You can improve your communication skills by recognizing these four common mistakes.
When we talk about something that is sensitive, personal or difficult, we may talk around the subject. We may avoid being specific, trying to be polite, hoping the other person will somehow pick up our meaning. Instead, we can plan what need to say, then choose the simplest way of saying it.
However, we may talk so much that the person we are speaking with is unable to figure out what we are getting at. This only adds confusion to an already difficult conversation. In turn, we may, by accident, say something exaggerated or accusing, which causes the other person to take a defensive posture.
2) We think we know everything!
When we feel strongly about something, we are usually convinced that we have got all the facts at our fingertips and that we know exactly what is going on. We may be quite sure that we know who is right and who is wrong! So we go into a conversation primarily to get the other person to agree with us.
We may unconsciously say to ourselves: “If I can just get him/her to see, or: If they will just do. Then they will see I’m right.”
So the more the other person resists, perhaps because they are trying to offer their own viewpoint, the harder we push to get our way. However, we rarely, if ever, know all the facts in a complex conversation, and cannot always be right! We must go into difficult conversations about complex issues prepared to listen, and prepared to consider the viewpoint of the other person.
3) We blame everyone except ourselves!
It is tempting to see every problem as the fault of someone else. If only they would perform to our standards, if they would just stick to our rules, if they would do what they promised; then there would not be a problem.
The fact is that if we are part of the situation, we are in some way also part of the problem. Are we certain that we made our instructions clear? Did we clarify our priorities? Did we set clear standards? Did we get commitment to these standards? We need to remember that we may be as much part of the problem as anyone else.
4) We go straight to action!
It is tempting to offer an immediate solution to the problem in a difficult conversation, so we can end it quickly. Avoid this temptation! Slow down.
We need to hear all sides of the story, and the other person needs to know that their opinions and feelings have been heard. If we push too quickly for our own solution, it is likely that others will not be committed to the outcome. We will think we have solved the problem, only to find that nothing has changed and we are back to square one after the conversation.
These four mistakes account for many of the problems we face in difficult conversations. If we can avoid them we will find that our communication skills will improve noticeably.