Seven bad communications habits cause trouble
Bad Habit #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.
“Some of your relationship problems probably reflect your underdeveloped questioning skills,” says Tumlin. “Faulty questions contribute to many conversational failures and can add anxiety, defensiveness, and ill will to interactions. In general, the more you query simply to indulge your personal cravings to get an answer, to hammer home a point, or to satisfy a narrow personal interest, the more your questions are likely to stifle dialogue. It’s better to focus on what you can learn from or about another person and to ask questions that reflect a broad curiosity about the person or topic you’re discussing.”
Bad Habit #5: Meddling. Our quick, cheap, 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.
“Problems in the Now category require an immediate, solution-based conversation,” explains Tumlin. “Don’t automatically assign too many issues to this category—this is the fundamental miscalculation your triage system is trying to correct. Delay is your default category. Many issues may disappear completely or resolve themselves without your intervention. Finally, avoid issues that reflect highly emotional, incredibly complicated, and other volatile feelings that reside deep inside another person unless they are impairing the accomplishment of critical work.
“A New Year’s resolution well worth keeping is to have fewer conversations, but to try to make each one count,” he adds. “Most of us are guilty of inserting ourselves into far too many unnecessary conversations.”
Bad Habit #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. For example, we wrestle with Jane to get a word in edgewise. We struggle to change Jim’s mind. We fire a barrage of points and counterpoints into Uncle Billy’s arguments. We try to offset our client’s mood swings. It’s time to quit trying, insists Tumlin.