For the past 2 days I was involved in building a new business relationship and attended day 2 of a communications training course. Incidentally – or because the universe does play dice – the 2 mixed well.
In the training we discussed communication roadblocks. They are particularly a hindrance when one person has a problem and asked the other person for help. Let me list those briefly so we talk about the same thing.
||“Do what you are told and you will be right.” This is a directive approach and doesn’t explain.|
||“You can’t do it this way, stupid!” Pretty directive and pretty offending.|
||“Well educated people don’t behave like that.” Indirectly the person is given a clear message what you think of them.|
||“Please read the manual.” While it is very polite, it is also clear that you think the person hasn’t done a good job in the first place.|
||“Due Diligence includes x, y, and z.” Falls into the previous category.|
||“That is your fault, isn’t it.”|
||“Somebody had a blond day, I think.”|
||“When we look at the task, the steps were laid out like this.” Again, it makes the person feel stupid.|
||“Great work. You tried very hard.” This will go down as sarcasm.|
||“I’m sorry that didn’t wort out. I’m sure next time it will be better.”|
||“Why didn’t you do that?”|
||“Alright, let’s look at this problem instead.”|
Are these helping?
No! In a conflict or problem area these are strong roadblocks. They come across as sarcasm or cynical and leave a strong negative touch.
Note, in a no problem situation the above approaches can be very effective. For example the initial training how to use a dangerous product is very much directive and will use warning and commanding language. Lecturing is very common in Universities, and analysing a problem together works quite fine.
Our plane arrived late yesterday morning and we hurried through the airport to the car rental. Luckily that went smoothly and we were on the road in no time. The traffic wasn’t too bad and we thought we are not making the agreed time by at least 15 minutes. So, we rang to advise we would be late. To our surprise the answer was, “you will be on time, no worries.”. We were perplexed as we had at least 40 minutes driving ahead of us. But we couldn’t get an explanation from them. We were getting pretty close to the destination but their description where to get of the motorway didn’t match the signage. Luckily one of us printed the Google directions which did fit and we arrived to our surprise dead on time.
We didn’t follow that one up and it got forgotten by everybody else I believe during the day. But, I thought today, hey that was a typical situation for a roadblock and the person giving that re-assurance or lecturing “You will be on time.” probably didn’t even realise this. In this case we were quite relaxed because there was no problem. It would have been quite different, if that was the last ferry crossing that day we were trying to catch.
Why do people use communication roadblocks?
So, I wonder what makes people do it? It happens so often. I remember my mother being quite inquisitive at times when I came from school. All what she wanted was knowing how my day was, did I learn something new, had I had any problems, what about the test, and so on. But for me it came across like being interrogated. In her case she didn’t knew until we talked about it.
Is it an attitude issue to be in the state of mind of being helpful or consciously being a roadblock? Do some people use roadblock approaches because of habit? Do people use roadblock approaches out of ignorance? From my experience I believe most people are doing it out of ignorance and later habit. Nobody ever told them. And now they are in a position where they are even less likely being told and ignorance becomes habit. 20% do it on purpose, they have learned these roadblock tools are a great way of keeping others on distance. They use these as power tools and patronise people. I met some managers during my life who played this game well. Very few have been found out.
If you come across somebody using those roadblocks, make the person aware of it. “How do you think what you said is received? Let me explain to you.” People will listen and very likely have a great “aha” experience and thank you for it.