How to Avoid Communication Breakdowns

Posted: January 21, 2015 in Words and communications

Communication breakdowns occur when the parties involved use vague or emotional language to communicate. We see this happening a lot in news reports. For instance a person says “The community feels like there is a cover-up going on.” It’s the use of the word “feel” when expressing a thought that creates the breakdown. That’s because the speaker is invoking feelings, but not saying what the feeling is. A cover-up is an observed event, not an emotion. So what we need to know is the emotion. Instead if the person had said, “The community is angry because we think there is a cover-up going on.” the listener would have a much clearer sense about the situation.
Using the word “feel” to express thoughts muddy the communication waters and may lead to undesirable conclusions. This applies to both our personal and business lives. Imagine if a manager says to an employee, “I feel like you aren’t working hard enough.” What does he mean? Is the employee supposed to read the manager’s mind? All he or she can do is assume what is meant. That leaves the meaning to the imagination, which, in this case, creates a communication breakdown between employee and management!
But you also have to be aware that the person speaking may not be able to articulate what they are actually feeling. Feelings or the inability to express them clearly is only one way communications can get derailed. Here are some tips on how to avoid a communication breakdown:
• Monitor yourself for times when you communicate using the word “feel”. Catch yourself, and identify your underlying emotion, restating it by saying something like, “I feel (the specific emotion), because I think (give the observation)”.
• When you’re in a conversation with someone who expresses a thought with the word “feel”, ask them what emotion is behind the “feel”. You might have to tease out the emotion behind the word.
• Vagueness, with or without emotional terms. Ask the person what they mean by their statement, prefacing it with “I don’t quite understand what you mean by…” so as not to put them on the defensive.
• Bullying language where the individual wants to ramrod you into doing something. Call the person out on what they are saying and state “your repeated demands are not getting us any closer to a solution, let’s try to explain what both of us really need.” Or ask them to explain what they mean, repeat back what they said, and ask for a further explanation. Eventually the bully will either tire of this or give an honest reply.
• Jumping to conclusions both on the speaker and the listener’s part. Take your time and let a person speakthen ask for clarification. Repeat back to the speaker what you think was said so there is no misunderstanding.

Clear communication, communication that says what it really means, is the best way to avoid breakdowns.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s