I believe that any relationship problem in life, whether with family, friends, significant others, or work, stems from a problem in one of the following three areas; communication, transparency, or expectation setting.
Whenever there is a problem, I can guarantee one of these three is at fault. Someone either didn’t communicate, communicated and left something out, or they have failed to manage expectations of the person that they are speaking to.
While all three problems avoidable, they require difficult conversations, making it difficult to apply these principles into our daily lives.
For this reason I have outlined how to handle communication breakdown and how to notice common trends in where it might break down, so that you don’t fall into these pitfalls yourself.
I believe that communication breakdown normally happens in one of four ways…
a) Not communicating at all:
This is easily the most common. I have met countless people who simply don’t voice themselves and their concerns. They keep their problems to themselves and somehow expect those around them to know what is going on inside of their own heads. This is probably the worst form of communication, because its not communicating at all.
Typical result of this type of communication? Problems boiling over and surfacing all at once.
Eventually there comes a day when that person finally does communicate, and when they do it all flies out. They express everything in a semi-coherent emotional flurry of frustrations. I find that this is especially true in passive-aggressive personality types.
How can someone change what is making you mad if they aren’t aware they are doing it in the first place?
If you don’t communicate your issues, or wait until it’s too late to voice these issues, it will always rise to the surface and cause problems.
ex) I’ve had two roommates who didn’t like that I was always in the living room. They never voiced this to me. One day after ~6 months they exploded on me and voiced their frustrations in an emotional manner. I was completely oblivious to the fact that this was ever a problem or that it was something that was making them mad.
This could have been avoided if they came to me in the very beginning of when it happened and said…
“I can see that you like to work in the living room, but keep in mind that I would like to sit there sometimes too and have friends over. I think we need a healthier balance of how we use this space.”
Completely understandable, problem solved. That right there is good communication.
The problem? Most non-communicators don’t have the balls to confront someone face to face and call them out on their BS. They fear that the problem will escalate.
In reality, 9/10 times a problem won’t escalate if you call it out early enough.
9/10 times a problem will escalate if you wait to call them out on it.
b) Not letting the other person talk:
When voicing our frustrations, it’s sometimes easy to simply let them all out, even if we do it calmly. The problem with this? It can overwhelm the person on the other side because it’s a lot to process. It can also put the other person on the defensive.
One of the things that I have noticed, especially with strong communicators, is that they don’t stop talking. They simply voice everything all at once and don’t allow the other person to get their word in. They rant.
This is problematic, not only because the other person doesn’t get the chance to speak, but also because the other person has to process a lot all at once. Rather than addressing a concern one at at time, they then have to rebuke everything at the same time. This is neither productive nor comfortable for the person on the receiving end of this.
This is the style I am definitely victim to myself. When a problem happens I immediately voice it at the other person. Although I might not mean to, the intensity with which I speak will intimidate the other person to the point where I don’t let them get a word in.
It’s not healthy because although I feel like I may have voiced myself properly, the other person now feels more uncomfortable due to their own lack of communication.
Another common problem with this is that it puts the person on the other side on the defensive.
When you come at someone with a flurry of things that have annoyed you, the natural response of the other person is to get defensive and explain why they don’t agree with you. This will typically get them equally aggressive, and the conflict can escalate quickly.
The solution? Seek perspective before you jump in.
Ask the other person questions and get their perspective first. Voice your own concerns as questions, and let the other person speak.
For example, let’s say that the other person has been ignoring your requests or speaking down to you. Instead of calling them out on it you can say, “I have noticed that you have been ignoring my requests, is this intentional/are you aware that you have been doing this?”.
9/10 times the person probably didn’t realize that they were doing something that offended you. If you seek their perspective, they will be less defensive and try to empathize with your needs as well.
c) Being overly emotional:
There’s a negative side to communicating with feelings, and that is communicating when we are emotional. The problem with emotional communication is we often deviate from the problem at hand instead of focusing on the issue that started it all. Our emotions trickle into the conversation and distract us.
Our emotions tend to make us very “me” centric, because we’re the ones who are feeling so badly. It’s hard to be empathetic to the needs of the other person when we are the ones feeling overwhelmed with emotion. These emotions cloud our judgement and lead us to not only poor communication, but poor judgement as well.
It’s hard to remain objective to the situation when we’re in an emotional state, and it’s important that we catch ourselves when in these fragile states of mind.
How can we correct this? If you notice that you are emotional about a problem, pause, write down your thoughts, and come back to it later. Don’t address the problem in the moment. Don’t react to the situation immediately.
This is very difficult to do, but becoming aware of your emotional state, and curbing your reaction, is the single best way to not let a situation get out of hand.
This one will take some practice, but is very effective at making sure you don’t head into a downward spiral when problems arise.
d) Abusive Communication:
Last but not least, we have abusive communication. This is what I would refer to as speaking with anger, or downright yelling/abusive language. This is definitely the most extreme form of communication, and it is the most detrimental.
If you’re yelling and abusing the other person, you’re always the one who is wrong. If you have to raise your voice, you’ve already failed at communicating.
In my opinion, anyone who yells and screams is a horrible communicator. I don’t care how intelligent you are, how tactful you are in your everyday speech, or how clearly you can say your ideas. If you EVER have to raise your voice to get your point across you have failed at communication.
Simply put, don’t do it. I shouldn’t need to say this, but you would be surprised how many people (especially those in authoritarian or dominant positions) need to raise their voice to get their point across.
Now onto the other, less obvious, ways that communication can break down.
The next step is to not only talk about and voice concerns, but to also be transparent about how you feel and what you plan to do.
Communicating a problem is one thing, but if you have a solution you are holding back, you are not being transparent. If you have a feeling that you are not expressing, you are not being transparent. If you have plans of doing something else, you are not being transparent.
My mother always told me that not telling someone something is the same thing as lying, and I wholeheartedly agree with her.
I see this one time and time again. People will communicate only half of what they are thinking. They will intentionally leave an important point out of a conversation, that if the other person knew, they would have an entirely different outlook.
At BrainGain I see this all the time in interviews we see with candidates — candidates aren’t transparent about salary expectations, or the qualms of their family, or the type of role that they want…and then they voice all of these concerns once an offer is on the table.
This wastes everyones time. If you have a problem with the salary being offered, raise it in the beginning, why wait until you have passed through 3 rounds of interviews? If your parents don’t support your decision, say this upfront, or go talk to them, because otherwise you’re wasting everyone’s time.
I have also experienced this in relationships. Two people might be dating, and one person has long term intentions while the other person has short term intentions but doesn’t say anything. This creates an inherent mismatch.
If the person was to be transparent from the beginning the problem could have been avoided altogether, but many people are too afraid to be this honest from the beginning. It’s tough to do, but important so that you don’t hurt the other person.
Transparency requires tact, but only as an individual do you know when you have been holding back something for too long. No matter how difficult the situation might seem, its important to communicate what is on your mind. If you don’t it will eventually bubble to the surface, and when it does, things can get ugly really quick.
3) Expectation Setting
What we disclose to each other, and what we are transparent about, will set expectations. If we communicate issues, and are open and honest about our feelings, we set expectations for the future on how to deal with each other. If we are also transparent about what our motives and plans are, this will allow us to plan accordingly.
When we hold back important information, it creates a mismatch in expectations, which will always create problems. When we don’t express ourselves, we don’t allow the other person to have an accurate picture of what to expect.
Take for example the workplace: Companies all around the world try to create an image of what their “culture” is like, and why it’s a great place to work. Many of us are sold on this ideal of what we believe work will be like there. We will see great amenities, a beautiful office, and great perks. What we don’t see is the abusive boss who treats everyone like crap and creates an environment of hostility.
OR we will see a candidate who, in the interview creates a picture of themselves as a go-getter, and then once they begin their job they are lazy and unmotivated and are simply there for the paycheck.
In both instances we see mismanaged expectations due to a lack of transparency.
Open, honest, communication is everything in life. If you are hiding something from someone, or don’t voice it, it will eventually surface, and when it does it will create conflict. These three values are all intertwined, and build upon each other.
With good communication, we can set transparency, and with transparency we handle expectations.
I believe that any conflict in life is a result of one of these three breakdowns, and I believe that placing an emphasis on these will be a very strong foundation for your life. Always feel comfortable to speak your mind; the more you talk things out, the stronger your life becomes 🙂
Thoughts? Similar experiences? Let me know in the comments below!