Shed Bad Communication Habits for Happier, More Productive New Year
Editor’s note: The fastest and the best way to improve communication is to stop doing things that repeatedly cause trouble. Communication expert Geoffrey Tumlin identifies seven bad communication habits that should be at the top of the “quit list” for the new year.
One or two bad communication habits are all it takes to cause a lifetime of trouble. And with today’s quick-and-easy methods of communication, it’s all too easy for bad habits to work their way in. For example, you overreact to an email, and send off a furious and damaging reply.
That’s where “Stop Talking, Start Communicating” comes in. Full of counterintuitive yet concrete advice, the book draws on author Geoffrey Tumlin’s experience as a communication consultant to show readers how to unload bad habits, improve conversations, and use today’s powerful digital devices – not to fragment attention and dilute relationships – but to achieve more of their most important goals and aspirations.
Tumlin shares seven of the most common bad communication habits. If any of these hit dangerously close to home, resolve to improve or eliminate them in 2014:
Bad Habit No. 1: Letting the Neanderthal pick your words. When we’re agitated, irritated or frustrated, a battle plays out between our primitive, impulse-driven Neanderthal brain and our more modern, thoughtful and deliberative brain. And while the Neanderthal parts of our brain are indispensable when we’re in physical danger, our Neanderthal brain is terrible at picking our words. Word selection is better left to our more analytical modern brain, because the Neanderthal prefers to club first and ask questions later. ...
Bad Habit No. 2: Using authenticity as an excuse for bad behavior. “‘I was just being myself’ sounds harmless, but it’s often an excuse to indulge in destructive behavior,” Tumlin says. “Smart communicators realize that by focusing on what they want to accomplish, instead of what they want to say, they keep their conversational goals in their rightful place—above their feelings in terms of priority. ...”
Bad Habit No. 3: Multitasking when we should be listening. The digital revolution has facilitated “hypercommunication” and instant self-expression, but, ironically, has made it harder for anyone to listen. There’s just too much communication junk getting in the way. ... Our thoughts are scattered, our minds wander, and ever-present distractions make it difficult for us to focus on the person right in front of us. In 2014, most of us need to make a concerted effort to reinvigorate our listening skills. ...
Bad Habit No. 4: Asking faulty questions. Questions aren’t always neutral. They make some of your conversations better, but as you’ve probably noticed, many questions make a surprisingly large number of your conversations worse. Even “simple” inquiries can go awry. “Is your mother coming over for dinner again?” or “Did you call Jim in accounting about this?” can cause trouble if the other person thinks there’s a criticism behind the query. ...
Bad Habit No. 5: Meddling. Our quick and easy digital devices allow us to have far too many unnecessary conversations, engage in way too much unnecessary collaboration, and get our hands (and thumbs) on too many irrelevant issues. That’s why smart communicators, like smart doctors, have a good triage system—its categories are “Now,” “Delay” and “Avoid”—to focus on the most pressing issues, while delaying or ignoring less important matters. ...
Bad Habit No. 6: Fighting with difficult people. Jane talks too much. Jim is incredibly stubborn. Uncle Billy loves to argue. Your client is moody. Whether they’re controlling, critical or cranky, the behaviors that make someone a difficult person tend to spark frequent confrontations—even though we’re unlikely to influence these people... “Giving up your desire to ‘win’ by imposing your will on the other person can realistically and consistently improve your communication with difficult people,” Tumlin says.
Bad Habit No. 7: Overreacting. In 2013, we often used more force than needed to accomplish our objectives. We yelled when a measured response would have worked better, sent a blistering e-mail when a more restrained reply would have sufficed, and issued an ultimatum when a firm but gentle statement of convictions would have done the trick. But “excessive force” frequently causes a destructive cycle—attack, retaliation, escalated attack, and escalated retaliation, etc. No matter how justified you may feel, the bottom line is that using excessive force usually isn’t a winning strategy. ...
“In 2014, let’s focus on shedding the bad communication habits that are coming between us and the most important people in our lives. ... Those bad habits prevent us from having the kinds of productive and meaningful interactions we desire,” Tumlin concludes. “Eliminating just one or two bad communication habits will dramatically improve your communication and strengthen your relationships in the new year.”
[Source: “Stop Talking, Start Communicating: Counterintuitive Secrets to Success in Business and in Life” by Geoffrey Tumlin]
Article Abstract from February, 2014