Communication Breakdowns, Part II

Dealing with Communication Breakdowns

Part II:  What is a Communication Breakdown and How does it Arise?

Our last blog post talked about the conversations we avoid, often not even knowing we are avoiding them.  Communications Breakdowns, Part I.  We are in the midst of a series on communication breakdowns, how to recognize them and how to resolve them.

What is a “communication breakdown?”  It is not just a place where communication has gone sideways – where you have misunderstood each other and become upset.  It is also the place where you are not communicating – where some kind of brave and clear communication might improve the relationship.

I have worked with executives and inside organizations for over 11 years and one of the things I have seen is a common tendency to avoid the “difficult conversation.”  And many conversations qualify as “difficult” for most people.

There are three pillars to relationships.  They are trust, commitment and communication.  What does this mean?  These three pillars are essential to strong relationships.  When a relationship is not doing well, one or more of these pillars has become shaky.  They each affect the others so if communication is not going well, trust is probably lower too.  When a lack of commitment is felt, it is often because communication is not strong.  And so on.

How do you know when you are in the midst of a communication breakdown?  You might have a negative feeling toward the other person.  You might not want to talk to her anymore.  You might avoid this person.  You might stew over a conversation you had with someone and feel bad about it.  You might think about a situation with another person and be unsure of what to do.

On the other side of the relationship, you might notice that someone is avoiding you; or that they have a “tone” when they talk to you; that something has changed; or they stop doing business with you or calling you.

Why do Communication Difficulties Arise?

Even in the best of relationships, there will be communication disruptions and failures.  This stems mostly from a lack of understanding of another’s filter or worldview.  There is a coaching principle that says, “Behind every behavior is a positive intention.”  People rarely set out to hurt or upset you.  They typically have a good reason (good to them) – a positive intention – for behaving as they do.  However, our filters are so vastly different that we often do not see the other person’s positive intention and may assume a bad motive.

Trying to understand other people and where they are coming from is the best way to begin clearing communication breakdowns.  This type of curiosity can be difficult though when you are angry.

However, we pay a high price for unresolved conflict, including: weaker relationships, lower morale, less cooperation from others, less productivity, and even a toll on your health.

On the other hand, there are benefits to clearing up communication disruptions, including:  learning something new, higher self-esteem & self-confidence, strengthened relationships, and a feeling of relief.

Homework:  For the next couple weeks make a list of conversations that would be useful to have.  Include conversations that you are not sure you are willing to have.  For now, don’t filter.  If nothing bad could happen, who are the people you would like to talk to?

Next blog post we will provide a formula for clearing up breakdowns.


This Saturday is Weekend 11 of our 2019 Transformative Coaching Essentials Program.  We will be learning all about breakdowns in communication and how to work through them – with ourselves, with clients and with staff.

Transformative Coaching Essentials 2020 starts on January 25!  There are a couple spaces left!  Click here to learn more:

About the Author

Cami McLaren

Cami McLaren

is the owner of McLaren Coaching. She has been coaching attorneys and management since early 2008. She wrote a book, published by the American Bar Association, "Coaching for Attorneys: Improving Productivity and Achieving Balance." She coaches attorneys and managers one-on-one, and provides in-house training designed to improve productivity and bring accountability to the organization.

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