Lesson 2 of 7 - learn to communicate effectively

30 Typical Communication Blocks

A self-assessment worksheet

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council


The Web address of this worksheet is http://sfhelp.org/cx/blocks.htm

Updated  12-28-2014

      Clicking underlined links here will open a new window. Other links will open  an informational popup, so please turn off your browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site. If your playback device doesn't support Javascript, the popups may not display. Follow underlined links after finishing this article to avoid getting lost.

.      This Lesson-2  article is one of a series describing effective thinking, communicating, and problem-solving concepts. The series summarizes seven communication (relationship) skills†that are essential for building satisfying relationships and resolving internal and social conflicts effectively.

      The unique Lesson-2 guidebook Satisfactions (2nd ed. Xlibris.com, 2010) integrates the key Web articles and resources in this nonprofit Web site, and provides many practical resources.      

First - learn something about yourself with this anonymous 1-question poll.

      This brief YouTube video previews what you'll read in this article. The video mentions eight lessons in this Web site - I've reduced that to seven.

      This article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this nonprofit Web site and the premises underlying it  

  • self-improvement Lesson 1

  • this quiz on communication knowledge

  • these Q&A items on effective communication basics, and...

  • premises about relationship problems

       Many things can degrade inner and interpersonal communications. Most come from psychological wounds, ignorance, and unconscious habits. All can be improved, using the seven Lesson-2 skills if your true Self guides your personality. Use this worksheet to spot any significant blocks you and one or more partners have, so you can reduce them together. Avoid using this worksheet to blame or shame yourself or another! .


          See how these beliefs compare to yours:

  Three universal communication  blocks are...

  • inherited psychological wounds +

  • ignorance of communication basics +

  • unawareness of why and how you're communicating.

     Progress on Lesson 1 and Lesson 2 can improve each of these over time.

  Communication blocks can occur between personality subselves (internal blocks), and between people (interpersonal blocks) - so ineffective communication can be caused by blocks inside me + inside you + between us. A useful habit to build is intentionally identifying and reducing your inner conflicts  before tackling significant problems with other people. Do you do that in your key relationships now? Do your kids know how and when to do this yet?

  The greater your fluency in the skill of process awareness, the easer it will be for you to spot these blocks as they occur. The other six skills will help you reduce and avoid the blocks if your true Self guides you.


      Print this article. Then make 30" of undistracted time, and fill it out thoughtfully for yourself and (optionally) another important adult or child. The worksheet focuses on communication between any two people. The blocks also apply to two or more personality subselves!

  30 Typical Communication Blocks

Me/You (check if applicable)

__  __ 1)  Someone receives a verbal or nonverbal R(espect)-message they decode as "I don't respect you as an equal here." R-messages are usually decoded unconsciously from perceived voice and body dynamics. Communication "works" (needs get well-filled) only when each person (a) feels enough self-respect, and (b) gets believable mutual-respect R-messages from their partner/s.

__  __  2)  The sender's and receiver's communication needs don't match. For example, I need to vent, and you need to persuade me to do something (cause action). Each person always has two or more of the six communication needs. Many combinations of these needs conflict. First steps to resolve this in important conversations are (a) identify your and your partner's current communication needs - as team-mates, and (b) genuinely want to value them equally!

__  __ 3)  The sender gives a double (mixed) message: their words say one thing, and their face, body, and/or voice imply something else: e.g. "I'm not angry!", said loudly with a scowl and growl. The automatic  responses to perceived double messages are confusion, frustration, and - if habitual - growing distrust of the speaker.

      Double messages are caused by the (unaware) speaker being controlled by two or more opposed subselves. Awareness and metatalk skills and true (vs. pseudo) recovery from psychological wounds can help resolve this, over time. Respectful I-messages (assertions) can help an unaware sender realize they're sending mixed messages. See #10 below.

__  __  4)  One or both people are distracted (i.e. can't focus or hear well) by...

  • physical discomfort (pain, thirst, sleepiness, full bladders, headaches, etc.),

  • strong emotions, and/or...

  • noise, flickering lights, motions, smells, temperature, etc.;

yet they try important communication anyway.

__  __  Block 5)  Often interrupting your partner sends an implied "I'm superior" R-message to them. This behavior suggests that the interrupter is probably composing their response without really hearing the speaker. Interruptions can imply...

  • "My current communication needs are more important than yours," and...

  • the interrupter has a one-person awareness bubble (# 13 below).

These feel disrespectful, and usually promote defensiveness, hurt, resentment, and irritation in the receiver - specially if s/he's ruled by a false self. Frequent interrupting is often unconscious, and will continue unless the receiver feels enough genuine self-respect to assert and stop it ("Alex, I need you to stop interrupting me.")

__  __  6) Either person makes wrong assumptions about the other's intent, needs, meaning, emotions, R-message, and/or key words and phrases. This can be called "mind reading," and may be an unconscious or an intentional way of discounting the other: "I know what you really feel or mean, no matter what you say (or donít say)." This often evokes defensiveness, resentment, counterattack, and/or withdrawal and denial. So in important exchanges, identify and verify key assumptions about your partner!

__  __  7) A special case of mind-reading happens when the receiver starts talking before the speaker finishes because they "know what (the speaker) is going to say." Even if true, this can feel like a discount. Conversely, the speaker may habitually repeat and/or be long-winded, and the receiver gets bored.

      Option: the receiver may use a meta-comment like "When you string so many ideas and comments together with-out pausing, I get overwhelmed and lose interest in what you're saying."

__  __  8) The sender isn't clear on (a) what primary needs are causing his or her (b) current communication needs. The receiver will then probably feel uneasy and confused. A related problem is ...

__  __  9) One or both partners aren't aware...

  • of having no focus, and/or using vague terms and/or "hand-grenade" terms  and phrases; and/or

  • that they can use respectful hearing checks to confirm that they're decoding the other person's meaning accurately.

__  __ 10) Either person may deny or minimize their current emotions to themselves and/or their partner. The receiver may feel they should be interested ("Please go on - this is fascinating!"), when they're really bored or distracted. Even when sent "skillfully," such denials usually result in a double message ("words may lie, bodies and faces don't"). If habitual, such denials and deceptions breed confusion, and erode trust in the speaker. Kids are specially quick to sense these "self-lies." See block #3 above.

  __ 11) Frequently withholding emotions from personal (non-business) communications - on purpose or unconsciously - can leave the receiver unsure of the sender's meaning. The listener may interpret unemotional communication ("You're always in your head") as "You don't trust me" or "You're hiding something." Local or chronic anxiety and distrust usually result.

  • The receiver may be doing something that makes the sender feel unsafe in honestly sharing their current feelings, and the sender isn't saying so, and/or...

  • the sender may be wounded and emotionally numb, and unaware of this or denying it.

Typical "male brains" are often uneasy identifying expressing emotions like hurt, fear (anxiety), confusion, guilt, shame and sadness. If frequent and ignored, withholding emotions hinders effective problem-solving and strangles intimacy.

      Pause, breathe, and stretch. What are you aware of now? Do you need a break before studying more of these 30 common communication blocks?


__  __  12)  Focusing too often on the past or the future can prevent resolving problems in the present. A special case is when someone imagines a future event so vividly that they react to their partner in the present as though the imagined event had already occurred ("I know you'll be late again!") This is a sure sign of false-self dominance. Resolving this block begins with becoming nonjudgmentally aware of it and how it affects your communication effectiveness and key relationships.

__  __  Block 13)  Habitually focusing on one's self (being "self centered") or steadily avoiding attention will result at best in unbalanced and shallow communication. At worst, the receiver may (a) feel used, ignored, and resentful, or (b) feel encouraged to ignore you. Awareness and respectful assertion may change this. Seek to maintain genuine (vs. pretend or dutiful) two-person awareness "bubbles" with each other in important situations. Difficulty doing this indicates unawareness and a dominant false self.

__  __  14)  The sender and/or receiver are unaware of the primary needs causing their conflicting surface needs. For example "I want to talk to you" (surface need) may really mean "I need to reassure myself you still care about me because you've seemed distant lately." Awareness, clear thinking, patient digging-down, assertion, and empathic listening help unearth semi-conscious current primary needs. Old "issues" keep returning until the primary discomforts beneath them are acknowledged and filled.

__  __  15)  Either person can send a "Be spontaneous!" paradox. This occurs when one person requests or demands something from another that can only be given spontaneously - like trust, love, interest, acceptance, appreciation, desire, and respect. If the second person tries to comply, the first person may then say - "You're just doing that because I asked you to, not because you really mean it." Catch 22!

      Examples: "You never say 'I love you'"; "I demand that you respect my wishes!"; "You need to respect the sacrifices I'm making for you"; and "I need you to (want to) initiate sex more often." Such paradoxical messages are inherently self-defeating, and make things worse.

      The antidote to this block is...

  • mutual knowledge of this paradox,

  • mutual communication awareness,

  • the second person asserting something like "You're asking me to give you something that can only be spontaneous," and...

  • both people digging down to identify the underlying relationship needs that are causing this situation. This can't happen unless both people want to (a) improve their communication effectiveness as true partners, and to (b) make this a mutual high priority in their busy lives.

      We're half-way through this collection of common communication blocks. How many of these could you have named before you read this? Are your kids learning to be aware of these blocks yet? Breathe, stretch, and continue...


__  __  Block 16)  Generalizing can hinder understanding and effective problem-solving. "You're always insensitive and inconsiderate!" will probably be received differently than "I'm mad and frustrated because you're 40 minutes late and I missed my ride!

      "You always..." or "You never..." can imply the receiver is 1-down (inferior), and invite her or him to feel guilty and defensive about many past events as well as the present one. Normal responses to this block are frustration, overwhelm, defending, explaining, shutting down, and/or counterattacking - unless the receiver needs to stay superficial.

      If your Self (capital "S") is guiding you, mutual respect and focused awareness, the communication skills of metatalk, and assertion may reduce this block

"When you often generalize by saying 'never' or 'always,' I feel frustrated, resentful, and my mind wanders." Can you stop generalizing and be more specific?").

A cooperative response is most likely if the other person is guided by their true Self.

__  __  17)  Preaching, moralizing, lecturing, or advising someone with a problem ("I'm just trying to help!") can erode relationships if the receiver just needs to vent (be respectfully heard and empathically accepted) vs. to be "fixed." Uninvited "helping" can indicate a false-self compulsion to rescue, and may imply "I'm superior - I know how to fix your problem and you don't." Sometimes that's true!

      How common it is for over-busy, unaware parents to "fix" their child's problem before listening carefully, and considering if the best long-range help would be to encourage the child to identify and fill their own needs! Choosing this option will build a child's competence and self confidence over time, even if it frustrates them now.

__  __  18)  Partners not knowing the difference between win-win problem-solving and common lose-lose alternatives like fighting, arguing, threatening, avoiding, blaming, explaining (defending), preaching, moralizing, monologing, hinting, whining, numbing out, defocusing, enduring, imposing, submitting, pretending, and assuming.

      Know anyone who does any of these behaviors? Are you aware of the behaviors' effects on their serenity and relationships? When conflicts don't abate, try asking "Are we problem-solving now, or doing something else?" Option: in vexing or recurring situations, try mapping dissatisfying communication sequences to learn what you two are doing together.

__  __ 19)  Sarcastic, critical (vs. affectionate) name-calling erodes the receiver's self-esteem and the odds for cooperative problem-solving. "You're stupid / lazy / spacey / nuts / weird / hopeless / a jerk / spastic / brain-dead..." etc. hurts! The non-verbal version of this block is "the look" that conveys massive scorn, disgust, indifference, dislike, and/or rejection.

      If you ever name-call and/or use such a look, what happens to (a) your self esteem, (b) the receiver's self esteem, and to (c) your relationship? Who's current needs get met? Frequent name-calling and/or sarcasm are sure signs of a disabled Self (capital "S") and a one-person awareness bubble.

__  __  Block 20)  Physical or emotional withdrawal is a powerful communication that may imply "You scare, bore, or overwhelm me" (implied message: "I'm inferior") or "I don't care about you and your needs now," ("I'm superior"). Either way, the abandoned partner will probably feel hurt and frustrated - specially if the withdrawer denies or won't talk about leaving.

      In resolving this communication block, respectfully explore if the abandoned person is unaware of doing something that triggers the withdrawal... ("Ned, every time I try to say what I need, you interrupt and attack me - so I just shut up and leave.")

__  __  21)  Threats or demands ( vs. requests) suggest "My current needs are more important than yours!" They usually provoke hurt, resentment, defiance, and everyone feeling badly about themselves and/or the exchange. To change this, the receiver needs to (want to) use assertive metatalk - e.g. (with steady eye contact) "I feel you're making a demand (or threat) now. When you do that, I feel resentful, anxious, and combative. I need you to make your point another way."

__  __ 22)  One person changes the subject repeatedly or suddenly without asking if their partner is done. This implies that they feel their current needs and worth are superior to their partner's. When this happens, the receiver's responsibilities are to (a) notice the defocusing and how it feels, and (b) be respectfully assertive about finishing their first topic if s/he needs to. However, the "You're inferior" R-message still hurt...

__  __  23)  Hinting or asking leading (indirect) questions can be OK, or can imply "I don't trust one of us to deal directly with my subject." Having a covert communication goal ("agenda") often results in sending double messages which leave the receiver feeling confused, suspicious, discounted, and resentful. See block #3.

__  __  Block 24)  Habitual lack of appropriate eye contact, speaking hesitantly, or constantly apologizing, all imply "I feel inferior now." This may be OK if the receiver is comfortable feeling superior. Over time, this pattern promotes loss of respect in both partners - which breeds discounting, poor listening, and ineffective communication.

__  __  25)  Habitual nonstop talking will probably condition regular listeners that nothing is expected of them - which is probably what the speaker will get. The jabberer's real communication needs here may be to avoid stressful confrontation, surprises, or intimacy (keep their partner emotionally distant), and/or to avoid uncomfortable thoughts and feelings.

__  __  26)  The receiving person may become overwhelmed ("flooded") with information and/or reactions. If (a) the speaker doesn't pause, or (b) if the receiver doesn't assert (ask them to pause), hearing and effective communication will dwindle. This block often happens when the speaker...

  • is controlled by a false self who

  • has an E(motion)-level "above the ears," and...

  • needs to vent, lecture, or moralize,

  • without caring what the listener's current needs are (implied R-message: "You're inferior to me now.").

Restated: flooding happens when the sender maintains a one-person awareness bubble. Face-to-face, the receiver can use a hand-gesture (like a finger in each ear) to convey "I'm flooded, and can't hear you now. Please stop and let me process and/or respond."

__  __  27)  Partners don't make enough time to talk thoroughly about important issues. With lives filled with job, parenting, home upkeep, social, and other personal responsibilities, typical couples (i.e. their ruling subselves) put needed communications low in their day's priorities.

      Lack of effective discussion takes an eventual toll on any relationship (adult-adult, adult-child). "We just don't have time" is false-self deception for "Communicating isn't important (or safe) enough to me / you / us." Who's responsible in your relationships for making enough time to communicate well?

__  __  28)  Not checking to see if you each got your primary (vs. surface) needs met in key communication exchanges - specially in major disputes. Not checking invites one or both of you assume that the other is satisfied. If s/he's not, unfilled needs - and distrust in your communication effectiveness - will increase. Do you know anyone who routinely asks "Did you get what you needed from our talk?"

__  __  29)  Arguing with a partner over unconscious gender-priority differences. Research shows typical males and females differ, often sharply, over which priorities to focus on in an interpersonal situation. For example, average female brains focus on relationships, cooperation, social harmony, feelings, and understanding, while typical male brains instinctively focus on logic, information, "fixing" things, power, and winning.

      Most (all?) of these priorities are biologically-based and socially reinforced, not right or wrong! Ideally, males and females recognize, accept, and use these complementary differences together, rather than trying to convert each other ("Why can't a woman be more like a man?"). For more perspective on this, see "Brain Sex," by Ann Moir and David Jessel, and "You Just Don't Understand - Women and Men in Conversation," by linguist Deborah Tannen.

__  __  Block 30) Defensively denying that you're responsible for any of these communication blocks, or explaining or justifying them ("You make me do that, by..."). This denial is a strong symptom of significant unawareness and false-self wounds. Note the difference between informing your partner of a communication problem (implication: "We're equals here") and accusing them ("I'm superior").

__  __   31)  (add your own communication blocks)


__  __   32)


__  __   33)


      Options - (1) go back over this worksheet and star or hilight communication blocks you want to become more aware of in your relationships. (2) Consider teaching others in your family or workplace about these blocks and team up to reduce them together! 


      Anything that hinders you in filling your current interpersonal needs is a communication block. This worksheet summarizes 30 common behaviors that hinder or block effective communication between personality subselves and between people. Ineffective communication can be caused by a mix of blocks in me, in you, and between us. Where that's true, take time to reduce internal blocks (between your subselves) first!

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?  

      Which of these blocks stand out for you and why? If you want to reduce any of them, which ones? Reduction starts with intentionally improving your communication awareness. Reduce internal communication blocks by freeing your true Self to lead your other subselves (Lesson 1). Use Lesson 2 tips and suggestions to reduce blocks with adults and kids.

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