Barriers to Effective Communication Part 1 - "It's all about me."

By Steve Zuieback · Posted Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Communication Barriers – “It’s all about me.”

This is the first in a series of articles about barriers to effective communication in relationships and in workplace teams. To start, it is amazing that we can effectively communicate at all when we look at the challenges.

Non-verbal Communication

It is extremely helpful to start this exploration realizing the 85-93% of the meaning of communication is non-verbal. Voice tone is considered non-verbal. We place way too much emphasis on the content of the communication rather than on the delivery and intent behind the communication. 

Communication or Perceptual Positions

To start this series I want to focus on what are called “communication positions” or “perceptual positions.” We can speak of three communication positions. These positions relate to the intent and focus of an individual within a communication.  In 1st Position the speaker is solely focused on himself or herself.  Someone in 2nd Position is focused on being present to another person, and in 3rd Position the person’s focus is on the dynamics of a whole group or system.

“It’s All About Me”

The 1st Position is beautifully illustrated by the following video of Bette Midler in the movie Beaches – “it’s all about me.” In this communication position, the speaker is focused solely on themselves and their passions, issues and concerns. This can be useful at times, however most often the person is so wrapped up in their own heads that they completely miss what is going on around them. When one person persistently comes from 1stposition, effective communication is highly unlikely. The give and take of information, stories, ideas and meaning that builds connections, rapport and relationship is cut off and the listeners shut down and often withdraw. This can be a real-deal breaker in communication and ongoing relationships.

How to break the pattern

This can be very challenging if the pattern is habitual. It takes careful and compassionate feedback from a caring friend, co-worker or supervisor. I would suggest that the feedback consists of the following elements:

  1. Acknowledgement of what has been said particularly if it can confirm highly held values of the person in 1stposition.
  2. Feedback about how it feels when you are listening to the person who is persistently in 1stposition – “I start to feel like you aren’t interested in me”. “I find myself pulling away and trying to shorten our conversations.”
  3. Open up a conversation on some strategies that would work for all parties.

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