Search This Blog

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Five (5) Communication skills that may help you avoid a total meltdown... or navigate one if it's unavoidable.

Communication skills that may help you avoid a total meltdown... or navigate it if it's unavoidable. 

NO HIDING: Communication Breakdowns

As I reflect on the NO HIDING Journey, the problems all resulted from not talking. Every relationship breakdown I've ever had came from one or both parties walling off and shutting down.

Every relationship (romantic, friendship, colleague, etc)  I've found healing and restoration in, involved talking, and lots of it. The wounds had to be uncovered and acknowledged and healed. But communication is hard.

So what are some tools we can use to navigate these situations?

Photo by Fred Moon on Unsplash

The Breakdown:

For one reason or another, I've seen communication breakdowns this year, several. In each instance, the breakdown was similar, the other party walled off and disappeared, I got defensive, communication stopped. It's happened with a few people, and each of them had similar personality types and backgrounds with each other, which is something I'll pay attention for in the future.

I asked myself if it is a reflection on me? Is this a sign something is wrong with me?

The answer is yes and no.

Yes: Could I have done better? Sure. Absolutely. We could all improve.

No. The answer isn't that something is wrong with me. My identity is secure.

If someone walls off and goes away, that's about them and not about you. But there may be things you could have done differently and do differently next time.

Five (5) Keys to Communication Breakdowns and Recoveries:

1. Communication is about making sure the hearer understands you.

Do your best to communicate the issues. However, remember that the issues are rarely the issues. It's not about who didn't call, or what dishes were left where. The issues are feelings. Emotions.

Try this:

When you___, I felt___, is that what you meant to communicate?

If they respond well, you can discuss those feelings and come to a resolution.

However, be prepared for the other party not to know how to respond. Telling someone that they hurt you may cause them to wall off and defend themselves, feeling attacked.

If they run, don't chase them. Proceed to point number 2.

2. Communication is often a "less is more" proposition.

If you can't say it simply, you don't understand it well enough. (attributed to Albert Einstein).

If you can find a way to use fewer words, do so. Maybe don't even try adding more explanation unless you're asked for it. Your attempts to clarify, clarify, clarify may drive them further underground. Overwhelmed with your words.

Wait it out. Say nothing. If you've said what can be said and they're not engaged, back away. Let them sort it out on their own. Depending on the closeness of the relationship, this may look different in different circumstances.

You could send a nudge now and then, see if they're willing to come to the table. But don't force your way into their space. That's you violating their boundaries.

If they never come back, you've either lost a friend, or you're preparing for divorce, or whatever. That's about them, not you. You tried.

If they come back, repeat step one. Or, try step 3.

3. Communication is two way. Seek to understand rather than be understood. 

If you've tried to communicate your feelings and they are completely non-responsive. They may be having their own feelings they need to process. Try understanding their feelings and not focusing on yours for the moment.

Your feelings must be addressed. If the other party refuses to address your feelings, they are selfish (and probably a narcissist) and you should cut your losses and move on.

However, you may find them more receptive if they aren't feeling so defensive. I did not do this with one friendship and it is now effectively terminated. It's too far gone to resurrect, I think. But another friendship was resurrected by using this principle.

It sounds something like this:

"I think I hear you saying, that when I (or he/they)____, you felt___. Am I understanding you correctly?" 
If no, ask for clarification. 
If yes, "Tell me more about that."

If the party engages in this, and you've met their emotional needs, you may find them more receptive to meeting yours. You could, eventually, go back to step one.

If all these fail, and you are still dealing with a walled-off individual, you move to step 4.

4. Communication is a community effort.

Get others involved in the situation. Bring it before the group and let other outsiders help fix things.

A. Get Help:

  • Seek professional outside assistance. If it's a life-partner (spouse), you could try counseling with a third party. A Licenced Marriage and Family Therapist LMFT or Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) or Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC), can provide you professional assistance in communication, healing wounds, and working on moving forward. 
  • Seek non-professional outside assistance. Maybe it's not worth all that for this small argument. But maybe getting a pastor or friend to sit with you both could help get a detached third party's perspective and they could help you each see what the other is saying.

Note: Every couple should have a professional marital counselor. Your pastor doesn't count unless he's also a licensed counselor. You should have a pastoral counselor too, but it's not the same. I would say this is even more important than having a primary care physician, dentist, or chiropractor. It's an essential for good mental health for individuals and couples. 

B. Walk Away: Draw The Boundary

If you've tried principles 1-3, and you've tried to get help and it either didn't work or they didn't want to try:
  • You walk away. 
  • You don't let walking away dictate messages to you about your value or worth. 

In two of my situations this year, #4 either wasn't an option or I didn't see a way to make it an option at the time. Maybe it would have gone differently, I'll never know.

5. Communication failure is not a reflection on your identity. 

If, for any reason, you came to the point you've decided there is no benefit to continuing to try, you walk away and don't look back. This isn't mean or cold, it's just good boundaries. It's healthy and right.

You are best served by not doing this in anger. In fact, you should do your best to walk through forgiveness and attempt reconciliation before coming to this point.

If you can calmly evaluate the situation and you see no way to move forward, you are at an impasse. In that case, it is perfectly acceptable to walk away from the table. Either temporarily or permanently.

When you do, don't allow the enemy of your heart to assign a value proposition to you regarding this decision.

In other words, this decision doesn't mean you are a failure or that you failed. It doesn't even necessarily mean the other party failed. It simply means that for this moment in time, the combination of your individual decisions has resulted in an impasse.

In an effort to value your own heart, walk away.

  • Don't keep trying. 
  • Don't look back. 
  • Don't accept their efforts to try again either, unless there is something substantially different that would indicate real progress (principles 1-4) is possible. 

When this happens, there is a danger that you feel you are being rejected. Marshall Burtcher says it this way:

[I can't believe they'd throw it all away like that!  I feel devastated!  It is like I've lost myself...]  The Discard Trauma.  It is THE thing we work so, so hard to avoid.  It is the one reason we develop people-pleasing and codependent habits.  We need to prevent the discard from happening. And when it does, it. is. crushing.  We feel hollowed out.  It is like someone came in and scooped out our worth and sense of self and ran away with it, leaving us in a frozen, terrified state. Continue Reading... Facebook: Healing Codependency & Trauma with Marshall Burtcher

The fact is, this was not a reflection on your value or worth, it was a communication breakdown between two parties with two wills.

It may have been a failure of your communication skills at the time, or the other party's, or both. But that is just a learning curve, skills are not value. You'll do better with the next human because you learned here.

Don't allow this breakdown, this discard, to assign a negative value to your heart. You did the best you could with the tools you had.

Don't take responsibility for them either. Let the other party be responsible for their side of the road too, and you walk away free of guilt and shame.

Any mistakes by either side are under the blood of Christ, walk away guilt and shame-free.

Keep these tools for the next time (and there will be a next time, with someone), and maybe it'll go better with the next human.

What about you? Comment below. 

Which of these steps would have (or has) created a new way of thinking about communication failures?


Shalom: Live Long and Prosper!
Darrell Wolfe (DG Wolfe)
Storyteller | Writer | Thinker | Consultant @

Clifton StrengthsFinder: Intellection, Learner, Ideation, Achiever, Input
16Personalities (Myers-Briggs Type): INFJ


Post a Comment

Be Nice, Be Kind, Be Thoughtful, Be Honest, Be Creative...GO!


* indicates required

View previous campaigns.

Powered by MailChimp