part are just some of the behaviors that forcing obedience on someone can cause.

Communication mistakes — threatening

Threatening the other person with negative consequences if he or she behaves this way and not that way is a quick method of creating tension between you, a negative atmosphere, and in the long run, conflict. Using statements like “You’ll do this or…” is an effort to gain control over the interlocutor, in an extremely unhealthy and toxic way.

Communication mistakes — moralizing

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Moralizing, i.e. telling people how they should behave, most often citing arguments related to a particular view, ideology or one’s own moral code, is not a good way to carry on a conversation with another person. Sentences that begin with words such as “You should,” “This is the right thing to do,” “This is the right thing to do,” can cause anxiety and guilt in the interlocutor and make him or her unable to honestly express his or her emotions.

Communication mistakes — questioning

Asking too many questions (especially closed questions, i.e. questions to which we usually answer “yes” or “no”), and introducing an atmosphere of “interrogation” during a conversation with another person, will rarely make him feel comfortable with you. On the contrary: this type of behavior can make the interlocutor feel anxious and cause him or her to adopt a defensive posture, and not be able to open up during the conversation.

Communication mistakes — giving advice

Helping the other person resolve conflict situations should always be based on one simple rule: don’t give advice until someone directly asks you what you would do in their place. Remember that you are not able to ‘get into the skin’ of your interlocutor, and you will never have the whole picture of the situation. In addition, suggesting what decision the other person should make is taking on a great deal of responsibility. “You should do so…” or “As I would have done a long time ago in your place…” is unlikely to help the interlocutor solve the problem, and instead may be perceived negatively by him.

Communication mistakes — distraction

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“There’s nothing to worry about,” “I have it worse,” “Listen to what happened to me,” or “Let’s not go back to that,” is a quick way to devalue the emotions felt by the interlocutor. These types of reactions are most often due to a lack of ability to listen to the other person, or problems with empathy.

Communication mistakes — logical arguing

Logical arguing is a good way to have a strictly scientific discussion, but it can have a very negative effect if used against an interlocutor who is consumed by emotions. During a conflict or crisis situation, which the other person is experiencing on a very emotional level, appealing to logical arguments can cause anger in the other person and inflame the whole situation. “If you hadn’t bought an expensive watch, we wouldn’t be in financial trouble,” is an example of a sentence that no one would probably want to hear in an upsetting moment.

Communication mistakes — appeasement / reassuring

Often the natural reaction to negative emotions projected by the other person is to want to calm them down as quickly as possible. “Calm down,” “Don’t worry,” “Everything will be fine,” or “There’s no need to experience this way,” are messages that may seem helpful to us when someone can’t handle the situation or is simply feeling sorry for us. Unfortunately, these types of requests to contain the emotions felt by the other person usually will not have the desired effect. The interlocutor may feel that his or her feelings are unwanted or devalued, and shut down instead of continuing the conversation and finding real comfort in it.

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