How to Overcome 4 Common Communication Roadblocks

communication roadblocks

When you’re confronted with a colleague, child/teen, friend, or romantic partner who needs to share a problem that they have strong feelings about, do you struggle with how to respond or fear you may say the wrong thing? You’re not alone. Unfortunately, many of us have learned poor communication styles and respond in ways that may provoke resistance, resentment, or retaliation, and damage relationships. However, we can learn better communication skills.



There’s nothing worse than judgment and criticism. It lacks empathy and destroys productive communication and relationships. Click To Tweet

Researchers have examined what helps to facilitate productive communication, and what hinders it. Nearly 60 years ago, renowned communications training pioneer, clinical psychologist, and researcher Dr. Gordon Thomas determined a number of behaviors that impede productive communication in parents and leaders. He called them Communication Roadblocks, and they still hold true today.

They have inspired the following suggestions to help you overcome common communication roadblocks when someone comes to you to share a problem that they have strong feelings about.


1. Don’t Be An “Authoritarian”

If you’re in a position of power, such as in a supervisory or parental role, take off your authoritarian “hat” when an employee or child/teen shares a problem with you. No one wants to be coerced. Avoid these behaviors:

  • Responding with statements like “You must…” or “You have to…” will surely hinder communication. This kind of response lacks empathy and fails to acknowledge the person’s feelings, making them feel resentful and retaliatory. Often, responding in this manner will immediately end further communication, and you’ll lose an opportunity to hear an important concern.
  • Similarly, statements like “You’d better stop, or I’ll…” and “If you don’t, then…” are void of empathy or understanding and tend to cause resentment and resistance.
  • Also lacking empathy, responding with “You should…” or “You ought to…” indicates that the person needs to adopt what others deem to be right. It can cause guilt and conveys that the person sharing is not as wise as you, and they may resist and defend their own postures even more strongly.

2. Avoid “Big Me, Little You”

People want to be heard. When they offer up a problem, you may be compelled to try and solve it. Be careful of slipping into a destructive “Big Me, Little You” dynamic. Keep the focus on the person’s ability to find a solution, by avoiding the following approaches:

  • Giving advice. Responding with “I would do…” or “Why don’t you try…” robs them of the opportunity to think through an issue, consider options, and try them out. It encourages dependence and will trigger resistance.
  • Using logic. Statements like “Wouldn’t it be better if…” and “Let’s look at the facts…” indicate your failure to hear the person and a desire to influence them with your own ideas. You become like a teacher, and the person may feel you see them as inadequate. They may become defensive or resentful, or they may defend their position more strongly. It halts continued communication.
  • Playing therapist with phrases like “You’re just trying to…” or “You probably are feeling like that because…” can be threatening. If the analysis is accurate, the person may feel embarrassed at being exposed. If the analysis is wrong, they may feel hurt, angry, and resistant.

3. Don’t Dismiss

Don’t discount, dismiss, or deny the problem or the pain that the person shares with you. If you find yourself doing it, you might want to examine if what they are sharing is making you anxious or uncomfortable. Avoid these 3 dismissive behaviors:

  • Reassuring. Statements like “Don’t worry…” or “It could be worse…” minimize the person’s feelings and deny the seriousness of their problem, making them feel like you don’t really understand, and possibly like you wish to change them.
  • Questioning. Responding with questions like “Why did you say that?” or “Then what did you do?” ignores the feelings of the person and indicates that you actually do not want to deal with the feelings or problem that was shared.
  • Responses like “I’d rather not discuss this…” or “It’s your problem to handle…” clearly communicates a lack of respect for the person’s feelings. People are usually serious when they get the courage to talk about their feelings. If they hear a response that diverts or ignores them, it can make them feel hurt, rejected, belittled, frustrated, or angry.

4. Avoid Judging, Good or Bad

There’s nothing worse than judgment and criticism. It lacks empathy and destroys productive communication and relationships. Avoid it by being aware of these 3 behaviors:

  • Judgmental responses like “You’re not seeing this correctly…” or “You created this problem…” risk making a person feel defensive, inadequate, inferior, stupid, unworthy, or bad. You’re teaching that person to keep their feelings to themselves as it’s not safe to reveal their problems. Often, they become angry and feel hostile (especially if the judgment is correct).
  • Surprisingly, responding with favorable assessments like “I totally agree with how you handled that…” or “You did the right thing…” can have a negative effect because the person realizes you may easily judge them negatively in the future. Or if you praise often, its absence may be interpreted as criticism. Praise can feel manipulative, a subtle way of influencing others to do what you want them to do. And if you praise a lot, you may make a person too dependent on it.
  • Statements like “Okay, know-it-all…” or “You women/men/teenagers/seniors are all…” will likely make a person feel foolish, inferior, or wrong. It provokes defensiveness and may incite the person to argue or fight back rather than take a closer look at themselves. It does not convey acceptance and empathy.

Practice Active Listening

When a person comes to you to share a problem, avoid communication roadblocks by becoming an active listener, a skill used in interpersonal psychotherapy. When another person is sharing a problem, give them your full attention, show you are listening with your body language, and increase empathy by getting outside of yourself to get a sense of what they are thinking and feeling. Research on developing effective communication skills suggests following these tips:

  • Make time for the person by eliminating distractions such as the phone or by moving to a quiet room. Remove physical barriers, such as a desk, between you and the other party.
  • Physically show you are listening by making eye contact and acknowledging what the other person is saying with facial and body gestures. Avoid arm crossing as it conveys a guarded stance and may suggest arrogance, dislike, or disagreement.
  • Repeat back what they have heard with statements like “I hear you saying…” or “Is that what you meant?” Practicing this will help you to clearly hear and understand what the other person is communicating.

Research shows that this kind of active listening helps to strengthen personal relationships, helps to reduce marital conflict, boosts self-esteem, and reduces stress, among other benefits. It’s a communication skill that will pay dividends in all of your relationships!

Serious communication issues or conflict in important relationships can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. I have an issue communicating what should happen to make a relationship grow without being judgmental

    Comment by David Anthony Emilo — January 31, 2022 @ 3:09 AM

  2. I enjoy the article about communication skill. I want to hear more research articles about psychotherapy and how to deal with the young adults who are going through addiction, trauma and mental health issues. I am a parent facing this issue . Please help me asy son is battling mental issues

    Comment by Adjoah — January 31, 2022 @ 3:25 AM

  3. So true, my daughter is 12, I realized that my communication’s skills are really awful, right now my daughter was hospitalized 6 times in a period from May21 – today Jan31 she has PTSD and she complained with her therapist that she remembers things in said to her that lead to this outcome, I thought I was a good parent until was too late I found out that I wasn’t. I never really listened her and give the right answer just judgement. Everything got worse with the isolation for Covid19 pandemia, she got so helplessness and anxious to cause panic attacks and suicidal thoughts.

    Comment by Maria Quintana — January 31, 2022 @ 3:38 AM

  4. I appreciate these life skills tips. I hope soon you will tell us what the best forms of communication are. I feel like I’ve taken away some poor habits of communication but I don’t have solid skills to replace the old ones.
    Invaluable information.
    Thank you!

    Comment by Helen Alden — January 31, 2022 @ 3:48 AM

  5. In our current world climate it is clear to me, more than ever, how very important our words and actions are. Many thanks for this particularly timely reminder of the consequences of our words and the need for clear, non-judgmental communication skills through which we can both hear and be heard in a peaceful and productive manner.

    Comment by Jeanne Forrest — January 31, 2022 @ 4:23 AM

  6. I disagree with the “Questioning” comments. I’ve always felt that persons who do not ask questions don’t want to find out what is behind actions or what was said or done. This seems to me like the real “Don’t want to hear any more!” statement.
    I might not have committed a lot of sins (literal sins) if anyone had taken the time to dig into the background. I might have admitted my bad motives or that I said/did nothing when I should have.

    Comment by millicent hughes — January 31, 2022 @ 4:46 AM

  7. Thanks

    Comment by kent stultz — January 31, 2022 @ 5:01 AM

  8. Great information will apply it starting today thanks so much for these wonderful messages this is a great ministry.

    Comment by Paul T Paolillo — January 31, 2022 @ 5:08 AM

  9. Your products is good, especially that of memory power.

    Comment by Nwanji Gavin — January 31, 2022 @ 5:15 AM

  10. Lots of “don’ts” but very few “do’s.” Would appreciate more positive suggestions, maybe a short coaching video? Thanks!

    Comment by Constance Faddis — January 31, 2022 @ 6:17 AM

  11. I really love your emails and posts! Could you do a follow-up post that offers specific ideas for the right/helpful things to do and say in place of the four things described here as “don’ts “? Thank you so much! I wish they would have taught us these things in school. 😊

    Comment by Kelly Burgos Harper — January 31, 2022 @ 6:23 AM

  12. so basically you say nothing but “what I hear you saying is…”

    Comment by vanessa saenz — January 31, 2022 @ 6:38 AM

  13. I’m 57.. My first hurtful rejection came from my narcissistic mother when i was 7. 50 years later i got up the courage to tell her my feelings and she said it wasn’t a good time for her and a few other excuses and then went silent and blocked all my calls, texts and WhatsApp. More hurt.

    Comment by Rachelle Todres-Nash — January 31, 2022 @ 6:44 AM

  14. Thank you so much for all of the free resources (like the articles you share) that are so very helpful and practical for healthy living and continued growth!

    Comment by Kim Osborn — January 31, 2022 @ 7:00 AM

  15. This is a great article about what not to do but language around what is better to do would be helpful.

    Comment by Susie — January 31, 2022 @ 7:43 AM

  16. These are wonderful points. I see why my communications end up in the wrong direction now. Thank you. How would you handle important communications over texting? It is so difficult to find the right words. A person texts a very short message, revealing a need to share a feeling, then I need to type something to keep her/him going but any word may come out as lacking empathy or authoritarian or gossipy, or judgmental…

    Comment by sima bakva — January 31, 2022 @ 10:50 AM

  17. This is a great article , it is soooo important to be a good listener, as many people are not. This article is very helpful in so many ways. Thank you.

    Comment by Helen — January 31, 2022 @ 12:59 PM

  18. so helpful.

    Comment by claireso helpful — January 31, 2022 @ 2:43 PM

  19. Great article.You have some amazing information Daniel 🙂

    Comment by Doug — January 31, 2022 @ 4:46 PM

  20. Thank you for a wonderful outline on communication
    Are there other resources that u recommend

    Comment by Linda Reid — February 2, 2022 @ 4:48 AM

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