What Can You Do When Communication Fails?


Some individuals are more capable than others of interacting with those they find difficult by minimizing their interactions with them, or by ignoring the difficulties. But if you are not one of these individuals, and you honestly feel you have tried everything you can think of to communicate with someone you need or want to maintain a relationship with. But all you’ve accomplished so far is adding more stress to your life. Rather than doing nothing, other than imagining and rehearsing all kinds of painful scenarios with that person, what constructive alternatives are left?

1. After you have calmed down following your last interaction with the person, ask yourself
     these questions:
• How often does the problem interrupt what you're doing?
• Are you spending time dealing with something that really shouldn't involve you?
• Are you wasting a lot of time rehashing the problem(s)?
• How much is avoiding this conversation really costing in terms of time, lost opportunities,
           and stress?
• What are the potential downsides of addressing the situation, versus allowing it to continue?
     Answering these questions can help you determine whether you should take action now.

2. Ask them what they think are the reasons the two of you have difficulty communicating.
• Ask questions instead of defending your own assumptions.
- If you are getting no answers, try a more supportive and fair approach.
- If you are met only with silence, try saying, “I’m not sure how to interpret your silence.” 
• Be open to hearing their side of the story. Maybe the problem is not as serious as you thought,
           and there is a simple solution after all.
• Be prepared with examples of what you see as the communication difficulties, in case they truly
           believe the two of you have no communication problems.
• Listen carefully (and patiently if possible) to everything they have to say. Maybe there is a way to
           improve your relationship to make it  more effective for both of you, even if there is no
           easy solution.

3. Depending on the nature of the relationship, you may want to consider counseling.
• Ask them what they think of counseling as a possible solution.
• If choosing this route, you will likely need to try out several counselors before you find someone
           that works for both of you.

4. Consider whether it would be better if you ended the relationship.
• When there truly seems to be no other productive avenue, ending the relationship might be
           the healthiest alternative.
• If you are trying to address a workplace situation, and an employee is not the right fit for you,
           why prolong the agony for either one of you?  When you’ve come to the point where the benefits
           are outweighed by stress and/or problems, the situation is probably uncomfortable for more than
           just the two of you, so ending it may be a relief for all concerned.

You may also be interested in previous articles entitled, Stop Avoiding Difficult Conversations and 16 Classic Communication Mistakes. Look for an upcoming article entitled Active Listening Techniques for more ideas on improving your communication skills.

Adam Irby