Four Communication Barriers and How to Spot Them

Silence is a powerful communicator. Whenever we see a marriage that is slowly disintegrating, it’s usually followed by the couple concluding “they can’t communicate” or “they don’t talk anymore.” These couples believe that their non-talking is a lack of communication. When in fact it’s the opposite. When you don’t talk, silence sends a surplus of negative messages. Silence is powerful in its own way.

Silence is not the cause of poor communication – the fear of pain is. It’s human nature to seek pleasure and avoid pain. The truth is people actually avoid pain first, then seek pleasure. And under painful circumstances communication goes awry and silence can set in.

There are four styles of miscommunication that result when a person feels threatened. Placating, Blaming, Computing and Distracting. By understanding these styles and recognizing when they occur, you can ease your tension (or your partner’s) and get to the root of the cause before your communication breaks down and the silence sets in.

1. Placating

The placater is a “yes” person. This person is eager to please and apologetic. You’ll frequently hear placaters say things like: “Whatever you want!” or “Don’t worry about me, it’s ok.” They want to keep the peace at any price, including feeling worthless.

Studies show that placaters have difficulties expressing anger and hold so many feelings in they often become depressed. As a placater, you should remind yourself that it is ok to disagree! If your spouse if a placater, try to recognize these actions so you can help them express their feelings when they are holding back.

2. Blaming

The blamer is a fault finder who criticizes relentlessly and speaks in generalizations. You’ll often hear blamers saying things such as “You never do anything right!” or “You’re just like your mother.” Deep inside, blamers usually feel unworthy or unlovable and can get angry at the anticipation that they won’t get what they want. Blamers tend to find that the best defense is a good defense.

If you (or your spouse) are a blamer try to recognize when you feel the need to be defensive. You likely fear dealing with expression or pain – try to let this go. Once you recognize these behaviors, learn to speak on your own behalf, without indicting others in the process.

3. Computing

The computer is a reasonable, calm and collected person. This person usually never admits mistakes and expects people to conform and perform. You’ll often hear the computer saying: “Upset? I’m not upset. Why do you think I am upset?” Computers fear emotion and prefer facts and stats.

If you or your spouse often find yourself computing, then it’s time to open up the communication doors and express your real feelings. Computers need someone to ask them how they feel about certain things. If you recognize this trait in your spouse, having an intentional conversation with them may help.

4. Distracting

The distracter resorts to irrelevancies under stress and avoids direct eye contact and direct answers. Distracters are also quick to change the subject. You’ll often hear them saying something along the lines of: “What problem? Let’s go shopping.” Distracters fear fighting, and confrontation can bring this on.

The solution? Distracters need to know they are safe, not helpless. Problems can be solved and conflicts can be resolved. Encourage yourself (or your spouse) to confront problems head-on with productive conversation, rather than burying them.

The next time you find yourself communicating with your partner by placating, blaming, computing or distracting, remember that this is likely the result of feeling stressed or hurt about something. And vice versa, if you find your partner has resulted to one of these methods, ease their tension by being sensitive and trying to get to the root of the issue.

By opening up the communication walls before they completely close, you will be well on your way to a solid and productive conversation.

How do you and your partner communicate? Have you hit any barriers you’ve needed to overcome? We’d love to hear from you!

10 Comments

  • Maren says:

    Good points, thank you!

  • Erin says:

    How do you redirect blaming? This one seems tricky to me.

    • Arnold and Sue Kaestner says:

      The way we do it is by saying, “I feel worried when you run late and don’t call.” We put the “I” first and tell how we feel because we are responsible for our own feelings – not the other person. Hopefully then our spouse will remember how their actions worry us and remember to call…. Saying “you” first is like pointing a finger and usually brings up a defense response instead of an understanding. Blaming does not work to bring harmony or understanding!

  • Kevin Suess says:

    Thanks for these compact yet powerful insights. As the SYMBIS indicates, “Communication is the lifeblood of [any] relationship.” (Dynamics:Communication, page 12). Communication is one of the top three problem issues I see in my counseling sessions.

  • Deborah says:

    Don’t sweat the small stuff because it’s all small stuff! I believe this with all my heart after 31 years of marriage. There is too much talking! In my opinion, there is an out-of-balance focus on Communication in marriage and not enough teaching on Servant-hood (being like Jesus). I have been married for 31 years and I can tell you that I have been crushed with words and “communication”. The power of our Words bring life and death to a relationship. Honestly, we need more teaching on how to be quiet and learn the art of using LESS words, so when we do talk it is meaningful, intentional and engaging. Ecclesiastes 6:11 says: “The more words you speak, the less they mean, what is the advantage to man”? What if someone wrote a book on “Crushing the Communication Myth”? My heart is broken, shattered, sewn together and scared because the people in my life (largely my close family) have used “communication” and words to damage others. We need to relearn how to be quiet, more thoughtful, intentional so when we do engage with our words, it matters and brings life to the relationship. If Jesus “got away” from people to be quiet and hear what His Father was speaking to Him, why not us? In an age of social media chatter 24/7, the church needs to lead the way in speaking LESS and praying MORE. Just my thoughts. (cannot believe I responded to this article. I’ve never done anything like this before – clearly, the topic hit a tender spot on my heart. Thank you for posting).

    • Kim says:

      Excellent points, Deborah! You communicated that well. 😉 (Teasing you, but also you did!) I love your point of talk being meaningful, intentional and engaging. For some who have the challenges described in the article, ability to reach that deeper level may not be possible. The deep conversations and sharing our heart, looking from the other person’s point of view and in their interest, is what Jesus showed us by example. And it prevents harm caused by sharing selfishly. I am so glad you posted. Thank you for the reminders.

    • Matt says:

      Deborah,

      Well stated. Sounds like much of your opinion has been shaped by negative communication. I agree with the whole social media idea of unplugging to limit noise and hear from God better. However, I still believe married couples need to make intimate conversation a priority. To me it’s key component to the “two becoming one flesh”. Especially if this is one of your spouses key emotional needs. I’m sorry for the negative experiences you’ve had. Thanks for sharing!

  • john schweizer says:

    OK, so these are examples of 4 incorrect styles of communicating. How about one positive example of the good communicator, one who responds rightly and avoids all 4 of the above? Surely good communicating is more than simply avoiding all 4 of the above…

  • Maria says:

    This really spoke to me, timing is everything. My husband and I have had communication challenges lately. I’m part of the blaming category and I hate that I am. How can I change it when it’s an automatic response?

  • ROSE GAETjEN says:

    Thank you for these descriptions of communication. There are times I’ve found myself in a couple of these. I’m an over reactor when it comes to communicating with my spouse. I’ve needed to really listen to him. Putting myself in his shoes. NEVER have a conversation with an angry heart. Wait till I deal with those emotions with the Lord’s help. Think before I speak, don’t always. When I do we have success, even if I’m disagreeing with him. Every time we have a discussio, I have to ask within myself, help me Lord, right now.

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