Roadblocks to Communicaton

From People Skills by Robert Bolton


What specific barriers are apt to hinder a conversation? Experts in interpersonal communication like Carl Rogers, Reuel Howe, Haim Ginott, and Jack Gibb have pinpointed responses that tend to block conversation. More recently, Thomas Gordon devised a comprehensive list that he calls the "dirty dozen" of communication spoilers. These undesirable responses include:

Criticizing: Making a negative evaluation of the other person, her actions, or attitudes. :You brought it on yourself—you’ve got nobody else to blame for the mess you are in."

Name-calling: "Putting down" or stereotyping the other person "What a dope!" "Just like a woman…" "Egghead." "You hardhats are all alike." "You are just another insensitive male."

Diagnosing: Analyzing why a person is behaving as she is; playing amateur psychiatrist. "I can read you like a book—you are just doing that to irritate me." "Just because you went to college, you think you are better than I."

Praising Evaluatively: Making a positive judgment of the other person, her actions, or attitudes. "You are always such a good girl, I know you will help me with the lawn tonight." Teacher to teenage student: "You are a great poet." (Many people find it difficult to believe that some of the barriers like praise are high-risk responses. I believe repeated use of these responses can be detrimental to relationships.)

Ordering: Commanding the other person to do what you want to have done. "Do your homework right now." "Why?! Because I said so…."

Threatening: Trying to control the other’s actions by warning of negative consequences that you will instigate. "You’ll do it or else…." "Stop that noise right now or I will keep the whole class after school."

Moralizing: Telling another person what she should do. "Preaching" at the other. "You shouldn’t get a divorce; think of what will happen to the children." "You ought to tell him you are sorry."

Excessive/Inappropriate Questioning: Closed-ended questions are often barriers in a relationship; these are those that can usually be answered in a few words—often with a simple yes or no. "When did it happen?" "Are you sorry that you did it?"

Advising: Giving the other person a solution to her problems. "If I were you, I’d sure tell him off." "That’s an easy one to solve. First…."

Diverting: Pushing the other’s problems aside through distraction. "Don’t dwell on it, Sarah. Let’s talk about something more pleasant." Or, "Think you’ve got it bad?! Let me tell you what happened to me."

Logical argument: Attempting to convince the other with an appeal to facts or logic, usually without consideration of the emotional factors involved. "Look at the facts; if you hadn’t bought that new car, we could have made the down payment on the house."

Reassuring: Trying to stop the other person from feeling the negative emotions she is experiencing. "Don’t worry, it is always darkest before the dawn." " It will all work out OK in the end."