Ki Moments Blog

Support for life’s “key” moments.

August 22, 2011

3 Communication Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Do you have a hard time handling even minor conflicts at work?

You’re not alone. Most of us grew up watching other people deal with conflict in ways that reinforce the fight-flee-freeze reactions that characterize most workplace conflict. You can change your reactive habits to more conscious responsive ones.

Take a look at 3 common communication pitfalls and their remedies. Where do you see yourself?

#1: Win/Lose

The Behavior: Win every argument. Have the last word.

The Remedy: Start noticing when you're about to contradict, crow, or counter. Catch yourself ready to advocate and ask a question instead. Consider the other's point of view as valid for them. Change your purpose from winning to solving the problem--especially if you are right.

#2: Shut Down

 The Behavior: When things get tense, do you go still, leave the room, or refuse to engage? Say everything is okay when it's not? Most of us believe that conflict is bad and that it's wrong to be involved in one. So we shut down, fearful of getting our hands dirty, and unwilling to engage in risky conflict conversations. Conflict is normal. If we're alive, conflict will arise from time to time. It might even teach us something.

The Remedy: Ask a sincere question you don't know the answer to. Someone else is probably wondering about the same thing. Engage. Learn. Take a chance. Increase safety by focusing on your purpose.

#3: Passive Aggressive Behavior

The Behavior: This is a tough one. No one ever thinks they're the passive aggressor. It's always the other guy. Well, it might be you. And here's how you know. Do you:


  • Pretend to go along with your boss or coworker while complaining behind the scenes?
  • Talk about a colleague to someone else instead of holding the difficult conversation directly?
  • Take an action that seems coincidental but is planned to demean, hurt, or harm another?
  • Say you will complete a task that you later purposely “forget” or complete in a haphazard or inappropriate way.
  • Engage in sullen, negative, or resistant behavior.

Passive aggressive behavior makes us feel good, because it's a way of gaining power. But we give up power, too--the power of self-awareness, integrity, honesty, and purposeful action.

The Remedy: You regain true power when you:

  • Acknowledge the cause of your crankiness or discontent.
  • Muster the courage to talk to the person who can do something about it.
  • Don't assume they know, and don't think they should know. They don't. Start with this assumption.
  • Stay curious about yourself, the other, and the emotions and concerns that surface.
  • Find role models who can help you be powerful in more honest, open ways.

Conflict is one way we get to know ourselves and each other. Look at conflict as a flashlight shining on a part of you that you haven't figured out yet. Let it be a gift and a teacher.

Now It's Your Turn!

  • What communication pitfalls have I missed?
  • What workplace conflicts do you typically encounter?

For additonal tips on workplace communication, read my article: We Have to Talk: A Step-By-Step Checklist for Difficult Conversations.




Let’s discuss this post in the comments

Note: you don’t need to “log in” or “sign up” to comment. Simply enter your comment, then under the “sign up with Disqus” field enter your name. Then enter your email address and click the checkbox (that will appear) with the label “I’d rather comment as a guest.”