Dysfunctional Communication Patterns

Ever wonder why sometimes when you are trying to communicate, something important the message just isn’t sinking into the recipient? Sure, it could be because they are to blame, but maybe a faulty communication pattern is in play. These verbal styles are called patterns for a reason, they happen regularly and without much thought. What is more,  we all fall under their spell and even have favorites for certain types of complex communication moments. So, take a minute, read these and see if you can find your default favorite for conflict situations, for disciplining kids, for offering support, etc. and imagine a redo that ends with different results.


dysfunctional communication patterns HANDOUT

1. The constant message – repeating the same sentiment over in the same way without adapting to listener need. If the same message is repeated, its meaning diminishes, and the receiver tends to ignore it. This one comes up a lot when talking to kids or during procedural type exchanges. It sounds like this: “Put the cog into the hole on the left. No, put the cog into the hole on the left!”

2. The self-canceling message – messages that invalidate themselves. Oh boy, this one is one of which we are often very unaware–look for it and nix it. It is very confusing to the listener! It sounds like “It is perfect, but it needs X, Y and Z.”  In fact, the use of “but ” can often signal a self-canceling message.

3. Tangential communication – nonsense, irrelevant, and distracting communication. This one comes often when telling a story, using an example, or lecturing about values. Try to reign it in, especially when talking to kids. A good rule of thumb is 2 minutes for kids, then let them talk or choose to end the conversation. If it is important it will come up again! Adults tend to go on tangents in groups, a way to help bring them back around is to say “Let me stop you for a second, I got lost, can we go back to the original story?”

4. Hyperbolic communication – the regular use of hyperbole. This one can be fun on occasion but it can be dysfunctional when it overused, or if it limits the listener in terms of engagement or future interactions. This could sound like “You never show up on time.” Really, never, are you always around when the person is showing up? Try asking for what you want instead, like “I want to see you by 8:15 if you say we are meeting at 8:00. Can you do that for next time?” Or try stating you observation in simple terms for even more effect; “I don’t like that .”

5. Echoing communication – repeats the message and offers no new information. Reframing is when you repeat a speaker’s message back to them in your own words to let them know you get what they are telling you. How echoing differs from reframing is in both the delivery and the  intention; the delivery of echoing is that there is no interpretation into one’s own words of the message, as for intention, the intention is more to fill talking space or to mimic in sarcasm, or even to just buffer against the verbal onslaught. Any way you slice it, the intention is about the echoer, not the person they have echoed. What is needed is a switch to reframing if you find yourself using this one often.

6. Symptomatic communication – physical, mental, or emotional symptom communication. This type of communication can be best explained in terms of how people find compatible others to support their way of being. For instance, a person who is overwhelmed and feels life is out of control may seek more interactions with someone they feel they can control. The way conversation happens in this compatible exchange will likely reflect the need for control being experienced by the initiator. This pattern can happen easily between parents and kids, the loss of more authentic communication can result in symptoms of dysfunction in the child. Sometimes when a child is expressing psychological distress what is really needed is a shift in communication patterns in the family system. What to do instead of communicate in symptomatic ways is to increase self awareness and authentic communication from the I-position.

7. Impervious communication – the intended recipient is unreceptive to communication, resulting in less communication. This is often referred to as stonewalling, a state in which a listener has withdrawn form a conversation. Interestingly, the withdrawal is quite deceptive, it appears to be a very calm even callous state but is in fact a heightened state of anxiety. Thus, when you hit a wall with a listener, turn down the volume, reframe the situation and ask the listener if they are feeling strained.

8. Literal-figurative cross communication – taking what is meant figuratively as though it were literal. This one happens when metaphor is in play and for some, metaphors are not useful or the choice metaphor is not clear. Try checking for meaning to make sure speaker-listener are on the same page.

For Therapy Services: The Key Counseling of SA


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