What gets in the way?

Oct 30 2015 by Peter Vajda Print This Article

So, you're having a conversation. Everything started off well. But all of a sudden, the conversation derails, beset by misunderstandings, confusion, talking at cross-purposes and the like. Why does that happen?

Well, the short answer is you - or rather, your mind. The very mind you rely on for information and to keep the conversation going is also the mind that can sabotage the conversation. Faulty thinking is the cause and ineffective communication is the result.

Here are some ways your mind gets in the way of your understanding of other people and their points of view.


You decide to zero in on a particular aspect of the conversation - a detail, a feeling a word or an expression - and you allow this one element to influence you. It's like after having bought a red car, all you seem to notice is other red cars. Nothing else can get through your "filtering" system.

Almost everyone has their own set of filters - often unconscious. Victims look through their victimization filter; anxious folks look through their anxiety filters; angry people look through their anger filters - all to the exclusion of anything else. All they see is their red car. And, afterwords, the red car is all they remember. Nothing more; nothing less.

Either-or thinking

The world is black or white - no shades of grey allowed. You are this way or that way. People who think like this live in a world of emotional extremes and they judge others by their own extreme standards.

Painting with a broad brush

Generalizing is what's going on here. Jumping to generalizations with little or no evidence. The words "always", "never", "everyone", "no-one" and collective words and phrases such as "Democrats," leaders," "women" are symptomatic of this.


Some people rush to make judgments, critiques, assumptions or conclusions about others' values, motives, intentions or feelings. They project their own "stuff" on to others without ever checking out the truth of their assumptions or conclusions.


Making a molehill into a mountain, a hangnail into a catastrophe. It's the end of the world, of my relationship, of my career. Very infectious.

Taking it personally

You become the center of the Universe. Everything revolves around you. No matter who says what, you make it personal and take is personally. The person who goes to a football game and when a team goes into a huddle, s/he thinks they're talking about "me".

Control issues

You feel you are being manipulated by others and/or needing to be the savior of everyone in your life. You either become mired in the quicksand of neediness and helplessness or you walk through life carrying anyone's and everyone's burdens on your shoulders. You are guilt-ridden.


Looking for someone to blame is a common strategy for many - and it is an abdication of self-responsibility.


This has to do with expecting how others are to think, be and act. "I am the sole determiner of how you choose to live your life and if you deviate from my rules, you are either bad, or wrong."

Three questions for self-reflection

  • Do you see yourself in any of the scenarios above? If so, how does that make you feel?
  • Are you a good listener? How do you know?
  • What is your dominate way of speaking? Do you show understanding, appreciation gratitude and respect or are you critical, gossipy, condemning and blaming?

The need to be right

This results in defensiveness. The way you see things is the right way. You're not open to alternatives, suggestions or other perspectives. Listening is difficult. You're rather be right than happy.

So, what to do?

In a word, listen. Really listen. Listen deeply.

Deep listening means we care about and hear what others need. When we listen - really listen - we let go of our usual filters and are unconcerned about our own needs for control, recognition and security. We listen deeply when we listen with a compassionate heart.

"Once a human being has arrived on this earth, communication is the largest single factor determining what kinds of relationships he makes with others and what happens to him in the world about him." [Virginia Satir ]

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About The Author

Peter Vajda
Peter Vajda

Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a seminar leader, workshop facilitator and speaker. He is the founding partner of True North Partnering, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counselling and facilitating.