Despite all best efforts, some people are simply difficult to communicate with. You’ve probably met this person; no matter how hard you try, they seem to miss chunks of conversations. No matter how clear the note, they still twist the message. No matter how explicit the instructions, they still manage to screw them up. It doesn’t seem to matter what type of communication you use, how quickly or slowly you speak, how many metaphors or descriptions you provide, or how transparent and clear-cut your message is. If just about everyone describes this person as difficult or obtuse or impossible to get through to, then you can safely say “it’s not me, it’s you!” It’s unlikely you will be able to change a difficult communicator, but you can make interacting with them easier on yourself by figuring out why they’re hard to speak with.
Here are some reasons why certain people are persistently difficult to communicate with:
1: They habitually fail to pay focused attention to the person or item at hand.
This is a big problem in an age where information flies at us a mile a minute, where we’re in a perpetual state of information overload, and where people are proud that they can “check emails and have a conversation at the same time” (psst: they can’t). After a while, having a fractured or wandering attention span becomes habitual, and can be a very hard habit to break.
2. They relentlessly pursue agendas.
Realistically, we are all pursuing our own agendas at all times. These agendas can be completely benign (I’m hungry, so I’m going to bring this conversation to an end so I can eat), altruistic (I want to help this person), or more…suspect (use your imagination). Depending on the urgency and prevalence of that agenda, communications can very easily be twisted to ensure that the person hears or reads what they need to hear or read at the time. Some people are so hyperfocused on agendas that they approach nearly every conversation wondering what they can get out of it. These people are more likely to manipulate even relatively simple or meaningless conversations so that it meets their needs or supports some sort of internal worldview.
3. They do not feel you have anything of interest or worth to say.
This is pretty self-explanatory, and can be due to myriad issues. At any rate, the person simply becomes accustomed to filtering out what you say. Maybe the person thinks you’re weak, or unimportant, or they’re more concerned with figuring out who the most important person in the room is. This person can manifest as the aloof or snobbish leader, the insubordinate follower, or the image-conscious friend who will ditch you the minute someone “better” comes along.
4. They’re paranoid.
We’ve all encountered at least one person who interprets just about anything directed at them to be either an insult, a threat, or at the very least something that contains subtext of which they must be deeply suspicious. I find this is usually paired with either whipcrack tempers or with timidity and low confidence.
5. It’s not them…it’s you/me!
This is a tricky one; if it seems like everyone is impossible to communicate effectively with, or if you never have a good reasonable chat with a person, then the problem could be you. Look for the common denominator – if you have trouble with everyone, is it likely that the whole world is made up of crappy communicators except yourself? Admitting that the problem may be us is difficult, but the good news is that means it is possible for us to change the situation. Maybe you need to get to know the other person better and develop more understanding of their mannerisms. Maybe you need to improve certain areas of your communication style to ensure you are giving the message you need. Either way, changing ourselves is a lot easier than changing other people!