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Communication User Error November 6, 2014

Communication is a team effort but not all people are considered equal in skill level or style. There has to be a communicator and a listener and they hopefully reciprocate respectfully with each other. Unfortunately, most of us were not taught how to be excellent communicators. Instead we fall back on what we know through our own experiences of getting our needs met which was influenced by how we grew up. We learned many communication patterns from our parents or caregivers by unconscious and direct observation. Children are sponges as the saying goes and they soak up what is presented to them in their environment. Some adults may unconsciously continue those communication patterns learned long ago, while others may consciously choose to swing the other way in attempts to not be like one or both of their parents. However, this attempt can trend toward extremes such as avoidance or harshness when considering communication styles. Either way the communication user is primed for errors without an upgrade. The goals of healthy communication, especially with regard to the relationships in our lives are: listening; saying what is needed, wanted or preferred; and ensuring that one has been heard.

Some people utilize non-communicative means all together or are passive in their style of communication thus to the listener it feels like they have no opinions, don’t care, and can be taken for granted. This leaves the person who uses a passive style of communication left feeling deflated and unimportant. Many other people rely on indirect communication or passive-aggression as a means to “let others know” what they feel but can’t say out loud directly and attempt to “hide” their aggression. A passive-aggressive style of communication leaves much for interpretation by the listener and can tend to frustrate the person who is using a passive-aggressive style of communication when they have not been understood. Both of these communication styles rely on non-communicative and indirect means which negatively impacts the quality of their relationships due to the fact that these forms of communication do not serve others in a reciprocal manner. In contrast, some people utilize an aggressive style of communication that appears direct yet feels to the listener like bullying. This can frustrate the person using an aggressive style of communication by development of contempt or opposition from the listener. The ramifications upon relationships for this style of communication tend to render the user lonely in time as there is no giving, only taking.

Let us not forget about manipulation. All of the above 3 communication styles can utilize overt and covert manipulation. Overt manipulations tend to be the tactic used by the aggressive communication style such as twisting the listener’s words to fit their agenda. Covert manipulations tend to be the defense for the passive style of communication such as use of the silent treatment or pouting as a form of manipulation. While the passive-aggressive style of communication uses both of these forms of manipulation as needed. As you can imagine people who tend to use an aggressive style of communication negatively complement passive styles of communication, rendering each of the users unhappy over the long-term. While those who employ a passive-aggressive style of communication live in a world of conflicted and unfulfilling relationships.

The good news is—Learning how to listen to others and provide verbal and nonverbal cues; learning how to state our needs, wants and preferences respectfully through assertion; and learning how to be heard through use of “I statements” and reflective statements or questions are all skills that can be learned. This style of communication is known as assertiveness. With practice and regular use of assertive communication, one can get their needs met, improve their relationships, and increase their self-esteem. Communication affects us all and it does so daily from the mere exchange at the counter at Starbucks to our interactions with co-workers and bosses, and of course our communication with our partner, spouse, or family. When considering the safest place to learn how to improve our communication we can start out with coaching or therapy, then move outside to innocuous others to build confidence from, to then where it is needed most—wherever that might be in our personal or professional lives. It’s time for an upgrade, or a new version all together, in our communication style to get the most out of our relationships and connections.

Aaron Foster

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