The Five Disconnects That Ruin Good Communication

“Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after.”
Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Few things in life are more important than your communication ability. In fact, I would say that your success at work and your happiness at home are largely determined by your communication ability.

Unfortunately, the message we try to “send” and the message the other person “receives” are often quite different. And that can be disturbing if not downright disastrous.

For example, when parents “send” their kids to camp, they’re trying to give them an experience of joy and friendship that will last a lifetime. But that may not be the message the kids “receive.”

Bill Adler illustrated that in his book, “Kids’ Letters From Camp.” For example, this is what a few kids had to say:

“Dear Mom and Dad: Why did you send me to camp? What did I do wrong?”

“Dear Mother and Dad: Please send me a picture of myself. I want to see how I looked when I was happy.”

“None of the kids tried to run away from camp since the counselor tied them to the bed.”

“Thank you for sending me the clothes, but I really need food.”

“I have only one real friend at camp, and I hate him.”

“Dear Mom and Dad: Everything at camp is okay, and I am learning how to eat and put on my clothes with my left arm.”

Of course, we can laugh at those examples. I did. But too much of the time, communication breakdowns are not a laughing matter. They can destroy your relationships on and off the job.

David L. Levin talks about that in his book, “Don’t Just Talk, Be Heard.” He calls these breakdowns … “disconnects” … and I think it’s a marvelous way of understanding the bad things that can happen in the communication process. As Levin puts it, “Disconnects are things we say or do that push people away from us emotionally. They make people less open to us — make them like us less, trust us less.”

Quite simply, anything you say or do that communicates one of the following three messages is a disconnect: 1) “I don’t respect you,” 2) “I don’t understand you,” and 3) “I don’t care about you.” And these disconnects absolutely kill off your effectiveness with people.

Let’s look at some of the disconnects Levin identifies.

=> 1. Talking about yourself … too much.

Note … the emphasis is on the words “too much.” You have to self-disclose some information about yourself if you’re going to connect with your team mates and family members. But if you’re prone to tell long stories about yourself, you lose people.

I’m sure you know people like that. They ruin every staff meeting or every party by always bringing the discussion back to themselves. In essence, they’re sending the message, “I’m so important and I’m so interesting that you simply must know this about me.”

That’s what they may believe deep down, and that’s the message they may think they’re sending. But in reality, they’re creating a disconnect for “I care about you.” Their long monologues are saying, “No, I care about ME!” And as Levin makes very clear, “Anything that says me, me, me is a disconnect.”

That’s why Les Giblin, in his book “Skill With People” writes, “When you talk to people about yourself, you are rubbing people the wrong way and working against human nature. Take these four words out of your vocabulary — I, me, my, mine. Substitute for those four words, one word, the most powerful word spoken by the human tongue — you.”

Of course, Giblin is exaggerating a bit to make his point, but his point is well taken. If YOU will give up the satisfaction YOU get from talking about YOURSELF too much, that YOU get from the use of the words ‘I, me, my, and mine,’ YOUR personality, YOUR efficiency, and YOUR influence will be greatly enhanced.

=> 2. Talking too much … period.

Whereas point #1 refers to “talking about yourself … too much,” point #2 says that just plain “talking too much” is a disconnect. It was the main reason I stopped the relationship with one of my girlfriends during my teenage years. Even though she was intelligent and attractive, “talking too much” sent the message that she was more interested in hearing herself talk than connect with me. It sent the message, whether intentionally or unintentionally, that “I don’t care about you.”

By contrast, author Rebecca West says, “There was a definite process by which one made people into friends, and it involved talking to them and listening to them for hours at a time.”

=> 3. Failing to acknowledge others.

It happens all too often. You’re in a store, waiting to be waited on, while the clerk keeps on talking to another clerk nearby or talking to a friend on the phone. And even though he or she sees you, they refuse to stop their conversation or even nod in your direction. It’s another major disconnect. Whether they mean it or not, they are communicating “I don’t respect you enough to even acknowledge your existence.”

In one supermarket, I was watching a cashier do that while her checkout line got longer and longer. Finally, the elderly lady in front me had had enough. In a rather firm and loud voice, she said, “Just a minute young lady. I think you have things badly mistaken here. You are overhead, and I am profit.” In other words, she was saying, “I deserve some respect, and I expect to get it.”

The same principle applies to your internal customers. I’m sure you’ve seen managers and VPs chatting amongst themselves, while underlings wait to be acknowledged or included. It’s not cool. It’s a disconnect.

So make sure you acknowledge people when they come into sight, whether it’s nodding in their direction, saying “hi” to a coworker who passes by in the hallway, or asking a question. It always communicates some caring and some respect.

=> 4. Interrupting.

As Levin points out, “I imagine most people know that interrupting people is not a good way to communicate. And if you consider the message it sends — ‘I’m much more interested in what I’m going to say next than in what you’re saying to me right now’ — it’s easy to see that it’s also a disconnect.”

In fact, interrupting is a triple disconnect. It says, “I don’t care about you. I don’t respect you. And I can’t understand you because I’m not even bothering to listen to you.”

Of course, more often than not, people aren’t “trying” to send those messages; they’re just terribly unskilled in the art of communication. As an acquaintance of mine told me, “I was a tough kid. My mother would say, ‘Don’t make me repeat myself.’ And I would say, ‘What?'”

Or as Kelly Cool told me, she grew up in non-musical family. In fact, she was so poor at singing that she would only sing in the shower or in the car when nobody else was around. But one night, she softly sang a lullaby to her nine-month old baby. After the first verse, he sweetly looked into her eyes, removed the pacifier from his mouth, and placed it in hers.

So for heaven’s sake, watch yourself; catch yourself, and STOP interrupting people.

=> 5. Blaming.

One of the key characteristics of a “disconnect” is the fact that it puts too much emphasis on me-me-me rather than we-we-we interaction. And even though blaming may seem to point outwards towards others, the underlying message is “I didn’t do it … It’s not my fault … Don’t think badly of me, me, me!”

Besides that, what could be more uncaring and more disrespectful than blaming other people for what’s wrong in your life? And yes, I understand some people do some nasty things and deserve some blame, but if you stay stuck in blame, chances are you won’t do anything to fix the situation. And then who’s to blame? That’s why I tell my audiences, “To blame is to be lame.”

Bernard Gimbel, the co-founder of the retail chain Gimbel Brothers, knew better. He said, “Two things are bad for the heart — running up hill and running down people.”

And I’ll never forget sitting in the audience when the great author, speaker, and philosopher Og Mandino declared, “My days of whining and complaining about others have come to an end. Nothing is easier than fault-finding. All it will do is discolor my personality so that none will want to associate with me. That was my old life. No more.”

Perhaps we all need to put a bumper strip on our car that says, “STOP GLOBAL WHINING.”

Yes, it’s time to stop the whining as well as all the ways we disconnect from others. Next week I’ll give you five more of the major disconnects. And stay tuned for HOW you can avoid or overcome the disconnects.

Action:  Which of the 5 “disconnects” above do you engage in most frequently? Watch yourself this week as you communicate so you can avoid these damaging communication behaviors.