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Forms of Communication that are Damaging to Relationships

Updated on May 7, 2015

No one is perfect. Everyone has one sort of communication problem or another. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of books that give us direction on good communication skills. Plenty of talk radio with psychologists tell us how to and how not to communicate with family, friends, and people in general. Yet still, we so often get it wrong.

Today I'd like to explore the biggest no-no's in communication. And let me just say, I have done, and still do sometimes use these bad forms of communication. They seem to be ingrained in us. But that is no excuse.

The following communication methods are signs of disrespect, arrogance, superiority, and meanness. I hope we can all be willing to examine ourselves and be willing to change. That is my prayer for myself as well as other.

Smirking is rude

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Facial and head expression

Eye rolling - This is probably the most disrespectful, humiliating, silent expression on the planet. And though it's audibly silent, the visual message is powerful. Eye rolling is an instinctual behavior. But it's hurtful, therefore wrong. The message: "This person is lame, stupid, clueless, and annoying."

Shaking your head - This can be just as rude in certain situations. It is shaming and judgmental toward someone's comments or actions. The message: "You don't have a clue; you're stupid, I can do that a thousand times better than you."

Looking away from the speaker - This may not sound so bad, but when someone is talking to you, especially about something serious, it can send the message that the speaker, his thoughts, feelings, and opinions, and the issue itself, is either lame, boring, or you just don't care. You'd rather be anywhere than being in front of this person. They say the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.

The smirk - Very hurtful. The message: That you are amused at someone's idiocy (in your opinion), or that you are enjoying their misfortune. Often times there is a third party present who is in on the smirking. Humiliating!

Looking down your nose - Visually, this look is where you are lowering your chin and looking at the speaker over your glasses. Whether you are actually wearing glasses or not, the expression is demeaning. The message: "Are you kidding me? Are you serious? You don't know what you're talking about." Even if the speaker is misinformed or extremely off the wall, there is no need to look down your nose at them.

Scrunch face - If the speaker is speaking about something obviously gross or in some way unpleasant, and it's evident the speaker feels the same way, this is a moot point. But sometimes the speaker is seriously talking about something that they recognize is not pleasant but needs your affirmation of something neutral at the very least.The message: "You are as disgusting as the subject matter." Having said this, people should refrain about really heinous disgusting, graphic things - TMI's.

Yawning - Yawning cannot be helped most of the time, but there are times when bored and we yawn. The message: "You are boring, your subject matter has no appeal to me, I want to go home and take a nap.


Sighing - Sighing sends the message that you are put out or you are enduring something with great distress. You are the martyr ( a very ugly characteristic). This happens a lot with children to their parents, and between husbands and wives. Sometimes you get it from customer service people.

Tsk Tsking - Tsking can be an expression of pity (Oh, you poor little thing), or "You should be ashamed of yourself." Neither one is kind.

Tight-lipped raspberry - This is hard to describe. I've never heard a name for it. But it's when you have your lips tightly together and you blow between them making a funny noise. The idea is you're stifling a laugh. This noise also often goes with eye rolling or head shaking. The message is "How ridiculous!" "That's lame," "That's so stupid." Another humiliation style communication.

A Hilarious Skit on bad attitude and communication

Disrespectful expressions

Ha! - "Ha! Are you kidding me?" Or "Ha! that'll be the day"; "Ha! he finally got his"; or "Ha, I told you so." Derisive expressions like this wound and shame. The message: "You are stupid."

Oh My God! - The message here is, like many of the others, that what you've just heard is ridiculous, stupid, or shocking (when it shouldn't be). Eye rolling and other visual expressions also often go in tandem with this expression. And FYI, it has nothing whatsoever to do with God. His name is holy, and this is as much a taking of the Lord's name in vain as GD or JC.

Really? Are you kidding me? Are you serious? I don't believe this! - Yes, they probably are and you are not superior to the speaker. This is an expression of incredulity that anyone could be so stupid and delusional. Sometimes there are situations when these expressions are appropriate, but most often they are hurtful.

Whatever! - Not okay. It's on the top ten list of the most disrespectful expressions. This expression is mostly used in an argument, or to prevent the escalation of an argument. Let me ask you - is it working for you? It may stop the argument, but you have done further damage to the relationship. The message says, "You're feelings and opinions are stupid, lame, and I don't care enough resolving the issues because you're a jerk, you're wrong, and I'm right and unworthy of you.

Ya think? You are effectively saying "You're a moron!" "You don't know what you're talking about." It also implies that only you and the rest of the world know everything. Another of the top ten on disrespectful comments. This hurts and humiliates.

Ya right! As if! You're clueless! - Another "you're a moron," comment. "You don't know what you're talking about."

You always or you never - This is one of most instinctual expressions known to man. I must admit, I have to work very hard at this one with certain people. I'm making good headway, but every once in a while it creeps on. It is very ineffective in resolving conflict. It's a blaming expression. Blaming in conflict is never effective. The fact is likely that the person may not always or never, just a lot. But that's not the point.

You should or shouldn't - Another ingrained comment. While it may be true (or close to it), people don't like to be told what to do in this manner. It's ineffective in conflict resolution.

This boy needs some manners

Body language and gestures

Arms folded - In the movie 'Saving Mr. Banks," Pamela Travers, the rigid, uptight, unyielding writer of Mary Poppins reluctantly accompanies Walt Disney on a tour of the Magic Kingdom. Determined not to show any weakness, she folds her arms and scowls to show her host she is not feeling the magic, and has no intention of doing so. Message: "I am closed to whoever or whatever is going on." It can also mean, "I'm angry." This can be instinctual and unconscious. Little children often do this accompanied by a scowl and a pouting lower lip. Sometimes, I just find it a comfortable position.

Hand on the hip - A-T-T-I-T-U-D-E!!! If you use this in a humorous situation it's not a biggie, usually. But I've seen little girls use this to be sassy or bossy. They are emulating someone - could it be you?

The slouch - I saw Justin Beiber doing this recently in the video where he was giving a deposition. Every time the attorney asked a question he slouched, averted and/or rolled his eyes. What disrespect! This is a strong message that you are not only disinterested, and think that whatever is going on is unimportant, but that you don't care, because you are so above the other person. It is a common body position of a teen or young person with a bad attitude, but certainly not exclusively.

Pointing a finger - This is usually done in anger and used to threaten, intimidate, or blame. It is physically a very aggressive action and the pointer is usually hostile. If the pointer is over the top hostile, his finger gets way to close to the face. This could instigate a violent altercation or absolutely intimidate someone into submissive fear.

Flipping the bird - People that use this gesture regularly fail to show the world they have any intelligence. It's like people who consistently, and liberally, pepper their speech with F-bombs. This gesture is usually used in anger - especially in traffic situations. But now I see young people using it in photos on FB. You've seen them - a group of young people all smiling, laughing and jeering and at least one or two is flipping the bird. Gee, that sure is cute - NOT! Grow up!

Two person against one communication

The whisper behind the hand - This one takes me back to second grade while on the playground, and two of the "popular" kids decide I'm the lamest thing in the whole world. You've probably done it, and had it done to you. The instigator and her side kick decide to humiliate a vulnerable kid by whispering to each other and giggling and maybe pointing a little. In actuality, the whispering is just loud enough sometimes for the vulnerable person to hear derisive comments or gossip about them. Let's get real, adults do this once in a while too, but perhaps in a more subdued manner. Perhaps you walk into a room or go by two people who are whispering and they see you coming and smirk, or wink, whisper another word or two, then stop abruptly when you walk by. That feels just awful. We have all done it, and we've all experienced it.

Some people like to bite and devour each other


The attitude behind these communications

Most of the communication actions I've written about here are due to bad attitude and disrespect. We have all been the recipient and the donor, haven't we? Why do we say and do these things? Is there something deeper?

Fear! Fear is the predominant reason people communicate this way. Bullies are afraid, vulnerable people are afraid, arguing people are afraid. Many of these communication methods occur as a defense mechanism. Bullies are insecure, so before someone can hurt them, they hurt first.

Conflict in personal relationships cause fear in us and we use some terrible communication methods to protect ourselves. Protecting ourselves is often done through hurting the other person and disarming them. "Whatever!" can stop an argument on a dime, but the damage done is terrible. Resolving the conflict has just been set way back.

Disrespectful actions and comments are often evidence of a serious anger problem. Reduce the anger to the lowest common denominator and you have, once again, fear. But fear is no excuse to be unkind, hurtful and disrespectful. Just because a man grew up with an abusive father doesn't mean he is exempt from taking responsibility for his own abusive behavior. His anger is an explanation, but not an excuse.

We often hurt others to make ourselves feel more important. If you can make that person everyone seems to like more than you look bad by being hurtful, then you delude yourself into thinking you have just elevated yourself in other's esteem.

It is common for people to value being right over the good of the relationship. So many couples end up in divorce court because one or both always had to be right. This is called pride. The idea of humbling themselves and working together toward a solution is foreign. Sadly, sometimes one spouse is consistently more resistant to humility than the other and the humble spouses best efforts aren't enough to save the marriage. It takes both parties being humble at some point. Is being right, alone and bitter, better than being wrong, admitting it, and enjoying a close relationship? This is called meekness, not weakness. Meekness is not being a spineless milk toast; it is exercising self-control.

Humility (not humiliation) is a crucial component in healthy relationships - period. If one cannot be humble, teachable, willing to take responsibility for their actions and reactions, then that one can expect to be miserable and it is guaranteed they will make others miserable too.

© 2014 Lori Colbo


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    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 3 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Thanks for stopping by Anya.

    • abrodech profile image

      Anya Brodech 3 years ago from 130 Linden St, Oakland, California, 94607

      All very true!


    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 3 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Hello midget, thanks for stopping by. Your advice is spot on. Blessings.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      And, this is why we should always practice self awareness! Our body language may not hit the spot, for sure.

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 3 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Hi Suzanne, the silent treatment is a very disrespectful behavior. I heard a quote recently that said "The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference." Often times people are silent as a mean, spiteful way to manipulate or punish. But then there are people who are just so indifferent they don't pay any attention.

    • Suzanne Day profile image

      Suzanne Day 3 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

      I feel people who are disrespectful are either immature or just unable to communicate properly. One thing an ex of mine did, was not to acknowledge anything said at all. You'd ask a question and he would not answer....or indicate he had heard. You'd have to say "did you hear me?" and stuff like that and it was extremely irritating and definitely appeared disrepectful. Voted useful and up!

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 3 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Jeannie, don't feel bad, I am working on several myself. We could all take a lesson. Blessings my dear.

    • Jeannieinabottle profile image

      Jeannie InABottle 3 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      I am a big believer in saying "whatever"... probably too much. It is probably rude, but I guess sometimes I am a little rude. I need to work on that! I've also found with some people they are offended if you remain calm while they are flipping out. It is the ultimate insult to them. Sometimes someone has to be the rational one in the conversation. ;-) Thanks for sharing this advice!

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 3 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Okay - so I unfollowed you and followed you again. Hope tha tfixes the problem and Ii get my notifications.

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 3 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Thanks for stopping by Bill. Yes, body language speaks louder than words. I will try not to take it personally if you unfollow me. lol

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 3 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      I'm told that in public speaking, 60% of what we say is said with body language. Public speaking or not, we talk very loudly at times without making a sound. And it's the silent talk that tells the truth. Thanks for this very comprehensive list of do's and dont's.

      On another note -I'm going to unfollow you, then follow you again. Someone said that might help get notifications through more consistently.

    • profile image

      Lambservant 3 years ago

      CriSp, join the club, this hub is t0 share what I'm learning the hard way.

      thanks for stopping by.

    • CrisSp profile image

      CrisSp 3 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      Very interesting! I'm certain, I've motioned any one of these not so pleasant gestures one way or another and I'm guilty whether in oblivion or not after all, we've been married for 26 years now, celebrating 27th this summer. :)

      Great read. Up and absolutely sharing.

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 3 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Msd. Dora, it calls me to examine myself as well. I have not arrived. I have some terrible communication habits that I have been working on. As a person with a sinful nature, I have blown it with the best of them and still do. Sometimes I am preaching to myself as much as anyone else. We can all stand to learn these things. Thanks sister for stopping by.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Lori, you are excellent in this article; I cannot think of anything you left out. However, all that you mentioned calls me to examine myself and be aware of my communication habits. Thank you and voted up.

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 3 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Looks like we're in the same boat Billybuc, as I have used most of them during my life, but I am at an age where I am learning a lot about healthy communication and it truly makes a difference in relationships. Blessings brother.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      There is a very real chance that I have done most of these negative forms at one time or another, but I have learned over the years. This should be required reading for all young married couples.

      blessings always


    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 3 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Thanks for sharing Eric. What a great idea to have children practice them in front of a mirror. I hope it's very effective.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      In my home children are required to practice most of these in front of a mirror. To a one they stop doing it when they see how bad it looks to others. On the other hand we are taught to use them for purpose in confrontational communications.

      Great hub