The 5 Communication Breakdowns That Will Destroy You

The author, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, said, “Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee.” And I would say “Bad communication is as painful as a kick in the butt.”

The truth is … few things in life are more important than your communication ability. In fact, 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.

I write about these breakdowns in my book, The Payoff Principle, and I speak about them in more depth in my program on The Power of Partnership: The 6 Keys to Better Relationships and Greater Teamwork. But let me give you the quick version here

► 1. Talking about yourself … too much.

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.”

Or to put it more bluntly, whether they know it or not, they’re inadvertently saying, “I don’t care about you. I care about ME!” And let me tell you, that’s usually the beginning of the end of their relationship.

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.”

► 2. Talking too much … period.

Whereas point #1 refers to “talking about yourself … too much,” point #2 says that just plain “talking too much” can cause a communication breakdown.

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, she never stopped talking. I don’t think she was consciously aware of the impact it made on me and the other people in her life, but her nonstop talking seemed to send the message that “I don’t care about you or your life.”

► 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 communication breakdown. Whether they mean it or not, they are communicating “I don’t respect you enough to even acknowledge your existence.”

The same thing happens at work. I’m sure you’ve seen managers and VPs chatting amongst themselves, while underlings wait to be acknowledged or included. It’s not cool.

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.

Most people know that interrupting people is not a good way to communicate. It sends three disastrously negative messages: 1) “I’m much more interested in what I’m going to say next than in what you’re saying to me right now.” 2) “I don’t care about you.” and 3) “I don’t understand you because I’m not even bothering to listen to you.”

Of course, most people aren’t trying to send those three negative 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 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.

You probably have some people in your life that 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? YOU. That’s why I tell my audiences, “To blame is to be lame.” It’s a major communication breakdown.

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 no one will want to associate with me. That was my old life. No more.”

The bad news is every one of these communication breakdowns will destroy you and your effectiveness in your job, in your relationships, and everywhere else. The good news is you have the power to stop doing them … right now.

Dr. Zimmerman’s Tuesday Tip, Issue 964 – The 5 Communication Breakdowns That Will Destroy You