Dealing with a Communication Impasse in a Business or Personal Relationship

What happens to our communication when we’re working through a disagreement?

Story Time: Mexican Telenovelas

When I was younger, my family and I would often watch Mexican soap operas. I’d stare wide-eyed at the characters’ dramatic story-lines punctuated by shouting matches and dramatic pauses, cold shoulders and revenge sequences that enveloped every episode. My parents would laugh at how mad I would get with how the drama would play out. You would find me, quite literally, yelling at characters at the television telling them it was their fault. Even as a child I could see how a simple conversation would have fixed most of their problems!

Now that I’m an adult, I know that, A: these telenovelas really have to stretch a story to fill about 160 episodes over the span of three to four months, and B: There really are a lot of people who like playing out drama in real life and/or have impressively unpolished communications skills.

For these adults, just like their telenovela counterparts, it doesn’t take much conflict, argument, or perceived injustice to abruptly play the cold-shoulder game, assume the worst and otherwise throw the baby out with the bathwater. In some cases, situations warrant ending relationships – but sometimes they don’t. The main question is: how do you distinguish the difference if you don’t communicate well enough to clearly understand what is going on?

Dealing with a Communication Impasse

The expectation for professionalism in business makes it easy to overlook the emotional aspect of human interactions.

When we interpret information in the world around us, we often have errors in thinking known as a cognitive biases. Simply put, cognitive biases are how our mind works to to simplify the information we are processing. (It’s very interesting – if you want to learn more, read this Quartz piece, “A Complete Guide to to Cognitive Biases”)

Whether the communications difficulties are occurring in the office or with a friend, it’s important to remember the following:

  1. We don’t know what we don’t know. It is not justified to assume intent when we do not know a whole story.
  2. Our opinions are probably based on emotions and not on facts. Not having complete information will inaccurately skew our opinions.
  3. Our emotions are a first-response system. Emotional thinking, let loose, can be volatile.

The mind is incredible when it comes to this sort of situations. In the article above, the author shares, “we find stories and patterns even in sparse data. Since we only get a tiny sliver of the world’s information, and also filter out almost everything else, we never have the luxury of having the full story. This is how our brain reconstructs the world to feel complete inside our heads.”

In other words, when we do not know a whole story, the emotional part of our brain will piece together a narrative – a version (our version) of the truth. It’s usually colorful and detailed and…mainly the result of our own creative liberties with the limited facts we have available.

As most of us aren’t naturally inclined to entertain the idea that we may be wrong in our way of thinking, we filter any additional information we receive in a way that validates our point of view.

Is Your Narrative Wrong?

Perception of truth is tricky, even when not colored with emotion. It’s not easy to let logic take the wheel, but in order to judge situations objectively, effective communicators need to train themselves to pause in order to let the initial wave of emotions give way for clear thinking. With a clear head, consider the following:

  • Is this person worth the energy it’s going to take to figure out what happened?
  • Do I have all of the information I need to clearly assess this situation?
  • In the case of a forced interaction with a co-worker, employer, etc., what are the proper channels of communications do I have to find a solution for this?
  • Is this behavior/situation consistent with my history with this person?
  • What is my role in this? Did I/could I have played any role in the development of this situation?
  • Does this person have any resentments towards me? Do I hold any resentments towards this person?
  • Does this situation/action hold greater weight than the history I have with this person?
  • Do I benefit from keeping this relationship in my life? How would it affect me to not have this person in my life?

Think, then Make a Call

Regardless of what we do professionally, we are ALL in the business of communicating with others. You don’t have to be a PR guru to know that having practical communication skills makes life better for everyone.

Reach out and make it a point to push aside your assumptions. At best you may work out a misunderstanding or confirm suspicions with facts. It may be that the relationship is no longer mutually beneficial, but at least you can walk away knowing that you gave the relationship that you have invested time and energy into the chance for understanding. You’ll have greater peace knowing that you made a decision with all the facts in front of you.

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