Improve Your Relationships

Avoid These 3 Communication Pitfalls

Relationships with others are the building blocks of our life from family to career. The quality of these relationships directly correlates to our happiness, satisfaction with life and general well being. We want our relationships to be positive but we all struggle with them at times. The quality of communication used within the relationship is most often the culprit to problems or the savior to challenges.

Between the multifaceted nature of relationships and the colored lenses we each perceive the world through, misunderstandings are commonplace and often the basis for conflict. Whether it’s a misunderstanding or a disagreement, the key to stopping it from becoming a relationship wrecker is effective communication.

Below I run through the three styles of ineffective communication to avoid and highlight the single effective style – assertive communication. This information provides a basic review to refresh our minds so we are able to enhance our relationships moving forward and hopefully problem solve any lingering conflicts.

It is each of our responsibilities to create the relationships we want. Often individual’s state, “But he was a jerk to me.” We are each entitled to whatever emotion we experience (i.e. hurt feelings) but we are equally responsible for how we handle it. For example, if my significant other speaks to me in a way that I find offensive, I am entitled to my angry and hurt feelings but am entirely responsible for how I choose to cope with my feelings and express them. If I choose to be a jerk back I am no more right than he. I would also be making a choice to turn this into a conflict rather than utilizing communication that would facilitate resolution and me getting what I want (i.e. having him apologize and use a different tone). It’s kind of like our kindergarten teachers taught us, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

We all fall guilty to resorting to negative styles of communication at times. The best thing to do is take responsibility for errors in our ways, gaps in our efforts, and positive steps we could have taken more of. With this awareness we can use improved communication to repair the relationship.

You cannot control how the other person will respond to your efforts but you will feel a sense of peace with the outcome, whatever it is, when you know you did the right thing. If you currently have any anxious or angry feelings about an aspect of a relationship, this is a sign that unfinished business remains. Allowing conflict to hang around not dealt with is toxic to family life, career, friendships and our own general well being. In my experience time does not heal all wounds, it’s what you do with the time.

You are experiencing upset feelings at a loved one, friend or coworker. How do you handle it?


This is when you do nothing and say nothing. Maybe you distance yourself or cut the person off entirely. You may be hoping they will somehow realize what they have done and come to you but you do nothing to facilitate this. Or, you may have chosen to give up on the relationship, however you never gave the person an earnest chance. If we start to examine the effectiveness of this approach we come to realize it is highly ineffective. The individual has no idea they did something to upset you, what they did, or what could make it better. This leaves them feeling rejected, hurt and confused or repeating the same error unknowingly – and they really can’t be blamed.

Passive Aggressive Communication

We are all guilty of having used passive aggressive communication at some point and have all been the victim to it as well. Passive aggressive communication can be in the form of language or behavior. In language, it is when someone says one thing but means another. In behavior, a person punishes another through doing or not doing something that is generally unrelated to the original offense. An example is: a husband is mad at his wife for making what he perceived as a demeaning comment at last nights dinner party and reacts by “accidentally” forgetting to call that he will be home 3 hours late and leaves his wife waiting at the dinner table. The recipient of passive aggressive communication is left feeling confused and angry, creating an additional layer to the conflict.

Aggressive Communication

Aggressive Communication is when an individual expresses upset feelings via yelling, cursing, and sometimes use of aggressive body language (i.e. waving fingers or arms, glaring looks, slamming doors, domestic violence). Aggressive communication also includes use of criticism, threats (i.e. “I’m going to cancel our vacation if you do that again!”), and phrases such as “you always”, “you never”, and “you should”, which are inflammatory and never actually true. We have all been spoken to like this and we know we don’t like it. We do this when we feel very hurt and angry, however it does not bring us to resolution or the end result we want. The recipient of aggressive communication usually feels reprimanded and attacked, and responds by shutting down and not listening, becoming defensive, and possibly returning the aggression, adding layers of insults and hurt feelings. It does not lead to assisting the other person to understand your position, apologize or positive changes in the relationship.

Assertive Communication

In order to work through challenges that arise in all relationships it is necessary to have reciprocal conversation that includes listening and responding thoughtfully, rather than reacting impulsively. To achieve this we must use an assertive communication style. This is when we use a calm voice and calm body and clearly state our feelings without any use of yelling, threats or put-downs. To do so use “I” statements to express yourself rather than statements which begin with “you”, which sound demanding and criticizing.

Here is an example where assertive communication is used: “I am feeling hurt that you called me ‘annoying’ at the dinner party.” This statement clearly expressed the wife’s feeling while avoiding attack. She goes on, “I would appreciate that if you are feeling frustrated at me that you let me know in a kind way.” This clearly states the preferred alternative without criticizing. She continues, “It would also help me out at home if you could acknowledge that you heard me when I say something so I don’t have to repeat myself over and over. I don’t like doing that either.” This statement facilitates problem solving and demonstrates good faith by showing a desire to move forward in a positive direction. This type of communication invites the recipient to listen and be responsive.

Here is an example of poor communication: “You are such a jerk. I can’t believe you had the audacity to call ME annoying at the dinner party. You always put me down. I’m never going to a dinner party with you again.” This example uses name-calling, criticisms, generalizations, a threat, and is facilitating an argument rather than resolution. You can imagine how the husband will respond.


When you are feeling upset at someone take a few deep breathes, think about the outcome you want, and identify what you can do to achieve it. Despite its simplicity, assertive communication is an amazingly powerful tool. With it you will create lasting positive relationships by moving through disagreements quickly and efficiently.