Do You Really Have a Communication Problem?
They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. And yet, many rational people do just that when having an argument: they say the same things in the same way and expect the conversation to turn out differently.
Why? It’s simple: conversations have multiple layers and different components. If you’re not paying attention, it can be easy to slip into old habits — habits that don’t move you toward conflict resolution or goal-oriented behavior.
If you’ve been having that same old argument with a spouse or consistently negotiating for the same things at work, here’s a quick crash course on how to discern where your conversation is going wrong — and how to fix it.
Are you having a hard time communicating with others? Maybe everything sounds perfect in your brain, but the second it comes out, it doesn’t make much sense. Of course, you think it makes sense, but other people don’t always take away what you want them to from your conversations with them.
A quick tip: a lot of us sound much clearer in our heads than we do in real life. It’s just how our brains work. But, unfortunately, not all speech leads to effective communication.
If you’re in a situation where your intentions and ideas are constantly being misinterpreted, start paying conscious attention to the way you speak and the words you say. Assess your words as if you are a stranger trying to understand them — would you know what you wanted of yourself if an alternate “you” asked you for something?
Perhaps a more practical way to go about restructuring your communication tactics is to clearly define the goal of every conversation you have. The best way to do this is to decide what you want every time you speak.
For instance, if you’d like a certain coworker to stop bothering you over your lunch hour, you might wonder why they can’t just “take the hint” and leave you alone. But if you don’t want them around, why does it have to be a hint? Have you ever explicitly told them: “I’m available before or after lunch”? Probably not!
Many of us fall victim to communicational vagueness — but by clearly defining your wants and needs and determining the best way to communicate them, you can readily solve communication problems that have long persisted.
Sometimes, it’s not a communication problem. You might, in fact, be extremely clear and purposeful in your conversational delivery. Your intent may be spot on, too. So, what’s the issue?
Instead of a communication problem, you’re having a thought problem. Before you even open your mouth to speak, you’re thinking things that are not productive when it comes to achieving your goals. On top of that, your goals might be ill-defined.
As a result, you communicate with clarity, but the things you’re communicating aren’t making you happy because your thoughts are leading you toward outcomes that don’t actually fulfill your wants and desires.
Let’s say you want to help out some friends in need during a time of crisis. You pity them because they are in such a rough spot — maybe they’re a new parent struggling with a newborn, and you can tell they’re overworked and overtired. You don’t know how to help, because you live far away, and you can’t exactly step in and do chores to make the load a little lighter. So, while you are very clear in asking how you can help, you get little to no positive response, and feel helpless as a result.
This is a thinking problem. Instead of thinking about your friends as capable, smart individuals, your thoughts are making them out to be helpless parents drowning in a sea of responsibilities. And instead of going into action mode and finding creative ways to help, you worry for them, thus throwing yourself into that same sea of pity and inaction that your friends are already supposedly drowning in. Think: what good does it do to worry about people who are stressed out? Is it helping you achieve your goal of making their lives easier?
Not at all! Now, think of if you approached the problem from a different perspective. Let’s say you can’t be there in person to take care of that newborn. Instead, you think of creative ways to help — maybe you send some funny videos to your friends to lighten their emotional load.
Instead of being a personal nanny, you’re acting as valuable emotional support for friends who really do need it. And instead of worrying that you’re not doing enough to help, you recognize that your friends are capable parents who are going to get through this.
In doing so, you’ve found a way to help your friends and you’ve also stopped worrying about them. That’s the key tenet of thought problems: you need to change the way you think about the problems themselves instead of worrying about how you can approach the same misguided goal with different communication tactics.
Thoughts and communication
If you’re having a hard time with conversations that matter, the first step is to break them down into thinking and communication. But we’ll be the first to admit it’s not always easy to find out where things are going wrong! If you want help deciphering your own conversational delivery to determine where you’re leading others astray and how you can snap out of old habits, check out our coaching services for personalized, one on one instruction.