“But I Was Just Trying To Help…”

Throughout our lives, we have learned a variety of ways to help other people when they have strong feelings, thoughts or problems. We want to be helpful, yet many of our responses actually make it more difficult for the person to express himself, make a decision or solve a problem.

Listed here are twelve of the more frequent “helping responses” which can become “Roadblocks” to communication*. When you read this list, you may feel like the rug has been pulled out from under you because so many of your regular responses are now called roadblocks.

Two things to know about “Roadblocks”:

  • These are roadblocks when the other person is experiencing a problem or strong feelings (“Other Owns a Problem”). When the relationship is in the “No Problem Area’, many of these are not blocks (e.g. joking, asking questions, etc.). Some, like name-calling and ridiculing are always risky and cause problems.
  • You are not a “bad” person because you use roadblocks. You are doing what you have been taught to do to help others. Our Gordon Model workshops (L.E.T., Be Your Best, etc.) provide you with more effective alternatives to begin using instead of these common roadblocks.

1. ORDERING, DIRECTING

Stop being so negative…
Quit worrying so much...”

  • Communicates unacceptance
  • Can cause resistance, hostility
  • Promotes rebellious behavior, retaliation

2. WARNING, THREATENING

You’ll never make it in this job if…
If you keep acting like this…

  • Communicates unacceptance
  • Can produce fear, submissiveness
  • Can cause resentment, anger, alienation

3. MORALIZING, PREACHING

Life is not a bowl of cherries…
You shouldn’t feel that way…
Patience is a virtue you should learn…

  • Creates “obligation” or guilt feelings
  • Can cause the other person to “dig in” and defend his or her position even more (“Who says?”)
  • Leads to withdrawal, alienation, or to counter moralizing. (“Well, you shouldn’t . . . either!”)

4. ADVISING, GIVING SOLUTIONS

What I would do is…
Why don’t you…
Let me suggest…

  • Can imply the other person is not able to solve own problems
  • Prevents them from thinking through a problem, considering alternative solutions, and trying them out for reality
  • Can cause dependency, or resistance

5. PERSUADING WITH LOGIC, ARGUING

Here’s why you are wrong…
The facts are…
Yes, but…

  • Provokes defensive position and counter arguments
  • Often causes the other person to “turn off” to you, to quit listening
  • Can cause them to feel inferior, inadequate

6. JUDGING, CRITICIZING, BLAMING

You are not thinking maturely…
You’re just lazy…
If you weren’t so sensitive, this wouldn’t upset you…

  • Implies incompetency, stupidity, poor judgment
  • Cuts off communication from the other person over fear of negative judgment
  • The other person often accepts judgments as true (“I am bad”) or retaliates (“You’re not so awesome yourself!”)

7. PRAISING, AGREEING

Well, I think you’re doing a great job!
You always have such good judgment…

  • Implies high expectations and possible future evaluation
  • Can be seen as patronizing or as a manipulative effort to encourage desired behavior
  • Can cause anxiety when the other person’s perception of self doesn’t match the praise

8. NAME-CALLING, RIDICULING

Boy, what a grouch…
That’s stupid to worry about one low evaluation…
Know-it-all…

  • Can cause other person to feel unworthy
  • Can have devastating effect on their self-image
  • Often provokes verbal retaliation

9. ANALYZING, DIAGNOSING

You’re saying that just to get attention…
You’re just tired…
What you really mean is…

  • Can be threatening and frustrating
  • Other person can feel either trapped, exposed, or not believed
  • Stops them from communicating for fear of distortion or exposure

10. REASSURING, SYMPATHIZING

Don’t worry,
You’ll feel better,
Oh, cheer up!

  • Causes other person to feel misunderstood
  • Evokes strong feelings of hostility. (“That’s easy for you to say!”)
  • Other person often, picks up your message as “It’s not alright for you to feel bad”

11. PROBING AND QUESTIONING

Why didn’t you mention this before now…?
Who…?
What did you think would happen…?
How long have you felt this way…?

  • Since answering questions often results in getting subsequent criticisms or solutions, other people often learn to reply with non-answers, avoidance, half-truths, or lies
  • Since questions often keep the other person in the dark as to what you’re driving at, they may become anxious and fearful
  • Other person can lose sight of his or her problem while answering questions spawned by your concerns

12. DIVERTING, SARCASM, WITHDRAWAL

Let’s talk about something good that happened…
Why don’t you try running the world!
Remaining silent; turning away.

  • Implies that life’s difficulties are to be avoided rather than dealt with
  • Can infer other person’s problems are unimportant, petty or invalid
  • Stops openness from other person when they are experiencing a difficulty

Well, so what can we do instead, you might be asking yourself. There’s a very a powerful skill we teach in our programs called Active Listening. This empathic way of listening is what the Gordon Model suggests to offer instead of these “Dirty Dozen” as Dr. Gordon named them.

And here are some blogs on Active Listening that you might find helpful:

How Active Listening works.

Are You Listening or Hearing?

Hints on Improving Your Active Listening

*The Communication Roadblocks were created and named by Dr. Thomas Gordon, creator of Leader Effectiveness Training (L.E.T.) and Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.)

 

Learn more about L.E.T.