NDSU Extension - Sargent County


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Negative Communication Patterns Damage Relationships

Negative Communication Patterns Damage Relationships 12/09/16The way people communicate in conflict situations has been shown to be an accurate indicator of whether their relationship will be long lasting, or not.  Researchers have identified four patterns of negative communication that are particularly damaging to relationships:  contempt, criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and emotional disengagement.

Contempt is described as the use of sarcasm, mockery, insults, eye rolling, scowls, or hostile humor to convey disgust and disrespect.  Contempt is extremely dangerous and destructive to a relationship, and is considered to be the most damaging of the four patterns of negative communication.

Criticism is evidenced by character attacks that begin with statements such as “You’re so…,” and global complaints that begin with broad, sweeping generalities such as “You always …,” or “You never …”   Criticism differs from a simple complaint, because a simple complaint is only about a specific situation or behavior, such as “I’m upset that you didn’t empty the dishwasher this morning.”

Defensiveness is a way that might be used to blame a partner instead of taking responsibility for one’s own behavior. For example, “I would help with the laundry more if you weren’t always telling me I’m doing it wrong.” Defensive comments usually escalate negativity in any conversation.

Stonewalling strategies include behaviors such as disengagement, avoiding eye contact, and not acknowledging the other person. Use of these behaviors usually indicate that the person is overwhelmed by the conflict, and they may believe that choosing disengagement is a way to protect themselves.  However, listening and constructive problem solving are unlikely when one of the people is disengaged. 

In relation, emotional disengagement is pattern of behavior that is harmful and damaging to relationships. Instead of displaying high levels of negativity, the emotionally disengaged person will show very little interest in, positive care, or concern for the other person.

Healthy, satisfying relationships are not necessarily free of disagreements or differences.  However, when disagreements or differences crop up, effective communication is essential if the relationship is going to remain satisfying for both parties.

Reference:  Mary Gosche, Human Development Specialist, and Kim Leon, Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension, “Building Strong Families:  Communicating” http://extension.missouri.edu/bsf/communicating/

Photo Source: https://pixabay.com/en/positive-negative-contrast-455579/ downloaded 12/13/16


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