In our daily lives, we are continuously communicating, both verbally (with words) and non-verbally (gestures). This communication can go well, but can also end in a conflict, often because people do not fully understand each other.

There are a number of dysfunctional ways of communicating, which are explained below. Occasionally, it is normal to communicate this way, but doing this too often can cause problems. Do you recognize yourself responding in these ways? Each method of communication also contains some tips on how to improve your way of communicating.

Reading minds

When we interact with people for a long time, it sometimes seems as if we know what someone else is thinking and vice versa. But this is not always true. We tend to make assumptions. You don’t know what the other person is thinking for sure, unless you ask. If people don’t talk to each other this can result in conflict, simply because you don’t understand each other. For example: you come home from work and you see that the dishes are not done, while your partner knows that you hate coming home to a dirty house after a long day of work. You automatically get angry and assume he doesn’t think you are worthy of being considered, and, without saying anything, you run upstairs and lie down in your bed. Does your partner know what you are thinking? Do you know what your partner is thinking?

Exercise: Are there other ways to respond to situations similar like this one? If so, describe the consequences of this alternative response.

Collecting stamps

Do you say what you are thinking, or do you rather ‘collect stamps’?

Your partner says or does something that you are not happy with or that annoys you, but you don’t say anything because you don’t want to argue or whine. Subconsciously, you put a ‘stamp’ in your savings book. At some point, the booklet is full; you have the feeling that you have endured enough, which results in you exploding. The next time something happens, even if it is something very small, you will get very angry! All the complaints you have been holding back come flying out. Chances are that the other person sees this as very unexpected and reacts angrily as well; exactly what you don’t want.

Three tips to collect fewer stamps:

  1. Be aware of the moments that you feel you are adapting to keep the peace. This is exactly the time when you should choose to assess the situation for facts.
  2. Use Marshall B. Rosenberg’s model of nonviolent communication, which consists of four steps: 1. State what happens, 2. State your feelings, 3. State your need, 4. Say what you do want. You communicate your entire experience and indicate what happens to you, and what you would like; there are no ‘stamps’ involved!
  3. Explore how you see yourself and the world around you. When you are convinced that you are OK, and the other person is also OK, the main motivation to always adapt your behaviour to others will disappear.

Exercise: When you notice that someone’s actions are annoying you, but you don’t say anything to keep the peace, try simply mentioning it – “I find it annoying when you leave the door open” – instead of letting it happen a few times and then reacting angrily; “you ALWAYS leave that door open”.

Keeping silent

Keeping silent is seen as a facade technique used to prevent other people from seeing their true feelings. Silence is used to reveal as little of themselves as possible and often arises due to fear or uncertainty. It can be an effective technique, but the drawbacks are significant. The silent party puts himself at a disadvantage by missing opportunities to express himself, which can negatively affect a group decision or relationship.

It is important to learn to deal with your fear. The best way to achieve this is to ‘just’ do it.

Exercise: Try to say or ask something in a situation in which you notice that you are consciously silent. For example, practise with someone who you feel comfortable practising with first, e.g. someone who is close to you. You can review your sociogram for this.

Stay vague

Vague or ‘woolly’ language is used by many people. Those who are vague in terms of language often obscure the message, are unclear, indirect in communication, fail at conveying a message or do not get to the heart of the matter.

Someone can have different reasons for choosing vague language. It is sometimes done consciously (e.g. a politician who does not want to give a clear answer). It can also be a habit that they are not aware of. Also, it can be a form of indirect resistance or a way to avoid conflict.

In the case of conflict avoidance, people often don’t get to the point because they find it difficult to tell the real message, or because they are afraid of hurting someone or not being liked.

Some tips to be less vague:

  1. Determine the message you want to convey in advance
  2. Think of a sentence you want to use and use it in the conversation
  3. Be aware of how long it takes for you to convey your message
  4. Try to lead the conversation and focus less on how the other reacts

Exercise: If you need to convey a difficult message, try using the tips above. Write down exactly what the message is, and how you could say this as directly as possible.


Blaming is a way of communication that leads nowhere, except for damaging your relationships. When you blame, you blame the other person for something that you think they should or shouldn’t have done or said. For example: “I have always been there for you, but now that I am moving you are nowhere to be seen” or “You can exercise three times a week, but you don’t have time to see me“.

Behind every reproach is actually a desire that is not expressed. In the examples above, this would be “I would like your help with moving houses” or “I would like your attention and time”.

Therefore, blaming is ineffective because you don’t actually say what you mean, and the other person often responds negatively because it can feel like a personal attack.

Exercise: When you notice or feel that you are blaming someone, try to find out what your need is in that situation and how you could explain that without blaming the other person.

General exercise

In which of the 5 ways of communication listed above do you recognize yourself? Think about the situations in which you use them most often. Write those down below:

Communication patterns         In which situation?

_____________________ _____________________________

_____________________ _____________________________

_____________________ _____________________________

_____________________ _____________________________

____________________ _____________________________


What are your experiences with these ways of communicating? What works and what doesn’t work?





Wiertzema & P. ​​Jansen (2005). Basic principles of communication. Pearson Education.

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