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3 Surefire Ways to Guarantee Communication Failure

Communication Failure

Communication Failure

We’ve all experienced times where we thought we had communicated clearly only to come to the conclusion that a misunderstanding had occurred. And during those highly irritating moments, our immediate reaction is to seek to lay blame on something or someone, further enhancing communication failure. The 3 sure ways to guarantee communication failure are simple to prevent yet powerfully ingrained in our norms of communication because we haven’t been taught otherwise. Here are the 3 very common communication derailers and simple ways to prevent them from happening.

Allowing Silence to be the Answer to a Question

Do you have any questions? Ask that question of a group of people, and you have three possible asnwers – “yes”, “no”, or silence. Which response is most typical? Silence. And that is a sure way to guarantee communication failure. Why? It’s a fact – most people are uncomfortable acknowledging a lack of knowledge, skills, or ability.  Allowing silence to be the answer to any question means you did not check for and confirm understanding.

Solution: To avoid communication failures when silence is the response to any question, ask follow up questions, ask for people to repeat back what was said, or ask for people to demonstrate an action to ensure understanding. Do this consistently, and you’ll notice people will start proactively speaking up as you will have built up the habit of doing so.

Using the Word “But”

We all have heard this one before – any time you use the word “but”, you negate any positive comments that may have preceded the use of the word. Using “but” is a guaranteed way to lead to reduced listening, increased tension, and a destruction of trust. Yet people still use it. Why? It’s a habit, and to break any bad habit, you have to become aware of what triggers your usage. Every habit three (3) parts – a trigger, the behavior, and the reward. You don’t have to replace the trigger or the reward…you just need to replace the behavior. By doing so, you’ll replace the bad habit using triggers and rewards you’ve come accustomed to.

Solution: To change your habit of using “but”, simply do this – when you’re about to say “but”, replace it with another word. Often times “and” can serve as a suffcient and much more effective replacement. Eliminating “but” will enhance the perception others have of you as an inclusive and empathetic communicator – which are required traits to have in order to be able to effectively influence others.

Asking Vague Questions While Expecting Specific Outcomes

Most people are not aware how often they use this communication derailing technique. I’ll prove it to you. Take out a sheet of paper. Write down at least 5 answers to this question: What do you expect of your spouse/significant other or of your boss? Don’t read further until you’ve written down 5 or more answers.

Time for Answers

Time for Answers

Your answers are likely to include responses such as trust, respect, commitment, good communicator, etc. Here’s the challenge with those answers. They are outcomes, not actions. Trust, respect, commitment, etc are outcomes. They don’t describe what actions you expect someone to be taking to achieve the results you desire. We tend to confuse outcomes for actions, and this is a surefire way to guarantee communication failure. Why? Most people have a picture in their mind of what the outcome looks like or what action someone should be taking to achieve the desired result, and we don’t share those details assuming the other person/people know what we’re thinking.

Solution: When asking a question, be sure to clarify what you expect to ensure people understand what you’re asking. A simple technique to use to ensure understanding is to always ask yourself – what would a person be doing or saying to achieve the desired outcome? So what would you expect of your significant other or boss? You say “Trust”. So what would a person be doing or what would they be saying to build trust? As this example points out, when you consistently answer what someone would be saying or doing before setting expectations of others, you paint a picture of clarity for you and others that will significantly increase communication success.


At ICTS, we are experts who help individuals, managers, and teams all over the world significantly improve their ability to communicate. Our techniques are proven and highly effective because many of our clients operate in dangerous work environments, and failures in communication can result in employee injury and death. Don’t you want to increase yours and your team’s performance while reducing rework and operating costs? We can teach you and your organization the very same highly effective communication techniques that we’ve taught to thousands of people globally.

Visit and email me today at for more information on enhancing communication in your organization.


This is good information. I really enjoyed the alternate view of communication provided here. All too often do we see information regarding improving our communication rather than what to avoid. The latter is equally important and you’ve nailed it. Thank you.

Thank you for the awesome compliment! It is very sincerely appreciated. And I also appreciate your excellent points and insights. Thanks again, and do visit our blog on a regular basis as your comments and feedback add to the richness and value of the topics we cover. 🙂

I certainly plan to thank you. I’ve written a piece on Adaptive Leadership Methodology you might find interesting. and the post is called Leadership Revolution. I hope we can learn from one another and develop these theories of leadership to support those we serve. Thanks for your interest and capabilities within such a crucial topic.