Five Categories of Ineffective Communication

Posted by wendy on May 25, 2010 under Uncategorized | Comments are off for this article


  1. Withdrawal – Stonewalling, becoming stoic, giving minimal responses, or exiting in the middle of a heated discussion.
  2. Blaming – Accusing, finger pointing, yelling, trying to dominate the discussion.
  3. Resentful compliance – Over-accommodating to your partner in order to avoid tension or potentially nasty discussions.
  4. Whining – Complaining, competing for the victim position, being very indirect about what you want.
  5. Confusion – Inability to think clearly, going blank.

To create a flourishing relationship, we have to resist using these ineffective coping reactions. If you can’t resist, the only other solution is to find a partner who doesn’t do any of these  – even when they’re up to their neck in alligators!


Here is what you each do. Decide on a topic. Take an index card or sheet of paper. Write down how you want your partner to feel after the discussion. Simply write the qualities (not the actions) you hope they would feel. For example, respected, loved, accepted, considered, etc.

On the other side, write down how you would need to be in order for you partner to feel that way. For example, you might write, I need to be compassionate, a good listener, open, tactfully direct, respectful, etc.

Then go ahead and have your discussion. This discussion doesn’t need to have a resolution to count as a success (although it may happen spontaneously). You are changing the way you talk about a difficult topic. The negotiation comes later if the topic needs to be negotiated. Remember, you are creating a major breakthrough by changing the process of how you discuss a tough topic. This will guide you through many problem discussions in the future.

If you push too fast for a solution you are simply responding to your own impatient anxiety, which messes up even the best intentions to change the way you talk about a topic.

This communication tool is the fine art of cooperation at its best. Cooperation and consideration are the heart of resolving any conflict. By focusing on how you want your partner to feel at the end of the dialogue, you are opening yourself up to a different kind of negotiation tactic. You’re adding a new tool in your toolbox.

There you have it. Focus on how you want your partner to feel and focus on how you will bring that about. The more you do your part, the easier it is for your partner to do his part. Each of you commits to try this experiment at least three times.


If you will practice two questions as the dialogue heats up, you can break the logjam, get back on track and avoid those dead end arguments.

Often one person can unilaterally alter the course of an argument. It only takes a genuine desire to learn something about yourself.

The first question to ask in a bad discussion is, “What am I doing that is non-productive right now in this conversation?”

Now before you think I’m asking you to bring a rope to your own hanging, there are several reasons why this is one powerful intervention.

In a bad discussion, you both are saying damaging things. Finger pointing triggers even more finger pointing. The race is now on for who can be the biggest or loudest accuser.

Asking what you are doing that is non-constructive will catch your mate off guard. Instead of having to fight to prove their case, you are actually asking them to think a little bit about what is going on.

Frankly, your question gets them to stop blurting out non-thinking, reactive, disconnected, emotionally charged accusations. Your partner will shift gears to another part of their brain – the  part that will assess what is happening and why it has gone awry. Because you have asked for this information, your partner can relax a little instead of continuing the attack.  On some level your partner will be grateful that you are interested in changing the course of the argument.

You have slowed the blaming juggernaut. But there is still another question you can ask that really keeps the discussion going more smoothly.

The second question you can ask is, What can I do that would be more constructive right now?”

This is a great question to keep things on track. People who do this kind of research say 55% of your arguments can get handled just by staying on track in any given discussion. These two questions can help you stay on track if you ask them with the appropriate voice tone, facial expression and body posture.

Then if you want to be a hero, see if this question fits. Ask, “Why is my doing that important to you?” My guess is that you will often be surprised by the responses you get.

And one final question: Are you willing to experiment using these questions to save yourself some serious stress and be a hero?

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