Diagnosing Your Own “Communication Breakdown”

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In 1970, I began kindergarten in a small town in mid-southwest Oklahoma.  At the same time I was learning letters and running around in the aisle to avoid the swinging ping-pong paddle when our teacher got mad, Led Zeppelin released their now-classic hit, “Communication Breakdown.”  One of the more compelling lines in that song is: “Communication break-down….drives me in-sa-a-a-a-a-a-a-nnneeee!!!” Then cool riffs begin to play, and we’re rocking to the rhythm once again.

I have a love/hate relationship with that song.  I love the music.  The lyrics are way too real, however.  Every day I silently witness communication breakdowns and at times they really do drive the parties insane.

I heard a story on NPR yesterday over a gentleman who is trying desperately to instill some peace talks in the Middle East.  He said, “If the enemies can first agree on what is wrong, THEN we can begin making progress.”  That’s true, isn’t it?  If you are having a difficult time deciding exactly where you are struggling with communication, then you might feel lost in trying to improve things.

Therefore, I’ve decided to give you a bullet point list today…just a few things that tend to happen frequently when people have communication problems.  If you find yourself in this list, then perhaps you can find a way out:

  1. Timing – raising a topic at a good time, flow during the conversation.  Some people are masters at this skill.  Others seem to just not understand that timing is one of the main starting points.  If you start something at the wrong time, it will never have a chance.  If you start something at the right time…something that might normally be doomed could take wings and fly.
  2. Initiative – willingness and openness to begin a conversation.  Do you hesitate to begin a conversation? Feel anxious about saying that first word?  Put things off?
  3. Starting well – sometimes people sabotage a “good start” by spending way too much time on irrelevant discussion.  Can you move into the topic at hand quickly? Or is that a kicker for you?
  4. Being clear about your messages – have you ever talked for a full minute and realized you sound like you’re babbling?  If YOU can’t follow you, perhaps the person to whom you’ve directed your discussion can’t either.
  5. Listening well – how hard is it for you to listen to the other person?  To wait on them to respond?  To “not help” them by filling in blanks that you don’t really know any way?
  6. Being clear about your responses – how about when you reply? Can you be clear on how you return “the proverbial football” when passing it back and forth while talking? Or is THAT when you get hung up?
  7. Helping your partner know they were understood and feeling understood yourself – sometimes when people feel anxious, they get tunnel vision.  They forget that it’s important to send signals to the person speaking…to let them know they heard what was said.  Restating or asking for clarification are important. Eye contact, nodding…all good signals in this situation.
  8. Feelings – a conversation is probably not complete unless you have actually NAMED a feeling or two when you talk.  Remember those?  Feelings?  How many are you feelings versus identifying during your conversation?
  9. Having forward momentum (not getting stuck) – is there a natural rhythm or flow to your conversation?  Can you tell there is a beginning, middle and end?  If you can’t, this could be a problem.
  10. Clarification when needed – do you feel comfortable saying things like, “I’m not sure I understood what you meant by…” or “Could you try explaining that in a different way?  I didn’t get what you were saying.”  It’s okay to ask for clarification.  You are one of the parties in the conversation, right?
  11. Ending well – when you leave conversations, did you feel like it was finished?  Was there a conclusion?  A plan?  A feeling of “okay, we got THAT accomplished” ?

A philosopher once said, “A great deal can be gained by thinking about thinking.”  I would argue that a great deal can also be gained by “thinking about talking.”

And, perhaps like the hopeful person in the Middle East, once you DEFINE the problem…well, THEN you can begin correcting the problem.

What are YOUR best areas of communication?  Do you have an area of “breakdown?”  What is it?




4 thoughts on “Diagnosing Your Own “Communication Breakdown””

  1. Feelings has to be the area where I need to work on most. There’s a thin line between taking responsibility for your feelings and making the other person responsible for your feelings. Handle it the wrong way and the person will most like go into defense mode and you’ve lost whatever good start you had. It’s taken me to the ripe old age of blah-dee-blah to realize that it’s okay to admit when I don’t understand something. No matter how frustrated I think others are, my pretending to know what’s expected of me will be more of a frustration point than anything if I don’t speak up. Great post, got me thinking!

    1. Hi, Sabrina – it’s great to see you today! Yes, there are many thin lines in communication and it seems like you’ve found the one that needs a bit more defining for YOU. Mine is listening – – it’s “patience” with the listening piece. Sometimes I feel like I want to hurry people along; I need to be okay with their own pace.

  2. All great advice Kelly. We’ve all been guilty of the communication breakdowns. I know I have. I can only imagine if we don’t also speak the same language.~~dee

    1. You know, I had some time with basic Spanish…and when I would try it out with various friends, it was amazing just how tiny details could change the whole meaning…really amazing. Esposo = husband. Esposa = wife. I introduced my husband as my wife once…ha!

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