Look who’s talking
Friday, April 27, 2012

Communication is a two-way street so accept that you cannot call the shots all the time — you need to respect the other person’s point of view as well

Communication conflict is a common and destructive force in all types of relationships. One of the most common causes of such conflict is a difference in communication styles. Some people tend to think with their heads and others, their hearts. Yet each style is neither right nor wrong and each style offers much to the other.

Some of us can clearly identify whether we’re logical or emotional communicators. In other cases, this can be harder to clarify. Many people can be influenced by the communication style of another, becoming more logical if someone seems emotional, responding with emotion when someone appears very logical or even by aligning themselves with another’s communication style.

Take the time to note your communication patterns and pay attention to what you think needs fixing in others. This is usually a good indicator of your style because we want others to be more like us. But it’s wrong to think our way is the best way.

Assuming your communication style is the better one means that you’re arrogant about it and arrogance is destructive. To judge whether you practise such arrogance, ask yourself:

  • Do you roll your eyes, even if just internally, when another person speaks with what you deem their “typical” response?
  • Do you tend to cut people off or correct them before they’ve finished speaking?
  • Do you get angry when people give you time limits or deadlines for decisions or projects?
  • Do you think someone’s callousness is over-the-top?
  • Does it irritate you when people think out loud instead of thinking first and speaking succinctly? 

If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, it’s likely that your superiority is damaging your relationships. When you are arrogant about your communication style, you have and show little regard for another’s.

Children are very self-absorbed and consider the world as it revolves around them. When you are arrogant, you are stuck in this developmental phase. Honouring differences opens new worlds and gives you new perspectives. If you are insecure about your individuality and independence, you have little patience or respect for others. The need to be right is important to your self-esteem and your aggressive defence of your way of thinking and communicating can alienate others and limit possibilities in your life.

“People find it far easier to forgive others for being wrong than being right.”  - JK Rowling 

Can you remember a time when someone really didn’t listen to you or cut you off? How did you feel? Now, can you think of a time when someone was truly empathetic, when they respected how you felt and what you said, when they listened to you even if they didn’t agree? How did you feel then? Respect for others is vital in communication and essential for healthy relationships.

Relationship expert John Gottman has identified communication patterns that are especially destructive within relationships. Gottman has been able to predict divorce based on these patterns 94 per cent of the time! He calls these patterns or barriers ‘The Four Horsemen’ and they include criticism, defensiveness, contempt and withdrawal. He asserts that contempt and defensiveness are the most destructive communication behaviours but that a man’s withdrawal from conflict is the strongest predictor of divorce.

Horseman 1: Criticism

Complaining is a normal human behaviour but criticism is an escalation of normal complaining. When you criticise, you attack someone’s character or personality instead of just complaining about a specific action or behaviour. You make an isolated incident a universal failing, implying that there is something inherently wrong with them. This communication behaviour often results in escalation of a conflict, as those involved respond with the same reaction and this overall spiralling into harsh words and personal attacks can become ingrained.

Horseman 2: 

Cynicism and sarcasm further escalate communication conflicts. They signify disgust and poison relationships. Examples of contempt include eye-rolling, hostile humour, mockery, name-calling, sneering and snorting. Contempt can even take the form of aggression, bullying or open hostility. 

Horseman 3: 

Defensiveness isn’t just about protecting your own way of thinking: it involves blaming another. Research has found that defensiveness isn’t a successful communication technique but is a way of saying that the problem does not lie with you.

Horseman 4: Stonewalling

Stonewalling involves tuning out. As communication spirals negatively, one person is likely to disengage and display a lack of caring for the conflict and relationship. While taking a time-out from an unfruitful interaction can be a good thing, withdrawal by subtle or blatant behaviour can become habitual and eminently destructive. People may stop talking, gaze off into the distance, change the subject, avoid conversation or simply walk away. This is the ultimate show of lack of care.

It’s important to respect and validate others that you communicate with, no matter the type of relationship. If you sense escalation, you can stop a negative spiral by speaking in a softer tone and calmly. You can actively listen instead of impatiently rehearsing your point of view. You can remind yourself that being right can come at great cost. You can agree with another to take a time-out.

Avoid overgeneralisations. Apologise for them immediately to prevent escalation. Noting your own defensiveness can open up communication in a beneficial way. Mostly, you must respect others to get respect. You don’t have to agree with someone to acknowledge them. You don’t have to personally attack someone to remark on an action or behaviour that you didn’t like. You can always choose to start over when communication has derailed. And you can try catching yourself making unfair assumptions about another person’s intent or perspective. By truly trying to understand another person’s perspective, you not only validate them and strengthen the relationship but you learn much about yourself and open up new possibilities in your own thinking. Assume the best of others and it will come back to you.

Gottman also asserted that negative communication has far more impact on relationships than positive instances. He claimed that every negative interaction must be counterbalanced by at least five positive communications in order for a stable relationship to exist. He recommends that we engage in non-defensive listening, soothing and validating to counteract the Four Horsemen behaviours and that we take the time to appreciate each other and our differences frequently. 

Oksana is a life coach based in Dubai; she’s an expert in stress management, addictions and phobias, relationships, communication skills and emotional pain management. Visit her: or email her:

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