Common Communication Pitfalls and How You Can Avoid Them

The science of dialogue: how David Bohm and Stever Robbins’ Approaches lead to effective communication

Common Communication Pitfalls and How You Can Avoid Them
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I’ve always preferred communicating face-to-face, which might seem like an odd statement coming from a professional writer. But, I didn’t start out in the arts as a writer. My first work was as a stage actor, where communication between the cast, crew, and audience forms a unique tide.

As a writer, I’ve discovered a problem: written communication is one-way. When people interact with my writing, they bring their own opinions and interests, and aren’t likely to change their mind, nor are they likely to engage in a meaningful conversation where they lay themselves bare. At best, they might try to engage in classical argumentation, which is a form of communication I’ve always disliked.

When I think of how I interact with the written word, I am also not likely to change my mind based solely on one written opinion. Sometimes, I might be spurred to investigate further, and I consider that to be a win. There are times when I’ll encounter an idea that sends me off in an ecstatic surge of learning and self-growth… but that’s because I’ve spent years trying to be the sort of person who will learn new things.

When it comes to communicating in person, however, I’ve had to do a major amount of work polishing my skills. When you’re on stage, the communication is very specific. You’re in a mutual trust relationship with the cast and crew, everyone focused on the same objective. The audience, for an actor, is an amplifier and an instrument.

However, in ordinary conversation, I can’t make the assumption that the person I’m speaking to will be focused on the same goals as me or will be trying to connect on the ideas that I care about. Nor can I simply try to win them over and be buoyed by them as I would with an audience. The key is earnest communication. Compassion, Authenticity, Diligence. Which, ironically, spells “Cad.” At least “be a cad” is going to be memorable advice for good communication, right?

One major area where my communication skills break down in person is when I’m excited or passionate about a subject. I get on a real roll, diving right into what I care about, purely because I care about it. This often creates one of the following negative effects:

· People hear all of my intensity and miss my actual words. They end up feeling like I’m angry or overbearing.

· People hear my excitement as dogmatic belief and attempt to engage me in classical argumentation.

· People fail to engage at all.

In this superb MIT lecture, Stever Robbins highlights a common problem faced by those people who find it easy to become passionate about ideas: “If you are passionately discussing an idea… that particular kind of passion when not modulated by the right voice tone and body language can become interpreted as anger” (2014).

I’m still learning to self-modulate my conversation, so that the way I express myself inspires interest and confidence rather than any of the above negative responses.

In David Bohm’s book On Dialogue, he writes about the root words of our various terms for communication in order to highlight an apparently native combativeness. “Contrast this with the word “discussion,” which has the same root as “percussion” and “concussion.” It really means to break things up” (1996, p. 6–7). Contrast this to a dialogue, he writes, where “nobody is trying to win. Everybody wins if anybody wins” (1996, p. 7).

That, to me, is the ultimate goal of communication. Not winning, nor being won over: the goal of communication is a dialogue where everyone wins if anyone wins. And that’s the practice I’m going to take with me through the remainder of my days.

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Hi there! I’m Odin Halvorson, an independent scholar, film fanatic, fiction author, and tech enthusiast. If you like my work and want to support me, please consider subscribing to a paid tier for as little as $2.50 per month!


Bohm, D. (1996). On dialogue (L. Nichol, Ed.). Routledge.

MIT Alumni Association (Director). (2014, July 3). Conveying Content with Voice Tone and Body Language.

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