5 Communication Traps and How to Avoid Them

February 17, 2021

Listening is one of the most important things that humans do. It has been estimated that listening takes up more that we fall into when in our waking hours than any other activity. 


The problem, however, is that most of us are not very good at listening. Researchers have claimed, in fact, that 75% of oral communication is either ignored, misunderstood, or quickly forgotten. So, we might tell each other things, but we do not necessarily listen.


Why is it that we are not naturally good at listening? It is because there are five common traps that we tend to fall into when we listen. How do we overcome these? By making sure we develop effective listening skills.


So, what are the five traps, and what are the listening skills to avoid them? 




Criticism is a guaranteed way to set up a conversation to fail. Critical comments (when unsolicited) paint the other person’s character in a bad light, usually to make someone right and someone wrong. These statements usually start with the word “YOU” followed by something negative.




Stonewalling is a form of shutting down and withdrawing to escape conflict at all costs. While it looks like you’re trying to end the conflict, it conveys distance, disconnect, and creates an icy chill that leaves the other person feeling alone. 

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A common trap when listening is misunderstanding the other person or getting the message wrong. The listening skill to avoid this trap is to summarise and check. If you have understood correctly, you then proceed to the next part of the conversation. 


Lack of Empathy


When we get pulled into a “who is right and who is wrong” dynamic, it becomes increasingly difficult to really hear what your partner is saying, especially if you’re playing defense. We then begin listening to respond instead of listening to understand.

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Contempt is extremely dangerous in relationships because it is intended to insult their character or cause harm. Contempt is like throwing the below-the-belt-punch or pouring salt on the wound. It is often spiteful and vindictive. 


All of these conversation traps are understandable. They are corners we get into when we’re feeling stressed, angry or frightened. Being aware of these communication traps can help you plan ahead and avoid driving down those dead-end roads. It also prevents either one of you from feeling trapped. 


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