One or two bad communication habits is all it takes to cause a lifetime of trouble. And with today’s quick and easy methods of communication, it’s all too easy for bad habits to work their way in. You overreact to an email—not for the first time—and send off a furious and damaging reply. Your spouse accuses you of not listening (again) and you have to sheepishly admit (again) that she’s right. You offend your “friends” or followers on a social media platform with yet another ill-advised attempt at humor. Or you can’t resist a snarky comeback to a difficult customer’s provocation, even though you immediately regret your words. When bad communication habits take over, the reputation you worked so hard to cultivate takes a beating.
Bad communication habits are the punishment that keeps on giving. Even if you suffer from only one bad habit, it can recur in dozens of conversations and cause damage each time. But the good news is that by eliminating a single bad habit you can prevent many future problems. In fact, nothing else you can do gives you as much bang for your buck as resolving to eliminate a bad communication habit. And there’s no better time to add a bad communication habit to your quit list than right now.
Here, we take a look at seven of the most common bad communication habits:
Bad Habit #1: Letting the Neanderthal pick your words.
When we’re agitated, irritated, or frustrated, a battle plays out between our primitive, impulse-driven Neanderthal brain and our more modern, thoughtful, and deliberative brain. And while the Neanderthal parts of our brain are indispensable when we’re in physical danger, our Neanderthal brain is terrible at picking our words. Word selection is better left to our more analytical modern brain, because the Neanderthal prefers to club first and ask questions later.
Bad Habit #2: Using authenticity as an excuse for bad behavior.
“I was just being myself” sounds harmless, but it’s often an excuse to indulge in destructive behavior. Smart communicators realize that by focusing on what they want to accomplish instead of what they want to say, they keep their conversational goals in their rightful place—above their feelings in terms of priority.
Bad Habit #3: Multitasking when we should be listening.
The digital revolution facilitated hyper-communication and instant self-expression, but, ironically, made it harder for anyone to listen. There’s just too much communication junk getting in the way. (Just consider the frenetic activity happening on Twitter at any given moment!) Our thoughts are scattered, our minds wander, and ever-present distractions make it difficult for us to focus on the person right in front of us. In today’s world, most of us need to make a concerted effort to reinvigorate our listening skills.
Bad Habit #4: Asking faulty questions.
Questions aren’t always neutral. They make some of your conversations better, but as you’ve probably noticed, many questions make a surprisingly large number of your conversations worse. Even “simple” inquiries can go awry. “Is your mother coming over for dinner again?” or “Did you call Jim in accounting about this?” can cause trouble if the other person thinks there’s a criticism behind the query. It’s better to focus on what you can learn from or about another person and to ask questions that reflect a broad curiosity about the person or topic you’re discussing.