Communication is something we engage in every moment of every day—with ourselves and with others. My favorite definition of communication is: “the exchange of information and the expression of feeling that can result in understanding.” Understanding is what we all seek. Communication without it is lacking or unfulfilling at the least. And since every aspect of living our best life depends on communication and our ability to do so in a healthy way with others, it is an essential asset to posses. Here we will look at 10 signs you may be a bad communicator and need to work on your communication skills.
Understanding should be the goal when embarking on any form of communication. We each want to be heard and understood ourselves. There are two roles and each are responsible for helping each other to understand and be understood. As a speaker your role is to clearly state, without a cloud of attitude, your meaning. Then, the listener does just that. Seeks to listen and understand your statement and then follow with questions for clarification—with the goal of further understanding.
So, how do you know if you are a good communicator or not?
Here are 10 signs you may need some work on your own communication skills.
1. Making Assumptions or Implying Motives
The key to good communication is understanding. It is the goal of both parties and for it to succeed both parties need to hear and be heard. If, however, you enter a conversation with assumptions you will never actually hear and definitely not understand the other party. Common assumptions include thinking you already know what the other party will do or how they will react.
Very similar to assumptions, implying motives is when you think you already “know” what the other party “really” means. Or, perhaps the “why” someone is really saying what they are saying. This action implies upfront that you think the other party is not being honest In their own discussion. You may think you know the real “truth” or motive behind someone’s actions, when it is actually your own past experiences you are drawing upon and attaching to this current situation.
2. Keeping score
Do you ever bring up past perceived wrongs and use them against the other party? Do you use these past experiences to justify your current argument? Or, use these to prove your point to “win” the conversation? Any time you are keeping score or trying to “win” a conversation, you have already lost.
Interrupting is a clear signal you do not value what the other person has to say. Think of how it feels when someone interrupts you. It feels the same for them. The other party feels like you have no interest in actually hearing or understanding them. They feel as though you believe your thoughts are superior and theirs are not worthy of being heard. Do not sit quietly while simply anticipating your response inside—seek instead to listen and hear and understand.
4. Criticizing or Belittling
Healthy communication has no room for name calling, criticizing, or belittling the other person. That means zero tolerance on either side. It serves no good or useful purpose in a conversation. Lashing out at others is simply a defense mechanism. It broadcasts to the other person and anyone around that the criticizer is out of balance in their own life and these are their issues, not ones of the receiver. This person needs to cast blame somewhere (other than themselves) to make themselves look and feel better. The caveat here is, it never does.
True communication starts and ends with an open dialogue with a free flowing exchange of truth. When dishonesty is brought in, the very foundation has already been corrupted and the true understanding of either parties’ wants, needs or desires are hidden. Dishonesty comes in numerous forms. There is outright lying; hiding your own feelings; saying one thing and meaning another (even when done to spare someone’s feelings).
6. Making Them Responsible for Your Happiness
No one or thing is responsible for your happiness other than you. You get to choose how you respond and feel at any given time. To try and make another human responsible for your happiness puts undue stress and pressure on them (it is impossible for them to meet) and will end in disappointment and hurt—for you. Examples include, “if only they would (fill in the blank) I would feel better” or “I’m (angry, hurt, sad, lacking…) because they (fill in the blank here) or “they make me so (fill in the blank).” No one makes you feels anything—you get to choose your feelings and responses.
7. Using “Universal” Statements
Each communication should be approached with fresh and open eyes. Free of judgement and assumption. When using universal statements you are telling a person you have already made up your mind about their actions and intentions. You are dismissing any good and only bringing forth your feelings about select past experiences. This action also puts a person’s entire life into generalizations. Examples include using words such as always, never, every time, everyone.
8. Disregarding or Invalidating Feelings
This includes disregarding, rejecting, denying, diminishing or dismissing someone’s feelings. No one should ever tell another person what to feel or to criticize their feelings. Your feelings are yours alone.
Examples of this include telling someone, “you shouldn’t feel that way” or “I’m sorry you feel that way” or “at least it’s not….” or “I’m not having this discussion” or “you are overreacting” or “that is ridiculous’ or “you should feel (or do) …” or “I know exactly what you’re going through.”
This can be done in a well-meaning way and as such is often subtle and overlooked. In this process a person has just been told their emotions are incorrect or something is wrong with them—they have been dismissed. In other examples a person has been diminished and told what they are feeling is not paramount or as important at that time. A listener’s role is to listen.
This is far from the goal of understanding as the basis of communication. To validate someone, simply listen and do not give unsolicited advice. Acknowledge or reflect their experience (“I hear you are feeling….” or “I can understand how or why you feel that way”). Again validating is simply acknowledging their communication. It is not necessarily agreeing. Then try to be empathetic—try to understand how or why they feel this way. You may even ask, “can you tell me more about why you feel….”
The take-away here is not to dismiss another’s emotions or thoughts.
9. Overly Emotional
Poor communicators tend to react overly emotional. Note the word, “overly” here. We all have emotions and it is always okay to experience those. In constructive communication the goal is to allow both parties to feel free to express their ideas and for both to hear and ultimately understand the other. Note, this does not always mean you will agree.
Emotions get in the way when used in excess. This comes across with anger, yelling, insulting, outbursts, blaming, judging, etc. When you are volatile it shuts the door to communication. The only thing that can be heard at this stage is your emotion—and often that blocks logic and your ability to express your why, which is needed for understanding.
This over expression of feelings also makes other parties less app to engage you in conversation because of the blow back you are sending out. You want to be heard and understood. So do they. Sometimes, a break is needed to collect yourself in order to best articulate what you would like to be understood—and in order for you to also hear and understand the other person.
10. Not Asking Enough (or the right) Questions
Asking questions is key to great communication. It is the key to understanding each other and deepening a bond. It is the surest way to ensure you do indeed actually understand the other person’s meaning, desires, and struggles (and enjoyments) in life.
And, just any question won’t really cut it.
Avoid vague platitudes such as: “how are you?” or “how’s your day?” or “hang in there.”
Opt instead for open ended questions that invite a deeper response such as: “what are you looking forward to the most?” or “what was the highlight of your day?” or “what frustrated you the most about that?” or “what’s the biggest challenge for you right now?”
These questions elicit a deeper thinking on the answerer and show your concern and interest in their life. You will also learn more about and understand each other at a deeper level. This leads to a more fulfilling relationship for both parties.
Being a great communicator takes practice and self-realization. You must be open minded, calm, and humble. To begin to improve your communication skills be open to everything and attached to nothing. Approach each and every conversation with a renewed sense of optimism and expect the very best. Leave any judgement, decisions, preconceived ideas and past experiences behind. Delete ugly words and tempers from your tool box.
Know that hearing someone else and understanding them does not mean you will always agree and does not make one person right or wrong. Communication isn’t about proving your point or making someone agree with you. It is simply an exchange of ideas and seeking of understanding; to be heard, to understand and be understood. Anything further is bullying and judgment.
Ready to Communicate Better?
Download my FREE Connect Better Cheatsheet