Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Communication Breakdown

Assessing your relationship dynamics.

Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving. –Benjamin Franklin

Over and over we see conflict arise from communication breakdowns, whether it’s between couples, co-workers, families and even countries. Although some communication breakdowns are intentional, most of what we say is unconscious and from poor habits we learned from others.

In working to understand my own communication dynamics, plus by watching countless couples and business teams speak to each other, it seems to always comes down to relinquishing blame, stopping assumptions and learning new tools for healthy relating: active listening, negotiating with an eye for win-win compromise, compassion for your partner’s triggers or weaknesses (as well as for your own), and good old fashioned truth telling.

In relationships we are always at a choice point. When you make a decision to take responsibility for your part in any relationship, always remember this one key question to ask yourself: Do I want to win and prove my point, or do I want to develop a deeper connection and grow closer to him/her? In every communication session I do, I constantly find myself saying, “OK, now the ball is in your court. You can respond by saying something to be right that will pour gasoline on the flames and escalate the conflict or you can say something that will show the other(s) that you are interested in truth and closeness only.” Being clear on your intention for communicating with another is first and foremost.

The following series of questions is designed to help you discover and decipher your particular communication style when it comes to relating to others.

  • Do you try to control conversations? Sometimes? Often? Never? If you do, are you aware of doing it in the moment? Do you have conscious reasons for doing this? Are you aware of feelings in your body when you control conversations? IE: Nervousness? Tension? Tightening your hands or jaw? A sense of urgency?
  • What feelings come up in you when you meet a new person? What do you feel in your body when you meet a new person whom you perceive to be more successful than you? Bigger or smaller than you? Better looking than you? How comfortable do you feel with others in general? Just reflect for a moment on your interaction with others dynamics and the feelings they bring up in your body.
    • Do you tend to hold back in conversations, or take a passive role because you lack confidence or don’t know how to fully participate? If you do, are you aware of this in the moment? Do you have conscious reasons for doing this? What are the feelings underneath your holding back or being reserved? IE: Sad, Angry, Afraid? And what thoughts do you have? IE: “ I have nothing important to add” or “I’ll say the wrong thing and embarrass myself”?
    • Do you “dump” your feelings, opinions and upsets on your spouse, family, friends, co-workers, or even your boss? If so, are you aware of doing this in the moment?
    • Do you withhold your feelings from your spouse, family, friends, co-workers, or boss? If so, are you aware of doing this in the moment?
    • Pick three important people in your life. Now, think of feelings or of anything you would like to share with them, but don’t. Do you know why you hold back? Does that holding back cause any uncomfortable feelings in your body?
    • Do you habitually cover up your feelings in front of others, whether by being serious, withdrawn or shut down, hyper and chatty, or by making jokes and being flippant? If so, are you aware of doing what you are doing in the moment? How much energy does it take to do that?
    • What percentage of your conversation with others feels authentic? How often do you share your truth, and feel open to others’ truths? How much of your talk to others is saying what you believe they would like to hear, or “selling” yourself or trying to make an impression? How aware are you of doing anything like this in the moment?
    • Are you aware of what your body is doing when you talk to others? IE: Do your hands move? Do you turn your head away when you speak to someone or look at them? Are your words and the micro messages your body sends out the same, meaning, does your face and your body language match what you’re saying? IE: “I feel fine with that decision” but you are scrunching your face and tightening your fists.

Having examined your level of awareness in your communications with others, do you see patterns you would like to change? Do you have a clear sense of situations where you are generally inhibited, uneasy or passive; or where you are relatively confident, uninhibited and dynamic? Do you see “stuck” places you would like to move beyond?

Enjoy healthier communications and take heed of the words of Led Zeppelin. Communication breakdown, It's always the same. I'm having a nervous breakdown. Drive me insane.

More from Steve Sisgold
More from Psychology Today