Are You an Effective Communicator?

“Talking is like playing the harp; there is as much in laying the hands on the strings to stop their vibration as in twanging them to bring out their music.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

Conflict happens in relationships.  As with most things, interpersonal conflict exists on a continuum from very mild to very severe.  When conflict does occur, it is helpful to analyze exactly where things went wrong in order to prevent problems in the future.  Why is it that sometimes old problems resurface and other times things are smooth sailing?

Try to think of a recent conflict with someone meaningful in your life.  The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook (McKay, Wood, & Brantley, 2007) provides an excellent “Communication Effectiveness Checklist” that is useful in understanding specific factors contributing to conflict.

Communication Effectiveness Checklist

As you read through the following checklist, try writing down specific details about your recent conflict.  Note what aspects of this situation were different from times when conflict did not occur.

(1) Do you believe that you were straightforward about your goals?

  • Were you aware of what you wanted out of this interaction?
  • Were you aware of what you didn’t want out of this exchange?  Could you say no?
  • Were you mindful of your values?

(2) Did you use any aversive strategies?

  • Withdrawing/abandoning
  • Blaming
  • Derailing
  • Guilt-tripping
  • Threats
  • Taking away
  • Belittling/accusing

(3) Were you passive?

  • Avoiding/withholding
  • Stonewalling/shutting out

(4) What factors were blocking effective communication?

  • Relationship myths
  • Intense/unregulated emotion
  • Fears/catastrophizing
  • Toxic relationships

(5) What was the intensity level of this interaction?

  • Too high?
  • Too low?

(6) Were you experiencing assertiveness problems?

  • Judging instead of pointing to facts
  • Using “you” (blaming) statements, rather than “I” (responsible) statements
  • Failure to give specific behavioral examples of what you would like to see change

(7) Were you experiencing any blocks to listening?

  • Placating
  • Derailing
  • Needing to be “right”
  • Giving advice
  • Mind-reading
  • Rehearsing
  • Selective filter
  • Judging/blaming
  • Sparring/debating
  • Daydreaming/”checking out”

8. Did you use conflict management skills?

  • Broken record
  • Probing
  • Clouding
  • Assertive delay
  • Mutual validation

(9) Did you remember to use R-A-V-E-N to prepare yourself for effective communication?

  • Relax
  • Avoid the aversive
  • Validate the other person’s feelings or concerns
  • Examine your own values
  • Neutral tone of voice

How do you believe that you can look at a recent conflict differently once you have conducted a thorough evaluation of your communication effectiveness?  What particular areas stood out for you as you put together the pieces of a recent conflict in this way?  Once we understand where our communication is going astray, we are better equipped to prevent future breakdowns in communication.

Remember not to be excessively harsh on yourself when you don’t communicate as well as you would like.  Effective communication requires an ongoing dedication to practice and honest self-reflection on weak areas and strengths.  How can you use this information to turn around a potentially problematic interaction in the future?

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McKay, M., Wood, J.C., & Brantley, J. (2007). The dialectical behavior therapy skills workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Featured image: The Evilution of Communication by Torley / CC BY-SA 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.

1 Comment

  1. Grover on January 11, 2013 at 5:27 am

    Hi there, just wanted to mention, I enjoyed this post. It was
    practical. Keep on posting!

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