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 | By Scott Bowen

Overcoming Communication Hurdles


Do you want to learn better communication skills? Silly question, of course you do!

A helpful book that deals with interpersonal communication is Fighting for Your Marriage by Markman, Stanley, and Blumberg. Although written for married couples, the concepts contained within are applicable to all. It is one of the best evidence-based books written for improved communication skills.

Here is a list of common negative communication patterns and filters:

 Examples of destructive communication patterns

  • Escalation — Negative issues or comments that increase in size and scope.
  • Invalidation — The thoughts,     feelings, or character of the other is diminished.
  • Negative interpretations — When the worst is assumed of the other person.
  • Withdrawal and avoidance —The unwillingness or inability to talk about an issue.

Examples of communication filters

  • Distractions — External and internal factors that interfere with attention.
  • Emotional states — Everyone has a bad mood.
  • Beliefs and expectations — What we expect from others and external situations.
  • Differences in style — Personality, culture, family of origin, religion, etc.
  • Self-protection — Fear of rejection and hurt; the “turtle in the shell” phenomena.

We all engage in the above destructive communication patterns and filters from time to time. Below is a list of tips for improved communication:

Tips for improved communication

  • Use “I” statements. Speak for yourself. One goal for improved communication is to clearly articulate your thoughts and feelings. Do not speculate on the motivations of the other person or party. “I was hurt when you forgot our lunch date” is an “I” statement. “I think you don’t care about me” is not.
  • Use XYZ statements. For example: “When you do X in situation Y, I feel Z.” Compare and contrast the following statements: “You are such a slob!” vs. “XYZ: When you leave your dirty dishes in the sink (X) instead of putting them in the dishwasher (Y), I feel angry because I think you are ignoring me (Z).” See the difference? The first example provides the launch pad for the above-mentioned destructive communication patterns. The second example invites the listener into possible deeper conversation.
  • Try to separate thoughts from feelings. “I feel like you are not listening to me” is not actually a feeling. It is a statement of thought. Happiness, anger, excitement, frustration, confidence, and irritation are all feelings.
  • It is OK to say to the other party, “Now is not a good time to talk.” Maybe you are sick. Maybe it’s late at night. Maybe you are in a social situation that doesn’t allow deep discussion. That is OK. Just make sure if you are the one saying, “It’s not a good time to talk,” you schedule a time to have a conversation.
  • Listen, listen, listen! Listening is 50 percent of the communication equation. Human beings normally have two ears. Use them. Listening is hard work. It does not imply agreement; rather, the ability to hear what the other person is saying in a respectful manner.
  • Say the magic words, “I’m sorry.” Acknowledge your negative communication patterns and filters.
  • Forgive as Christ forgives!

Scott Bowen is a social worker at Catholic Family Services in Birmingham. He holds a master’s of divinity degree and is a licensed independent clinical social worker.