As Tad hung up the phone, he realized he did it again. He fell for the trap and now it is over. Tad wanted so much to have a relationship with his estranged adult daughter that he kept trying to converse with her. But at nearly every turn, she set a trap for him to get upset or emotional and then she would shut it down saying he was out of control.
Susan experienced something similar at work. She felt like her boss hated her. Every time she would approach him, he would give a quick distracted response that didn’t really address the issue. When she asked for clarification, he redirected her to someone else who wasn’t helpful. Frustrated, Susan would attempt again only to hear that she was being indecisive and sensitive.
Eric and Erin were out to dinner celebrating their 11th wedding anniversary. The conversation started off well until Eric mentioned the excessive cost of the lobster on the menu. Erin, tired of hearing him complain about money and how much things cost yet again, shut down. Eric became frustrated which closed Erin up even more. They barely spoke for the remainder of the meal.
All of these are conversation traps. Tad’s daughter passive-aggressively sets up a trap so she can get out of the conversation. Susan’s boss is more aggressive in his verbal assaults. While Eric and Erin passively fall into well-rehearsed disputes as naturally as they discuss the weather. So, what are these traps and how can they be avoided? Here are 11 examples.
- All or nothing thinking: This is talking about things in black or white absolute categories or offering only two extreme choices. “You are always late.” “I never do anything right.” “It is either this way or that way.”
- Avoid this by Not accepting the two extremes and instead offer a suggestion in the middle.
- Overgeneralization: This is turning one negative event into total failure. “This bullying will never end.” “I’m stuck forever.” “This is never going to end; I should just give up.”
- Avoid this by: Recognize that one negative statement doesn’t mean the entire conversation needs to end. Show some grace.
- Mental Filter: This is focusing on one negative comment and filtering out all the positive. For example, ignoring the five compliments and focusing on one critical remark.
- Avoid this by Not ignoring the positive. Focus on the positive and put the negative comments aside.
- Discounting the positives: This is discounting your accomplishments and/or positive inputs as insignificant. “Your accomplishments don’t matter, what have you done for me lately.” “You are engaging me out of pity.”
- Avoid this by Again, focus on the positive contribution and put aside the negative.
- Mind reading: This is making assumptions that people are thinking bad about you. “I know you think I’m stupid.” “They must be mad at me.”
- Avoid this by Doing some reality testing. Did a person say they were mad? If not, don’t assume the worse. Assumptions kill honest communication.
- Fortune telling: This is predicting things will turn out badly. “There is no way they will like my idea.” “This is never going to work.”
- Avoid this by Not assuming the worst possible outcome.
- Magnification or minimization: This is blowing things out of proportion (magnification) or minimize their significance. Magnification is making a mountain out of a molehill and minimization is making a molehill out of a mountain.
- Avoid this by Putting things into the proper context. Context is everything in a conversation. Don’t add meanings unnecessarily.
- Emotional reasoning: This is reasoning from how you feel. “I feel dumb so I must be.” “I feel guilty so I must be guilty of something.”
- Avoid this by Accepting your feelings without incorporating them into the conversation or holding the other person responsible for how you feel.
- “Should” statements: This is criticizing yourself and others with “should,” “shouldn’t,” must,” “have to,” and “ought”. “I should have done that.” “You must do this.”
- Avoid this by Not using these words. “Should” statements carry an assumption of guilt or shame with them and can be harmful to the receiver.
- Labeling: This is attaching a harsh label to yourself or others when you or they have made a mistake. “I’m a loser.” “You’re a fool.”
- Avoid this by Not labeling yourself or others. This is harmful and can be emotionally damaging.
- Blame: This is blaming yourself or others for something you or they weren’t responsible for. “It’s my fault that you are married.” “You are to blame for my marriage falling apart.”
- Avoid this by Accepting responsibility for the things that are yours and not casting blame on others for things that are out of their control.
Learning to avoid these conversational traps will transform the way you communicate with others. These are worth reviewing before key discussions or emotionally charged events.