Did You Really Just Say That? (Full Article)

You could be a worse communicator than you think

By Molly Raisch

You may pride yourself on being one of those people who can talk to absolutely anyone, but how well do you actually communicate? Chances are you’re not coming across they way you think you are, says Ben E. Benjamin, PhD, author of Conversation Transformation: Recognize and Overcome the 6 Most Destructive Communication Patterns. Poor communication skills don’t just result in a misunderstanding or two: “They can threaten our jobs, families, and friendships—and in some cases even our health,” he says. And most of us have no idea that we’re doing anything wrong.

Get Your Guy To Listen  

Check out these four conversation traps you could be stumbling into—and how to climb back out: 

The trap: You ask pointed questions. Saying, “Don’t you think going to France on our vacation is a great idea?” seems like a harmless inquiry, and you may actually think you’re asking for input. But what you’re really doing is making sure you hear the answer you want, which isn’t helpful for anyone.

The fix:First, make sure that when you ask a question, you’re genuinely looking for an answer—not just aiming to have your own opinion validated, says Dr. Benjamin. For real feedback, tweak your question to something more open-ended, like “What do you think about France for a vacation spot?” or, better yet, “Where would you like to go on vacation?” 

The trap: You give the totally wrong response. When a friend comes to you complaining about an issue she’s having, you probably respond in one of two knee-jerk ways: Saying “That’s not so bad,” or trying to fix the problem. Big mistake. “When we tell someone ‘it’s not that bad,’ we’re dismissing their concerns, making them feel even worse,” says Dr. Benjamin. And proposing a solution? Also wrong, since the complaint is usually only the tip of the iceberg, he says. For example, bemoaning a commute is likely more about wanting some work flexibility than it is about traffic—meaning your two cents about a better route aren’t exactly helpful. 

The fix: Validate her concern by saying, “I understand how you would feel that way.” Then ask questions to help her solve her own problem, such as asking what she wants to change and how she might go about it.

Everything You Know About Happiness Is Wrong  

The trap: You embrace your inner physic. Who needs a crystal ball when most of us are adept at tapping into our own physic powers to know exactly what the other person’s thinking? Um, yeah—that doesn’t work. Assuming you know someone else’s thoughts is one of the most deadly communication mistakes you can make, says Dr. Benjamin. “We jump to conclusions before the other party can even answer,” he says. 

The fix: Hear her out. Sure, it’s tempting to play Madame Zelda and put words in someone’s mouth, but resist the urge to make assumptions and just listen

The trap: Swapping in mad for sad. You know how it goes: You’re in a fight with your significant other about the usual loaded subjects—money, in-laws, why he can’t ever unload the dishwasher without prompting—but are you really angry? New research in the Journal of Family Psychology shows that you might be masking your true emotions—such as sadness about the state of your marriage—with anger-filled words.

The fix: Before the fight escalates, take a breath and ask yourself if you’re really mad or just sad? Being honest with yourself can lead to a much more productive conversation.