How do you communicate with those you care about, your co-workers, and your friends? Do you show them different sides of yourself or are you always the same person? Do you believe that there are rules to communication? Many of my clients simply believe that communication does not entail a host of different skills but should only consist of talking. What many of them fail to realize is that communication is often influenced by internal thoughts as well as body language. Both of these things either contribute to or detract from the conversation. Even more, poor communication skills are to blame for miscommunication, arguments, and confusion.
All last week we discussed communication which include exploring positive and negative ways we communicate with those around us. I received so many facebook comments, twitter comments, emails, and posts to the article that included people who struggle with what they say to others and also how others communicate with them. We fail to realize just how powerful communication is in our daily lives, to our emotional health, and psychological well-being. Everything we say and do has an effect on the environment. In many of my sessions with families, arguments ignite very quickly due to 7 thinking errors that influence how the other person views the communicator.
For individuals who are suffering from mental health conditions, it can be really difficult if not impossible (depending on the severity of the illness) for them to correctly identify thinking errors or negative patterns of communication that interferes with proper communication. For example, an individual suffering from severe schizophrenia or is functioning on the borderline intellectual scale might find it difficult to clearly communicate their needs, feelings, and thoughts to others. They might also find it difficult to reciprocate communication in an appropriate fashion. Even more, someone who is exhibiting sociopathic traits also struggles with certain forms of communication such as expressing empathy and true concern for the well being of others.
One of the reasons I have been discussing communication with you for the past 2 weeks is because it’s one of the most ignored aspects of daily life. It is also one of the most challenging things in therapy for many people to change. It’s also something that we do so often (and is second nature) that we don’t think we need to improve. The reality is that many of us probably need to improve.
Here is a list of 7 thinking errors or cognitive errors that influence many of us on a daily basis:
- Black/white thinking: This thinking error, also known as cognitive distortion, is “all or none thinking.” It’s the “my way or the highway” type thinking. Anytime we believe there are no other options available, we create confusion, chaos, and trouble very quickly. This is because this type of thinking error causes us to think narrow mindedly. This type of thinking is an enemy to open communication, humility, and give-and-take interactions.
- Mind-reading: Mind reading occurs when you think that you know exactly what someone else is thinking. While there are times you may know someone so well that you know how they think, the chances of you always knowing what the other person is thinking is slim. It’s best to ask and not assume. Mind reading can lead to miscommunication, resentment, and chaos.
- Remedy: It’s best to weigh your thoughts about someone else’s thoughts. In other words, ask yourself if you are right on your assumption and consider reasons why you could be wrong.
- Generalization: Generalization is something we are all probably guilty of doing. We take the result of one incident and paint other experiences similarly. For example, imagine that you are deciding to go back to school after years of hard work and possibly raising a family. But you struggle with confidence and actually making the move because you remember the many days, when you were in college as a youth, struggling and feeling overwhelmed by the workload. Just because something once affected you negatively, doesn’t mean it will affect you in the same way again. Having an open mind and seeking courage is a great step toward victory.
- Remedy: Give yourself a chance to experience something different. Avoid the temptation to believe one bad experience could lead to many more.
- Emotional Reasoning: You feel an emotion in response to a situation and believe that your emotions must be true. For example, you get into an argument with your spouse and start to believe that, because you feel so guilty, your spouse now hates you. Instead of attempting to look at the truth of the situation and use some logic, you only consider how you are feeling and begin to believe that how you are feeling must be fact. Individuals who tend to ruminate go through this a lot. Rumination is repeatedly thinking about something negative and worrying about it. Rumination is often a “symptom” of depression and anxiety. Emotional reasoning can truly affect how you view reality and paint all of your perceptions negatively.
- Remedy: It’s always best to consider the many sides of a situation. It’s often useful to consider what could and could not be true. Assumption is where anxiety kicks in. You want to limit the amount of time you spend ruminating about something. Think it over, consider a few possibilities, accept it, and move on.
- Minimizing: Minimizing is something that triggers a lot of anger and resentment in families. I see a lot of families who have children or teens who minimize the effects of their negative behaviors on the family and take nothing seriously. Minimizing includes making a behavior or someone said seem smaller than it actually is. Know someone like this? Everyone knows the situation is much bigger than the minimizer is willing to believe.
- Deflecting: Deflecting is an attempt to remove all of the attention from yourself and place it on to someone else. People who are struggling with guilt are very good at this.
- Magnifying: Opposite of the minimizer, the magnifier blows everything out of PROPORTION. This person may erupt into yelling, cursing, name calling, degrading others, threats, and possibly even physical aggression. The magnifier cannot see the situation for what it is so they respond in ways that are disproportionate to the actual offense. For example, someone might cut you off in traffic and instead of thinking “maybe they didn’t see me,” you lash out at the other car blowing your horn, riding their bumper, and making faces. The magnifier has no ability to reason. All responses are based on emotions and very little to no logical reasoning.
- Remedy: Minimizing, deflecting, and magnifying are all ways we attempt to not take responsibility for our behaviors. It’s easier to get out of having to confront something if we minimize it, magnify it to justify our behaviors, or deflect it. The best approach is acceptance. You have to learn to accept what you are trying to minimize, magnify, or deflect. It’s called accountability.
There are also technological ways of communicating in today’s social media and technologically intelligent world that can cause miscommunication. There are so many platforms to communicate but are they appropriate? There are three modern ways of communication that should only be used in certain circumstances:
- Email: Email can cause miscommunication in so many ways. If the person you are sending the email to doesn’t know you personally or have some idea of what your personality is like, they can truly misinterpret what you are trying to say and misjudge you. I’m a firm believer that sarcasm, metaphors, and certain questions should not be used in email. To avoid all miscommunication, reduce the use of email if possible.
- Texting: Texting is also a bad way to communicate with someone. Texting should be used to get a simple message across or ask questions. But texting should never be used to communicate sensitive or emotional information. It’s too easy to misinterpret was is being said and so much can be read into a message that wasn’t intended to be complex.
- Speaker phone: Communication can be difficult especially if you are struggling with cognitive errors. It can be really difficult for people to communicate smoothly on a speaker phone. Many of my clients complain to me about their families when they ask to have family sessions by phone. Phone conversations are impersonal, strained, and confusing at times.
Email, texting, and speaker phones do not allow us to observe the other person’s body language, tone of voice, or facial expressions. We cannot determine what is actually being said to us if a form of technology is creating a barrier. This is important to keep in mind when communicating with someone who struggles with cognitive errors.
If you’re interested in learning about more cognitive errors, check out this great list from Psychologytoday.com.
As always, take good care