Communication is the building block for which relationships are built. Good communication can help a relationship work through problems and grow closer, while bad communication can drive people apart. To improve communication we look to decrease barriers while increasing healthy channels. Decreasing barriers to communication first requires you to identify potential barriers.
The biggest communication barrier that I see people make is assuming that they understood what their partner said. Assumptions are the mother of all… well you know how that goes. This is why assumptions top the list for the biggest communication barrier. Assuming that you knew what your partner meant, without asking for clear and concise explanation causes havoc on relationships.
When listening to our partner, listening is different than winning or being right. Listening is about learning what our partner’s experience was, and not about right versus wrong. Listening and understanding are far different than agreeing. In healthy communication we listen to understand, not to agree. This is our second communication barrier; listening to be right.
Forcing communication is also a barrier to healthy communication pathways. Forcing communication is when we try to continue communication with our partner while they are feeling defensive or attacked. When your own defenses, or when your partner’s defenses go up, give the conversation a break instead of trying to forge onwards.
The next big communication barrier lies within non-verbal communication. 60-90% of all communication happens non-verbally. This means most of what we communicate is conveyed in how we say something not just in what we say. If we try to communicate something, but our non-verbal communication conveys a different story, our partner can often get the wrong message and this can create a large communication barrier.
Contempt is a word we usually only hear in crime or drama shows as the judge threatens to hold someone in contempt. In relationships, contempt is when we lose respect for our partner and use threatening or harmful words to damage our partner. Contempt creates many barriers to communication, especially our next barrier, stonewalling.
Stonewalling is when we shut down all communication with our partner – we stop taking place in the relationship all together. Often times partners use stonewalling to shut down or to regain control once our partner has used disrespect or contempt. Stonewalling is a very large and very obvious barrier to communication, as no communication takes place during a stonewalling episode.
Defensiveness is also a barrier to communication. When we are defensive we shut down our listening process and instead of communicating clearly and openly, we only communicate to protect.
The final barrier to communication is criticism. When we criticize our partner it causes defensiveness, stonewalling, or contempt, all of which shut down communication.
Remember to look for the following communication barriers and avoid them at all costs:
For help on overcoming communication barriers by using healthy pathways, check out part 3 of this series.
Written by Brad Messenger, LMSW.