Dirty Dozen of Effective Communication

In working with others—teammates, clients, vendors—the most successful relationships I’ve had have been those that have evolved beyond responsibilities and outputs and reach down deeper into a friendship based on mutual trust and respect. These are my go-to people. What differentiates these relationships from those that sustain themselves at a healthy functional level (that is, relationships that don’t go beyond surface conversations)? The relationships that have taken a life of their own and move beyond the basics demonstrate a common theme:  effective communication.

I cannot say whether these partners exist on a different wavelength and effective communication therefore comes naturally to our engagements or if we simply caught each other at the right time and in the right place. I can say that these partnerships revolve around deep mutual respect and as a result a willingness to listen, reflect, and engage in conversations at a new level. These conversations move from functioning to creating. Living in the world of creation requires more than hearing; it requires listening which takes the physical experience of sound to a place that is able to forge new territories in work and in partnership.

My curiosity about what does and does not work in communication and in determining how to more quickly move all client, vendor, and teammate relationships into the world of partnership has led me to examine all kinds of materials on effective communication. Over time, I’ll cover various aspects of communication that together will distinguish how functional relationships can more quickly be moved into a world of creative partnership.

In People Skills, by Robert Bolton, the author covers a list of Dirty Dozen communication roadblocks that many of us employ when we converse with others. Aside from demonstrating genuine interest in body language and by making eye contact, how we facilitate conversations with our listening largely depends on how fluidly we place ourselves in the other person’s shoes. If we can sit in the world of the speaker, we can engage in the kind of conversation that produces partnership and unexpected positive results (vs. functional relationships). The 12 tendencies that are most powerful in blocking a relationship from developing into partnership run the gamut and are likely part of every person’s repertoire. If you’re having a hard time imagining these blocks in action, imagine a high stakes or highly emotional situation and how each would be ineffective in moving the relationship towards partnership.


  1. Criticizing (negative evaluation)
  2. Name calling
  3. Diagnosing or analyzing
  4. Evaluative praise

Sending Solutions

  1. Ordering
  2. Threatening
  3. Moralizing (preaching the “shoulds” and “oughts” as defined by the listener)
  4. Excessive questioning
  5. Advising

Avoiding Other’s Concerns

  1. Diverting
  2. Providing a logical argument
  3. Reassuring (stopping the speaker from experiencing the emotions associated with their words)

For the next two weeks watch how you listen and when you employ any of the Dirty Dozen. In my self-examination, I noticed I lean heavily on two particular road blocks: providing a logical argument and reassuring others. By eliminating these temporarily from my conversational vocabulary, I’ve noticed others sharing more information and ideas with me when typically these conversations would have ended (albeit happily and in good graces) with little shift or transformation from relationship to partnership.

As the Buddha so beautifully described, “[Listening] is very simple. You only have to be mindful of two things: Listen attentively to others when they are talking and even more attentively to yourself when you are talking.”

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