by Maria Lebron, February 2020
Whether you’re communicating with a partner, a friend, or family, there are common communication mistakes which can interfere with the ability to express your feelings. Being aware of these common mistakes can help you understand that if you’re not communicating effectively, you’re not likely to feel understood. These mistakes also make it very difficult to resolve conflicts efficiently.
Yelling or Screaming
When a discussion escalates into yelling or screaming, it’s unlikely that there will be any meaningful discussion afterwards. Yelling or screaming at someone will cause them to feel defensive or to shut down.
When people are angry enough to yell, they are usually hurt. Instead of feeling the pain of being hurt, they feel the anger instead. It helps to keep that in mind so things don’t escalate. It may be helpful to ask the angry person if they feel hurt and ask them to talk about that. If things haven’t deescalated, it may be necessary to tell the angry person that it’s best for the discussion to continue when they feel less angry.
Not Being Able to Apologize
For some people, apologizing feels like an admission of guilt and would allow the other person not to take responsibility for their part in the conflict. For others, an apology makes them feel they are admitting they are a bad person.
If you have intentionally or unintentionally hurt someone, it’s a good idea to apologize in order to open up communication and reconnect with the person who was hurt. A sincere apology shows you care about the person’s feelings by expressing regret for the pain you’ve caused them. This can go a long way in helping the person feel safe with you again.
Apologizing All the Time
While it’s a good thing when someone apologizes if they’ve made a mistake, some people may apologize even if they don’t feel they’ve done anything wrong just to end the argument or conflict. This may also be done to protect the other person from feeling badly about themselves. This will only lead to that person not being held accountable for their words or actions. This will ultimately create resentment, either consciously or unconsciously, in you.
Sometimes it may be appropriate not to continue an argument or discussion if you’re feeling triggered, attacked, or unsafe. However, instead of completely shutting out the other person with the silent treatment, it would be better to communicate that you want to have a discussion but can’t right now. Briefly explain why: “I’m feeling too overwhelmed right now to discuss this,” “I think things are getting too heated and it would be better to continue this when things calm down a bit,” etc. This communicates to the other person that you still want to work through the problem and aren’t just dismissing what they say or feel. If you do postpone the discussion, make sure you continue the conversation in the very near future. Otherwise, this will just be another form of shutting down, and the other person may feel you’re punishing them.
Speaking In Absolutes
Speaking in absolutes happens when you say things such as: “you always” or “you never.” When you speak like this, it causes the other person to become defensive and point out all the times when this wasn’t the case. In order to avoid this, focus on communicating how the person made you feel. For example, instead of saying “You never listen to me!,” try “I feel like right now you’re not supporting how I feel.” Using “I” statements will help stop the other person from feeling attacked or judged.
Discounting the Other Person’s Feelings
Even if you really feel the other person’s feelings are off, telling them that they shouldn’t feel the way they do isn’t helpful and feels dismissive. Whether you feel the person’s feelings are “right” or “wrong” doesn’t stop that person from feeling what they do. Instead, try to get the person to talk about what is causing them to feel that way. Some people are reluctant to ask because they believe it validates feelings they don’t feel are valid or appropriate, but that isn’t the case here. What you’re validating are the emotions they’re experiencing. There still needs to be a discussion about what is causing those feelings.
Finally, be truthful when validating the person’s feelings. Saying something like “I’m sorry you feel that way,” can also feel dismissive. Instead, try something like “I can see you’re really upset,” or “You seem really hurt.” Once the person’s feelings are validated, it will be easier to have a discussion about what caused those feelings.
Not Directly Asking For What You Need
While you may feel someone should know what you want and need, people can’t read minds. A common relationship dynamic is when someone is upset that they didn’t get something they didn’t ask for. It may be the case that someone won’t ask for something directly because they’re scared of possible rejection. Sometimes it’s easier to feel disappointed than rejected.
Asking for your needs to be met is complicated. It’s always a negotiation between two people who are working with their own boundaries, interests, and desires. Usually there is always a give and take. If things feel one sided or if you feel deprived all the time, you may need to take a closer look at the relationship and may need to express what you want from the relationship.
Ignoring a Problem
If there is something which is bothering you, it would be better to bring it up before it becomes a huge problem. Problems may be ignored thinking they’ll sort themselves out or that it isn’t a big deal. Ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away, in fact, it can fester and cause even bigger problems. Ignoring something which is causing you distress can lead to feelings of anxiety or depression.
By being more aware of these communication mistakes, you will often see an improvement in your interactions with others, feel more understood, and be able to handle conflicts more efficiently.