7 Behaviors That Mess Up Communication: Are You Making A Good Impression?

Have you ever felt puzzled by how others react to you? Do you want to improve communication in your family, your marriage, or other relationships? Are you wondering how to get along better with others at work? Here are 7 behaviors you can quickly change to smooth out differences and improve communication. Each of these behaviors sends the message that you are better than, more important than, or more valuable than the other person. When you do not want to act this way, are you doing it anyway? Show respect by changing your actions, and create some peace where there is strife.

1. Interrupting

I thought I was a great listener. I genuinely cared about others, and I could easily sit down and listen in support of friends who needed encouragement. In everyday conversation, however, my behavior sent a different message. I worked so hard to be sure my view was heard, that I talked first and listened later. I was constantly interrupting. After college, I committed to create a better me. I asked God to show me where to improve and to give me the courage to face it. The next day I began to notice the faces of others at the moment I cut them off, and I was stunned. I determined right then to stop interrupting, and it instantly helped improve friendly conversations.

While it only took a moment to decide my actions, it took longer to deal with my emotional reactions. Once I stopped the behavior, I learned I felt intense fear at not speaking up whenever I wanted to interject an opinion. I realized that I never felt my views were “heard” growing up, and I was afraid of being invisible now. I was allowing the pain of my past to influence my present. I refused to live afraid of the same experiences now, but instead determined to create a better life, starting with how I related to others. It was time to gather this unpacked baggage and unload it. I made a conscious effort to live in confidence in the present, knowing I had much to offer the world, as everyone does. As I gave it to God, the weight lifted off and set me free. Now, if I find myself unintentionally interrupting someone, I catch myself and apologize. When I value conversation with someone, I work hard to show it.

2. Assuming

Humorous though it is, we all know that the popular saying taken from the spelling of the word is true: to ASSUME really can make an *!@** out of U and ME. We make judgements about people, but when we believe that only our assumption can possibly be correct, we fall into this trap. Here is an example of how this messes up communication in relationships.

My husband and I are celebrating ten years of marriage this month. I am amazed at how fast the time has gone by, yet at the same time, I see how much closer we have grown through the years. We really do have a great marriage, but it did not just happen–we work at it. One of our greatest efforts is also one of our strengths: communication. When we first started our journey together, and a disagreement occurred, we both made a lot of assumptions. For example, if he said something that hurt my feelings, I eagerly waited for him to apologize. I assumed that if he really knew me, if he really cared, if he was paying enough attention to me, and if he really loved me, he would just magically know I was upset. Wrong! In relationships, one person often offends the other and has absolutely no idea what happened. Really.

I like to think that as an educated and confident professional, I would act more mature. When something bothered me, however, I would walk around the house pouting in silence, thinking surely he would realize my lack of energy and conversation and come ask what was wrong. My assumption created my own grief, as I ruined what could be a wonderful evening by stewing in frustration. At the same time, he enjoyed a peaceful evening, reading the paper, fixing something that needed to be fixed, and watching television. Finally, I had to find out how someone who loved me could ignore my emotional state for so long. I still remember the look on his face whenever this would happen- utter shock. He would either have no idea I was offended, or he thought it had gone away, and I was not mad anymore. If however, he did suspect something was wrong but did not know what, he preferred to hold to his assumption and ignore my clues, rather than risk a “long” discussion if there was a problem.

We needed to put aside our assumptions, and to get better at communicating. Over the years, we have both improved how we relate.

I have learned not to be so easily offended. Sometimes what I thought was an attack or criticism of me was only my own insecurity, and I learned to sort out the difference. I have also learned how to be more active in our relationship, and to clearly make my feelings known. I now know it is my responsibility to go beyond assumption, and to be sure he knows that something bothers me.

He has learned that for me, nothing ever just magically goes away. At the same time, he knows that sometimes, all it takes is a quick hug and meaningful look into my eyes to help me feel better. Other times, I need to hear words. We have learned how to smooth over differences with fewer words too, giving me enough time to feel we have “talked it out”, and yet not taking so much time that he feels “talked out”. We have learned how to resolve differences quickly but efficiently, a topic for another post. The starting point, however, is to go beyond assumptions.

In your relationships, talk about how you resolve conflict, before it happens. Instead of assuming, give yourself and others a better chance by finding out the truth. When you harbor resentment over assumptions, you create your own unhappiness.

3. Taking without Thanking

Telling others thank you tells a lot about your character. How many of us in our busy lives forget this? Think back to the last time you really appreciated something, and never remembered to tell the person thank you. You may have wanted to share your appreciation, but by never saying thanks, you showed ingratitude. I am great at giving thanks immediately after an act of kindness. I recognize others with words and a smile. Written thank you notes, however, are my weakness.

Sometimes a verbal thank you is sufficient, but sometimes, etiquette suggests a more thoughtful written response is best. There are many times I think of sending a few words by mail, but it seems to be last on my list until it becomes too late to have any meaning. I have disappointed myself in the past, where I truly did not mean to send an ungrateful message, but I never followed through with an appropriate expression of thanks. I have worked harder this year in this area, and with this commitment, I have greatly improved. I am careful to keep these little notes in priority with other commitments to myself. Whenever I receive a written thank you note I am still humbled by the effort and thoughtfulness, and it means even more to me than others think.

4. Blaming Others

You are responsible for your own behavior. You are influenced by your pain, but it does not have to control your future. When you blame others, you give up control of your own life, and allow others to decide how you will feel day by day. This mentality creates tension in relationships as one person feels stuck and stressed over circumstances that trap them. Others only control your life when you let them. For a while I considered hiding in the “safety” of blaming others.

I could live every day knowing any failure or trouble now and in my future is all the fault of those who caused me harm years ago. But I knew better, and I decided to fight the impulse to wallow in self-pity. I decided to live for today and take control of my future, with God’s help. You have greatness in you, waiting to contribute your unique skills to the world. Give God your heart and allow Him to fulfill your life’s purpose. It is up to you, and only you.

5. Offering Nothing

Are you giving your best? Are you working to offer your unique skill in your career, or do you just do the minimum? Do you offer the real you to those you let close, or are you guarding against intimacy by offering little to nothing of yourself? Be authentic. Be available. Be confident. When you just go along with others, never offer an opinion, and never share you tell others they are not worth it.

When the opportunity arises for you to participate in communication, and you do not offer your opinion, your talent, or whatever contribution you can make, you send a message. Either you say you are too important, too insecure, or you are unable to offer anything. You are a talented individual. If you do not know your strengths, discover them. If you are too scared to subject yourself to possible rejection, get strength from God to face life with courage. If you need to sharpen your skills, then commit to do so. The world is waiting for the unique ways you can participate. Just remember point #1 (above) when you do.

6. Not Following Through

Excuses, excuses, excuses. Is your life full of reasons and explanations for not following through? The CEO of a fortune 500 company allows others to wait and arrives last to a meeting, making no excuses. The employees expect this behavior as part of the authority of a leadership position in the corporation.. If the same person arrives late to a date, however busy the schedule, excuses do need to be made. This time being late is usually considered offensive, and gives the impression that the other person is not valued. If you have to make repeated excuses for your actions, do you realize what others think as a result?

What does your life say? There are many ways people do not follow through. When you make commitments, you make promises. Breaking promises tears away at your integrity and destroys trust in business and personal relationships. If you say yes, do it. You are judged by your actions and inactions. Be a person of your word. Do what you say, and only guarantee what you can deliver. When you compromise, you are telling others they are not a priority. If you want to make a favorable impression, find a way to follow through, so that excuses are saved for real and infrequent emergencies.

Here are three ways your actions break promises to others:

Managing time: when you are late, do not show up, turn in an incomplete project, or miss a deadline.  Your children need to know you value them with your time.  Other loved ones do too.  Business deadlines are important, so balance life and do not over-commit.

Being faithful: when you are dishonest, fake, or give in to pressure, or betray yourself and do what you do not want to do. Instead, be honest, true to yourself and others, not being fake but being your real self, true to commitments, not duplicitous, and true to your faith.

Staying focused: when you act in apathy, appear lazy, do not try or take any risks, or live in fear of failure.

Have goals you strive to accomplish, be loyal to promises to yourself and others, commit to and achieve your goals, and follow through with your promises. Your actions are the best way to make a great impression.

7. Correcting Others

As a teacher, I have a natural job responsibility to critique the work of others. When you are not my student, however, it is not my place to evaluate you. Have you ever been around people who constantly criticize? Do you find yourself doing this to others? Comments about your clothes, harsh words about something you said, laughing at your ideas, or belittling something you care about are all behaviors that create tension and discord. Are your insecurities driving you to lash out at others? In your attempt to look better, you may seem abrasive. As you try to lift yourself up at the expense of others, you show your insecurities.

Learn how wonderful you are, and remove the need to hurt others. Others do not have to be put down for you to feel great. You have something wonderful to offer the world. The accomplishments of others do not change the God-given potential for your life. Stop criticizing or correcting others when it is not your business to do so, and you will notice an immediate change in the demeanor of others around you.

Are your actions messing up your interactions?  Figure out what causes grief in your communication. Stop the behavior. Change your life today. You can do it!

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