Communication Killers: #1 Judgments
Effective communication is absolutely essential to maintaining any relationship. And when a relationship is strained or conflicted or broken in some way, it can’t be healed without skillful communication.
It’s a mistake to assume that just because you can talk you can communicate. In fact, most of the time the vast majority of us unthinkingly sabotage our own attempts to communicate with ingrained knee-jerk verbal habits that are communication spoilers. Carl Rogers and others were able to identify at least a dozen of these very common, but destructive roadblocks to communication. And these dozen roadblocks can be divided into three types. The first is “Judging.”
Few people actually think of themselves as “judgmental,” but these responses imply judgment, whether we mean to or not. And they very often stop the communication process or turn it in a direction you did not intend. When another person comes to you with a need, concern or problem, these are the judgmental responses that are likely to create roadblocks to the communication process.
We have all had someone in our lives that loved to use the phrase, “You should have done this…” The underlying assumption with these people is that if they don’t provide a correction or somehow criticize, then people don’t improve or grow. In fact, criticism blocks the formation of a trusting relationship which is the real cradle of personal growth in people. It’s a form of judgment.
Labeling, whether negative or positive, is a destructive communication blocker. Inherent to all real communication is “psychological involvement” with another person. Labels are used to rob the other person of their personhood by making them part of an impersonal category or group of some sort. When we label another person as a “liberal,” “bitch,” “redneck,” etc., that relieves us of the obligation to treat them with the respect we would grant another person. Now they just have the characteristics of the group who’s label we have just given them. Even positive labels such as “team player, “real leader,” and “over-achiever” can be just as dehumanizing and diminish communication. It involves judgment.
“You’re just upset because I…” “You’re just excited about the trip. That’s why you can’t sleep.” Providing simple and easy solutions to someone’s need, concern or problem will often (perhaps correctly) be interpreted as your desire for a shortcut to a “fix” for their problem, without actually having a deep conversation. It’s patronizing and sometimes demeaning. Also, it’s a form of judgment, no matter how well-meaning.
What? I thought praise was a good thing! Well, it is when done properly, but when the praise is directed toward the person instead of their behavior, it becomes high-risk as a roadblock to communication. Good praises are aimed at how a person’s actions have helped you or inspired appreciation. Evaluative praises, like “You’re a very clever person,” can be flattery or attempts at manipulation. In my experiences, this is very subtle, and people may not even be aware of why Evaluative Praise makes them uneasy, but it does. I’ve written much more on that here:
There are three categories of communication roadblocks. Judgment is just the first one. The next article will deal with a second category, called “Forcing a Fix.”
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