Communication… ahhh that thing we never learned in school… and did the best we could with based on what our parents modelled for us. The thing that we usually don’t think about until we have that conflict or major problems with friends, kids, family, partners, etc.

When we are feeling threatened, there is a natural protection mechanism that usually arises to prevent us from feeling that emotional discomfort. Unfortunately these well-intentioned protective mechanisms become bad habits and usually end up actually hurting us and our relationships in the long run.

David Burns lists several of these ‘communication pitfalls’ – any sound familiar?

– Defensiveness – instead of listening, defending ones own perspective

– Problem Solving – ignoring feelings and jumping to fixing mode

– Denial – pretending that the problem isn’t there

– Counter-attack – responding to criticism with criticism

– Hopelessness – claiming that you’ve tried everything and nothing works

– Blame – either blaming yourself or the other party completely

– Passive-aggression – say nothing, but pout or slam doors

These are just some of the 18 communication pitfalls David Burns lists, that many of us fall prey to during heated exchanges. He uses the acronym E.A.R. to remember the components of good communication:

E. EMPATHY. Acknowledging the other person’s feelings OR point of view (not the same as agreeing with them). Trying to jump into the other party’s shoes and see how they might be seeing the situation or feeling can be very disarming and help to soften communication and our feelings of threat.

A. ASSERTIVENESS. Clearly expressing your feelings and needs using “I” statements.

“I feel ________ when ________ happens”
“If _______ happened, I would feel ______”

R. RESPECT. Communicating with a tone of respect. Nothing gets our prickly side out quicker than an eye roll or condescending tone of voice.

Lastly, give yourself permission to TAKE A BREAK when emotions are too high and come back to the situation when both parties feel more calm.

More information on the “how to’s” of the EAR technique and podcast interview with David Burns here:

014: The Five Secrets of Effective Communication (Part 1)