BLOCKING COMMUNICATION

In other articles I have talked about problems in communication that people seem to develop rather frequently. This is one other technique that we all seem to learn and become expert at that relates to the general problem of communication. That is, we all seem to become experts at blocking communication as if we are doing it intentionally. I am convinced that it is in fact intentional, although not a conscious level of intent. I even think I know why we do it. Communication is difficult, particularly when we know that we are going to be discussing something that is threatening to us or is in itself a problem situation. It is much more pleasant to stop that kind of communication even though we would all agree that we should "get it out in the open" or for some other reason, discuss the threatening topic.

There are certain key words that we all learn to use, that work exceptionally well to stop the process of communication. The most common of these key words is "why." I am sure that you can use that little word without it having a negative effect on communication but nevertheless that vast majority of times that it is used it effectively changes the direction of where the communication was going and eventually stops it altogether. Consider the following hypothetical conversation between husband and wife.

Wife: "It really makes me mad when you are going to be late getting home for supper and you don't call and tell me. I wish you would stop doing that."

Husband: "Why does that bother you so much?"

Now without going through all of the following conversation I think that you can see that the wife will now provide some practical reasons for why her husband's behavior bothers her and he will respond to those reasons as questioning whether or not they are important or should effect her the way she says they do. In other words, we start from a position of having the wife express a practical irritant in her husband's behavior and we wind up discussing the wife's planning ability around cooking, her incapacity to tolerate the lack of a rigid schedule, or goodness knows what else. But the focus shifted from one of communication where the wife was to her husband something about their interaction that bothered her, to one of the wife's defending herself in almost any area. The change is brought about by that one little magical word "why."

Now that you understand that the word itself is extremely powerful when you want to stop the communication process, think of all of the thousands of ways that you can use this technique. "Why did you do that?" "Why do you feel that way?" "Why does that bother you?" "Why did you say that?"… the list goes on and on and on.

Fortunately there is an equally powerful phrase to counteract the devastating effects of "why." The phrase is "I don't know…" which the vast majority of times is absolutely a true statement. For example, in the short example above the wife's next response could be "I don't know but it does and I want you to know it." In this way she successfully avoids her husband's ploy to redirect the course of their conversation and the original intent at communication is therefore preserved.

There are other phrases that are effective in stopping communication although probably not as universally powerful as the word "why." Phrases that start with things like "you think that…" or "you feel like…" are obviously nonsensical because no one really knows what someone else thinks or feels. However, it places the other person in a position to now argue that they don't think or feel the way the first person has said. Again, a clever redirection of what otherwise would be communication.

Perhaps the neatest thing about all of this is that while it is indeed true that we are all experts at using these techniques to stop communication, at the same time we are all totally ignorant of the fact that we are doing it and would argue with the idea that we had any intention of stopping communication. We will then turn right around and complain that it is the other person's fault that "we just can't communicate."

Mark Twain once observed that the existence of man was proof that the Creator had a sense of humor. Mark Twain was right.

Think about it.