How to navigate a communication barrier

Sometimes it’s hard to get through to someone. We feel like they are not listening, and it’s almost as if there were a huge physical barrier between us. Often when we come up against a barrier, our inclination is to push harder in order to break it down and ‘get through to them’. We talk louder, make our point more emphatically, and even repeat ourselves – yes that old chestnut! But these strategies rarely work.

In a session with a client last week, when faced with a communication barrier, I invited her to look at the issue from a new perspective.

  • What would happen if you didn’t push against the barrier?
  • How else can you navigate the barrier?
  • What does the image of the barrier invoke in you and how you relate to the other person?
  • What other perspective can you take here?

She decided to go ‘around the barrier’ instead of pushing against it. This meant discussing strategies for how to take the other person’s side, rather than taking an opposing side, thereby reinforcing the barrier. Instead of trying to break down the barrier, she decided to metaphorically walk around the other side and ‘stand next to the person’.

To take another person’s side means you need to put yourself in their shoes and take a moment to really understand their perspective. Once you step into their shoes, you automatically go behind the barrier, and into their world. Once people feel like you appreciate where they are coming from, they are more likely to listen to your perspective. Try it and see. You may be surprised how quickly the wall disappears.

Coaching tips:

Consider these questions next time you come up against a barrier:

  • What does this person need me to appreciate?
  • How am I conveying that I really get it?
  • What is the emotion behind their need for me to know this?
  • Have I addressed their real concern?
  • If I were them, how would I view my own behaviour?