Communication Spoilers

This article is about knowing what we don’t know about ourselves. Is is not about telling, training, or doing. It is about learning more about who we are being in our communication with each other.

Most people, I communicated with admitted that they are at the stage of “Unconscious Incompetence” on Maslow’s 4 stages of learning, when it comes to many things. Me too, each day, I discover that I don’t know what I don’t know about people. I don’t know what I don’t know about you, why you read this blog, what motivates you, and how I can be the best support to you in living your best life.

How conscious are we of what we don’t know about our communication spoilers? Do we draw people to us, or do we unknowingly push them away?  Robert Bolton, in his book People Skills, outlined the “dirty dozen” of communication spoilers, devised by Thomas Gordon. Can you see yourself in any of these?

  1. Criticizing – a negative evaluation of someone’s actions. Example – I do not think it was a good idea to put him on the team.
  2. Name Calling – Putting someone down or stereotyping their behaviour. Example – You take things too seriously. You are too emotional. You need to develop a thick skin.
  3. Diagnosing – Analyzing someone’s behaviour. Example – You think you are o.k. with his behaviour, but I know you are angry.
  4. Praising Evaluatively – Making a positive judgement of a person, their actions, or their attitudes. Example – Ask Dawn, she great. She never says no, she’ll do it.
  5. Commanding – Telling someone, in a commanding way to do something. Example – I want no comments. Just do it the way I said.
  6. Threatening – Trying to control someone’s actions by warning of negative consequence, if things are not done as desired. Example – Get the work done or we are going to lose business.
  7. Moralizing – Telling or preaching to another person, about the right thing to do. Example – You should not accept that contract. The company breaks all kinds of environmental laws.
  8. Excessive/Inappropriate Questioning – Asking a lot closed-ended questions or ones requiring short, simple answers. Example – Is the business doing well, do you makes good money, how many clients do you have, are they loyal, etc.
  9. Advising – Giving people what you think is the best solution. Example – This is the best one to choose for your situation.
  10. Diverting – Pushing the other person’s concern aside, by switching to another subject. Example – Let’s talk about something else.
  11. Logical Argument – Trying to convince another person by focusing on facts, without emphasis on emotional issues. Example – It’s the best for your business; it’s cost-effective, good quality, and a standard in the industry.
  12. Reassuring – Trying to bring someone away from the negative emotion they are feeling. Example – Losing your job is a blessing in disguise. Now you can find a new job that uses all your great skills, and which pays a lot of money.

So you, like me, may be guilty of a few of these. Maybe we don’t even do them all that often. And we mean well. So what?

Copyright © 2010 M. Dawn Armstrong. All rights reserved.


2 thoughts on “Communication Spoilers”

  1. Your post of the dirty dozen communication spoilers shows a number of obstacles in the quest to share and empower. Yet, I would have liked a linkage between those and the initial concept of how we struggle to know ourselves. That concept started the article and was followed by the mention of unconscious incompetence, but we then went to the list of the dirty dozen.

    I would like to see how the stage of unconscious incompetence could be improved, and which way that improvement could enable us to know ourselves better. The list of the 12 might even have a counter list of ways to stop the negative impact by the dirty dozen so that we could find improvement.

    One suggestion about the list itself is that the last two might have positive guidance in certain ways. Speaking about the logical progression of a problem can address the emotional hurt. When Bobby Kennedy told the people at the death of Dr. King, he said, “for those of you who feel anger to a white man for the death, I too lost a brother from the hands of a white man.” Those words combined a logic and sensitivity about the emotional hurt.

    The 12th item of reassuring could work to encourage the other person to view another angle of the problem.

    I think the key element with the bad 12 is that most don’t see the other person as an equal in the process. As a teacher, I recognize the need to guide a student. However, I want to engage the student as a team mate in finding or exploring the way to the answer. If we proceed in that manner, we might avoid the barriers set up by the 12. I seek to change the me verses him to me and him verses the problem or item that needs to be discovered.

    What do you think?


    1. I agree with all that you have said, and will likely address most in the next few blogs. The dirty dozen will be better linked to “unconscious incompetence” when they are better explained and examples provided to show that most of us don’t even know when we are doing these things. If you don’t mind, I would like to quote you, when I write the piece about strategies that help us become more conscious of what we do.

      As a trainer of adults, I understand your concept of engaging students as a team mate in finding solutions, is absolutely necessary. You reminded me to go back to Kolb’s 4 stages of the experiential Learning Cycle, which I have taught many times to other trainers. It enables the engagement of people in different ways, focused on their different learning styles.

      In my next post, I will explain a little more about the dangers of the 12. I think it may be a great time to ask and answer the question you alluded to at the end of your comments – ‘when using these forms of communication, how do you see the other person to whom you are communicating’ – or something like that. Do you see another question for engaging people?

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