Are You Making These Common Communication Mistakes?

One of the most common conversations we have in coaching sessions is around relationships – relationships with managers, with spouses, with children, with friends, with coworkers. We are social beings and we depend on our relationships functioning well in order to experience connection, personal satisfaction and professional success. No matter how independent we think we are, we have to work and live with other people – so when those relationships aren’t functioning, we’ve got issues.

And, while it may sound cliché, the thing at the center of many of these relationship challenges is often one thing: communication.

As we dig into 3 common communication mistakes that I see people making, personally and professionally – I want you to keep in mind that this isn’t about placing blame. That if only you were a better person you wouldn’t be making these mistakes.

We’re all susceptible to these pitfalls – sometimes with certain people or in specific situations, and sometimes just every now and again when we let our guard down. So instead of beating ourselves up with we fall short, let’s take a growth mindset approach: we’re going to stay aware of these potential shortcomings, identify where we might have an opportunity for improvement, and approach communication as a never-ending practice. We won’t always be perfect, but we can always strive to be better than before.

Mistake #1: Being Oblivious To Or Ignoring Our Baggage

How often do we say things like “He pissed me off!” or “She’s stressing me out!”? All the time, right?! If you’re anything like me, there’s a good chance we’re constantly attributing how we feel and act to other people.

And we sort of just accept it as normal – this instinct to blame others for how we feel – because everyone does it. But should we be okay with that? Because here’s the #truth:

How we show up with and for other people has a lot to do with what’s going on inside us.

You know this to be true – just think of the last time you had to go into a meeting when you’d already reached the “hangry” stage or how you approached a conversation with your significant other after having a bad day at work. We’re constantly bringing our baggage into our communication – and we either don’t realize the impact it has, or we know and we just ignore it.

Now, that’s not to say relationships aren’t a two-way street or that the other person doesn’t have some role in the situation BUT we can’t place blame solely on others at the expense of getting real about the part we play. When we do, chances are we’re going to fall victim to things like:

  • Showing up with an attitude or mindset that’s actually a roadblock to the results we want
  • Making judgements about someone’s behavior that, in reality, has more to do with us and how we’re feeling right now
  • Missing key information – both in things that go said AND unsaid – because we’re too stuck in your own thoughts

So the next time you head into an interaction, ask yourself: What baggage – emotional, physical, mental – am I bringing with me…and how do I make sure to keep it in check?

Mistake #2: Making Assumptions

Have you ever given someone directions, only to have them show you the finished project and it’s NOTHING like what you thought they were going to do?

Or have you gone into a conversation, thinking you know EXACTLY why the other person is acting the way they are, or you think you know EXACTLY what they’re thinking…only to find out you’re flat-out wrong?

The idea that assuming makes a you-know-what out of you AND me? Well, I think there’s something to that.

We make assumptions for a whole host of reasons:

  • We know someone really well, so we take that for granted and assume we know everything about how they think and act.
  • We have beliefs about what a person in a certain role should know or be capable of, so we assume competency.
  • We’re want to save mental energy and actual time by skipping over clarifying questions or having tough conversations, so we default to what we “think” we know about the situation.

While making assumptions can save us time in the short-term, it usually ends up COSTING time, money, and energy in the long-term – and has the potential to hurt relationships that are important to us.

The next time you find yourself using the word “should” – as in so-and-so “should” just know how to do something or they “should” be handling this fine – ask yourself: Could I reach out and ask some good questions so I actually know how they’re feeling or what they’re thinking?

Mistake #3: Thinking It's "My Way Or The Highway"

Ugh…we’ve reached the mistake that is my Achilles’ heel – thinking that EVERYONE should operate according to my view of how the world works.

I make jokes about this all the time that go something like, “Well, if everyone operated according to Amanda’s Rules of the World, we’d all be better off!” And, yes, I’m kidding and trying to be funny, but I can’t lie…sometimes there’s a hint of truth in there!

I’ve worked with enough people in coaching over the years to know we’re all guilty of this at some time or another. We get annoyed or sad or disappointed because people aren’t doing what we told them – and if they just listened to you, wouldn’t life be a lot easier?!

But here’s the deal: it’s NOT a “my way or the highway” world. Very rarely is there only one way of doing things or only one way to believe. And when we refuse to be flexible, we pay the price. Consequences include:

  • Stifling innovation because people stop bringing their ideas forward.
  • Hurting relationships because they don’t feel seen or heard.
  • Losing good teammates because who wants to work with someone that never listens to your ideas?

The next time you find yourself going, “Why can’t they just do it the way I told them?!” ask yourself: Is the way I told them THE way? Or is it only A way of getting this done?

The Take-Home Message

These are 3 of the most common communication mistakes I see being made in companies, in marriages, in parenting, in communities – and I’m guilty of them myself from time-to-time. It’s my hope that, by being more aware of these potential pitfalls, you feel more comfortable looking in the mirror and asking: How do my emotions and actions impact the other person or people in this relationship? Because that’s how we start to show up more powerfully – both for ourselves and others – and take care of relationships in a way they can actually thrive.


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