Communication is a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior. It can be either a verbal or written message. Merriam-Webster
There are certain things we do that stop all effective communication.
Saying Nothing – Silence
One of the best ways to stop all communication is by saying nothing. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what to say, you’re afraid to say what’s on your mind, or it’s a way of punishing the speaker. It doesn’t matter. All communication stops. Silence prevails!!
My dad was one who refused to speak. You always knew if he was upset because he wouldn’t talk. Sometimes this would go on for days.
Expressing what you don’t want or don’t like
Have you ever heard a person who goes on and on about how they don’t like this or don’t like that? It’s very close to complaining, but it is about their dislikes. An example: “I don’t like…”, “I don’t want…”. Don’t statements usually cause the listener to become defensive. Communication is over.
Asking Questions (“grilling”)
I for one do not like being “grilled”. If a person gets aggressive my mind shuts down. I get defensive and embarrassed because I can’t think of anything to say. Communication stops.
Complaining is the expression of dissatisfaction or annoyance about something. It muddies the waters until finding the problem or source of the problem is next to impossible. A person who complains a lot is usually a very unhappy person.
Blaming is one of the nastiest communication stoppers. The listener instantly becomes defensive, whether they reply or not. Usually, the blame game starts flying on both sides.
Psychology states that the blamer feels weak and helpless so they have to shift the blame. After blaming and shifting the responsibility they usually feel worse. Once blaming starts it’s impossible to accurately get to the real problem.
Accusations, criticisms, and negative innuendos
Accusations, criticisms and negative innuendos are tools used by a person filled with fear, defensiveness, or anger. These tools wreck all possibilities of communications immediately.
I recently worked with a person who complained a fair amount. She had a phone attitude that screamed unhappiness. The combination of the complaining and the attitude made communication very difficult. My day would be going well until I picked up the phone. The first thing I heard was a heavy sigh with a “Hello” at the end.
It sounded like the person had just survived the worst day possible. But every call started the same and then progressed into complaining, criticism, blaming or some form of a negative comment. I dreaded the phone calls. Listening as much as I could, I tried to give consolation and empathy, but it rarely mattered and soon it took a toll on my attitude.
I also received text messages that would have incomplete sentences like, “Well, I guess that’s just…” I could not decipher the subject or the meaning from the context other than it was a negative criticism or complaint or innuendo.
After sending an invoice I received a text message that said, “I see you’re charging me to fix your mistakes.”
If you put the sentence fragment together with the blame statement, the message became very inflammatory. After receiving numerous text of this nature, it became impossible to not react with anger.
No Listening, No Comprehension
The phone calls, the text messages, and similar emails continued week after week until I couldn’t take any more. I emailed that it wasn’t working and please find someone else to do the job. The next day I got a phone call. The same listless greeting, “Hello, let’s see what we need to do to finish the project.”
No, it didn’t end well at all. I process things through writing, so I’ve written a substantial amount to see how I could have changed the process and outcome.
I’m not sure I was always a good listener because of my frustration with the whole situation. I also realize that I had not set firm boundaries with the freelance assignment.
With a degree in Psychology, I, for one, viewed myself as at least an average communicator. After the above-mentioned situation, I’ve had to re-evaluate my communication skills.
The listener sets into motion a positive environment that is rewarding to both the listener and the speaker.
Active listening gives the speaker the opportunity to talk through situations, find solutions, and resolve the issue in their mind. It is not a time for the listener to give advice. Advice giving, unless specifically requested, will also terminate the communication process.
I tried to execute active listening, but it fell apart when I tried to talk about the project. A time crunch loomed just over the horizon for me. I wanted to make as much progress as possible toward completion.
I told the person several times that I needed to complete the assignment, but I got no validation that the person heard my message. The message just did not seem to sink in.
It could be that the person did not listen because of one reason or another. It is also possible that there was a faulty communication pattern in play. We all have specific verbal styles that we use on a regular basis without much thought. It’s easy to fall back into old communication patterns during conflict situations.
I needed to complete the project. The other person had also said, “I need to get this finished so I can make sales.” That motivated me even further to bring the project to completion.
I then began getting the negative and fragmented text messages to my phone because she was panicked about the cost. But she didn’t address the cost directly. The messages were all very passive-aggressive.
Two days away from completion, I received the phone call, “You have to slow this down.”
I was stunned, to say the least. But after suffering accusations, criticism, and blame my communication patterns became emotion filled with anger.
Listening is (a) taking in information from speakers, other people or ourselves, while remaining nonjudgmental and empathetic; (b) acknowledging the talker in a way that invites the communication to continue; and (c) providing limited, but encouraging, input to the talker’s response, carrying the person’s idea one step forward.1
I should have addressed the issues directly when the text messages started appearing. I addressed them in emails. But, after the fact, I noticed, that the emails hadn’t even been read.
Dysfunctional Communication Patterns
Don’t assume someone reads the emails.
Adapt the message to the listeners need
My communication needed to change to ensure the messages could be received. The speaker needs to adapt the message to the listener when a problem becomes obvious. Repetition of the message diminishes the meaning.
I had emailed the person several times that she needed to hire a different person because of my time crunch. Yet, I kept working giving a self-canceling message.
Tangential communication – nonsense, irrelevant, and distracting communication
When a person engages in distracting communication by telling stories or going into excessive details. Slow it down by saying, “I’d like to go back to the original issue.”
Echoing communication is restating the message with no new information.
It is often difficult to communicate work details from remote locations. Because of the inability to see the other person’s body language, we must go the extra mile to make sure both messages are given and received clearly and accurately.
As a freelancer, I’m learning to manage my job from the perspective of a consultant rather than an employee. This gives me a framework of firm boundaries that help keep communication on track.