Are you a horrible conversation partner?

three common mistakes in communication

Do you know wonderful people who just have one mistake? They are not fun to speak with. They might mean well but sound like downers, self-centered, uninterested, negative or even annoying.

Maybe you will find that one or more behaviors apply to you? In that case, don't fret, you will find a remedy at the end of this article.

Three common communication errors that can make you seem negative

Making it all about you

If someone tells you about their hard day at work, they are looking for empathy. You appear selfish and belittling if you respond to their story with a story of your own, or if you feel the need to “top” everything someone says.

That does not just apply to an offline conversation, but social media as well.

Typically, the people I see “hijacking” a story mean well and are unaware of the negative feeling they cause. By assessing your problems as more severe, you tell another person that their problems don't matter, or at least don't weight as much.

By dismissing a person's needs, you also provide a basis for conflict.

Recommended approach:

Focus on the person who is opening up about a difficulty or tells a story, and talk about your situation later. Consider giving someone the attention and empathy they are looking for.

Instead of comparing the severity of issues, focus on the importance a person has for you. If you have to judge, decide on this question: “Does this person deserve my full attention?”

An exception is a “learn story.” Skilled communicators can tell stories that help someone to come to a certain conclusion. These stories are not told to take the spotlight of the first person, but to offer support.

Pointing out every mistake

There are two types who have a tendency to focus on negative aspects of conversations or written articles:

  • The well-meaning person who thinks the other person wants to know
  • The person who wishes to look good by making others look bad

While the first category means well, constantly and generally pointing out errors can be perceived as negativity. Offering information that helps people to grow or avoid mistakes is a positive and helpful thing to do. It requires a bit of sensitivity and empathy to know how much is too much.

And also:

  • Is this the best place and time for my critique?
  • Do I offer a healthy mix of feedback, or am I focusing on finding things to disagree with?
  • Is my feedback constructive? Does it help the other person/is it something they can change?

Coming across as someone who is actively looking for mistakes is not considered a likable characteristic. It also bears the risk that all feedback from such a person will be dismissed and not taken to heart.

Recommended approach:

Generally speaking: Unless someone is proposing something dangerous, it might not be necessary to point out every little mistake in the world, especially when the error in question is irrelevant to the big picture.

Not listening

Reading and listening with a nonjudgmental and positive mind leads to better relationships. If you disagree with someone or someone made a mistake, try to point it out in a non-condescending and constructive manner.

Occasionally we know what someone is about to say. Every so often, we just think we know. Either way: If we finish someone's sentence (or what we assume they are going to say) we are disempowering them.

But not just that. We might miss the most important information, even if we indeed assume correctly. The emotions. How do they feel about it?

If we think we know what someone is going to say, we stop to listen. The more connected someone feels with us during a conversation, the more information, facts and emotions they are going to share with us.

If our assumption is incorrect, our conversation partner might tell us less than they planned.

Recommended approach:

Listen with an open mind. Focus on your conversation partner and listen nonjudgmental and with interest. Even if you are not able at first to stop your brain from making assumptions, you can stop yourself from disempowering someone by keeping it to yourself.

Active empathic listening in 8 steps

Here is an old recording I found that you might find useful:


How can you elevate your conversation skills?

If you felt that your communication skills are an area with room for improvement, I invite you to contact me about our emotional intelligence training.