3 Harmful Communication Tactics To Drop Today

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* This article applies to work, family, and friends – confrontation is universal people!

In my adult life, I've definitely been the type of person to approach confrontation head on. I don't really understand why people say they try to avoid confrontation. In my experience, it usually ends up hurting them in the long run as they bottle their feelings, which ultimately come out sideways as either passive aggressiveness, exclusionary, or even worse, in forms of self-harm like addiction, disordered eating, or self-mutilation. 

Of course, confrontation can be uncomfortable at times but it doesn't have to be scary. In fact, it can even be healthy when done right. I think a large reason people hate confrontation is because it typically ends up escalating or worsening the relationships. 

*Spoiler alert* if everyone dropped these harmful communication tactics from their repertoire today, conflict really wouldn’t be so scary!

rachel ritlop the confused millennial


Drop these communication tactics STAT:

Assuming feelings. 

You know what they say people who assume…. Haha

But seriously – NEVER assume you know what someone is thinking or feeling! The majority of the time you are probably projecting your reality baggage onto them. Instead, ASK them for clarity.

Don’t: “You're coming at me really angry right now.”

Do: “You seem angry right now, is that right?

Confrontation will escalate when we don't clarify that everyone is on the same page

Shift blame.

If someone is coming to you because they're upset about something, they probably aren’t looking for you to shift blame onto another person or situation. They probably just want to have their feelings validated and discuss what might need to change in order to move forward.

NOTHING is more rejecting than coming to someone and saying you're upset, only for them to say, “well it wasn’t my fault I had *so and so* to deal with* 

Uhh newsflash: It was probably your fault, just maybe not in the way they think it is. You most likely either took on too many responsibilities when you should’ve said “no” or couldn’t set boundaries or you simply didn’t want to and don’t want to admit that. I also call this “making excuses,” as some attempts to grab onto any response other than owning their ish.

Don’t: “Well what do you want me to say? It wasn’t my fault I couldn't be there, I had the to do this other thing”

  Icing on the cake: when the excuse doesn’t make sense

Rebuttal: “But there were literally 6 people available who were willing to do this thing for you in a quarter mile radius so you could be there” 

Do: “Oh wow, I am sorry I did that. I will work on scheduling my time better.”

Response: “Okay, thanks.” — See how easy that is?!?

Confrontation 100% will escalate if the person doesn’t feel validated and heard and is faced with further rejection.

Denial or “playing dumb”

Have you ever tried to talk to someone and they claimed complete amnesia over every. single. thing.  you reference?



Yeah, it’s never fun when someone starts playing dumb or denying any memory of an exchange orrrr even better tries to flip the script and make it seem like you're the crazy one and making everything up. This tactic usually goes hand in hand with another tactic called gaslighting.

Gaslighting has seen a resurgence in mainstream media with Trump in office (total side note, but mad props to whoever set up this redirect to my fabulous ethics professors article in psychology today: alternativefacts.com). Gaslighting is more complex than simply denying or lying (those are two foundational points, though) and I could probably write an entirely different post on just gas lighting… but I digress.

The issue with denying something happened, is that once again, it’s rejecting the person; which adds fuel to the fire rather than solutions to the simmer.

Stop adding fuel to the fire rather than solutions to the simmer with these #communication strategiesClick To Tweet

Don’t: “I have no idea what you are talking about. That never happened. I didn’t do that.”

Do: “I can’t remember what you are talking about exactly, but regardless, I am really sorry. Where can we go from here?”

It's so much easier when both people can acknowledge the problem and move on from there. If someone keeps denying a problem they'll likely feel attacked and the other person is going to feel unheard and nobody feels good.

We are all people. We all say and do things pretty mindlessly at times without realizing how it will impact others, and if something you say or do offends someone, that’s okay.

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But, you do have a responsibility to not cause further harm when something is brought to your attention. Rather than justifying or rationalizing your actions or words, take responsibility and ask how you can move forward.

If your response isn’t adding to the solution, then what’s the point of saying it?Click To Tweet

If your response isn’t adding to the solution, then what’s the point of saying it? Most of the time during conflict, people respond to pump up their bruised ego (because let’s be real, it never feels good to find out you’ve hurt someone) — but here’s the secret, if you can delay the instant gratification of falsely pumping up your ego in the moment, you won’t leave scars and you will move forward (and your ego will recover a whole heck of a lot faster).

On that note, I decided to actually write a follow up post to this one! Click here to read my simple response on how to reply in any situation where negativity arises – seriously it's SO simple and will always add to the solution! Read how to respond to toxic communication here.

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This article was Originally Published on 01/30/18

112 thoughts on “3 Harmful Communication Tactics To Drop Today”

  1. Jessica Bradshaw

    This is brilliant. I have started trying to get rid of assuming so much, and even assuming that people are acting with the best intentions is better than assuming they are out to get me. Love all your tactics to drop and adore your photos!

    1. Thank you!!! I totally have to shift my mindset to focus on the positive in people! I get so caught up in baggage from my past I forget that just because there are similarities they aren’t equal.

  2. I definitely agree. Communication is SO important– no matter who you’re talking to or relating to. Assuming is the WORST.

  3. Elizabeth Johnson

    Such a great post! I have personally encountered all of that when confronting someone. It is so frustrating to try to get someone to listen when their hearts are just closed to others. Sometimes I feel as though my face is turning blue from trying to make someone understand. It took me a while to realize that when someone doesn’t want to listen there isn’t anything I can say to change their minds. They have to want it.

    1. Thank you! Ugh you just spoke straight to my heart when you said how frustrating it is to talk to closed hearts!!! — I totally get that feeling! I’ve been very “misunderstood” my entire life and it’s been tough trying to get people to understand me and how i feel/what i say without just giving up on them altogether <3

  4. My husband is actually really good about the feelings one. He’ll usually say, “Are you upset about something? You seem upset so is something bothering you.” Usually I just tell him I’m an introvert and this is my FACE but I appreciate his approach 🙂

    1. Oye! I think that’s a common thing for a lot of people!! It’s so tough when you don’t have that insight and things end up escalating rather than asking for clarity!

  5. I always admire people who a great at asking questions of others and showing interest in them. It’s a skill I’d love to develop — and I think it helps avoid some of these other pitfalls like making assumptions (a hard one for me).

  6. This is so good! I am a lot like you in that I’m the type of person to approach confrontation head on. Over the years I have learned to soften my approach. Asking questions for clarification is one of my go-tos when dealing with confrontation

    1. Thank you!! And I feel like you know me!! Haha this past year or two has been a lot of learning how to soften the approach for sure. — unfortunately even asking for clarification has backfired on me recently (especially when people are playing dumb and repeatedly saying things like “I don’t understand what you are saying” or “I dont understand where you are coming from”), I will continually ask them if they understand and if we are still on the same page — but then they just get upset that I am being “condescending” for asking so many questions and it ends up being a lose/lose because if I don’t ask if we are on the same page they will play dumb (this is all about one person haha) — UGH end rant haha sorry!

    1. Awe i took an interpersonal communication skills class in undergrad and it was my favorite class of all time! definitely had the most “real world” application!

  7. These are great tips! I have to admit that I’m guilt of a few of these bad habits but I’m definitely working on it!

    1. I think we all are! I took a few classes on communication skills and i know that we all don’t realize how often we are doing it, so the fact that you have insight is great already!!

  8. I hate when people push the blame onto someone else. I just want to be like no, it’s your fault so just accept it and we can get this solved. I also hate when play dumb. You’re so right if people stopped these 3 tactics, life would be better!

    1. OMG I have literally said this EXACT same thing to my husband!!! Like I am not trying to get into a fight, I am just trying to get this ish resolved and the only way that’s going to happen is if you take some damn responsibility! — What sucks, is that I am always willing to take responsibility so I’ve been type cast in my family as the scapegoat who can take on all the responsibility #SMH lolol

  9. This is a great post! I like how you gave different ways to phrase things that would be more appropriate in given situations.

  10. This was so awesome, Rachel! I love how informative it was and how well your examples for each point you were tackling! Loved this post! Communication is key for these situations!

  11. I am TERRIBLE about assuming other people’s feelings. I always assume people are mad at me or are annoyed by me, and so I always feel like I need to apologize for some invisible thing. Working on that though!

  12. This is a great post, Rachel! I’m a manager so I REALLY have to be careful assuming what others are thinking or feeling. I constantly have to work on this and allow positive communication to take its course. Thanks!

    1. Thank you! Being a manager is super tough though when it comes to assuming… sometimes employees won’t give you anything to work off of, even when you ask, and you are kind of stuck having to assume!

  13. Love these, especially the one about assuming. I find that happens A LOT as it relates to non-verbal communication (texting, email, etc) because people ‘assume’ tone and attitudes that may not even be there – myself included! I think it’s best to call someone or speak in person to avoid miscommunication!

    1. Haha for sure! I read an e-mail and am like, “Can you believe how rude this betch was??” and my husband reads it and is like “what are you talking about, this is fine” haha

  14. These are awesome, Rach! These tips help with any type of relationship, whether it’s with work, a significant other, friends, or family.

  15. The denial thing has been the source of a few arguments in my marriage… luckily I’ve gotten that under control! Regarding the first point about assuming feelings, a couple of our friends learned a great tactic in premarital counseling. After someone has explained why they’re upset, you reply with, “What I’m hearing you say is _____ – is that right?” That way, you show that you’ve been listening to them + get clarity about their feelings. Great post!

    Maggie | amillennialmarriage.com

    1. Lol yup! I’ve taught that tactic many a time when I used to do couples and family counseling! Haha! There’s actually a third step to that technique (it’s like for advanced communication and doesn’t get taught as often) where you are building empathy with the person and are showing them support without assuming or shifting the focus onto yourself, “I can only imagine what that was like for you…. *insert relationship building sentiment that shows you were listening*” — since so many people sympathize rather than empathize and typically say things like “I know what you mean because I went through X” — I don’t know if I did a good job explaining that at all because #coffee haha

  16. Great tips! I am bad about “assuming feelings” – I am quick to think someone doesn’t like me e.t.c. so I need to get away from making those assumptions!


    Katie Gibbons


    1. That’s awesome insight Katie! I think we are all guilty of that too! I’ve been trying to just let go of what I’ve “heard” about people and just focus on how they treat me in the moment, and if I start to think they don’t like me, I try to remember they could just be having an off day or an introvert or shy or something and that it’s not about me (unless they do some really obvious stuff multiple times haha which has happened!)

  17. Assuming that you understood what someone said is the worst. I prefer to ask again, just to be sure, taking the risk that I might look stupid of something. Better safe than sorry.

    Cristina | *janded

    1. I think we all are! I catch myself doing it sometimes and will immediately call myself out in the conversation when I realized I did it and apologize (both to myself and to the person involved) – you live and ya learn, right?

  18. Kelsie Kleinmeyer

    Ummm, yes! These are so huge, especially in marriages. I find myself assuming things sometimes, which can definitely lead to some miscommunication. And blame shifting…ugh. It’s so hard not to sometimes!

    1. Haha totally agree! It’s so important to just recognize when we are doing it, because we all do it, and just call attention to it and shift the communication pattern to move forward with ease!

  19. This is a great post. I too always assume what other people are thinking, instead of just asking. Most times, it’s usually not what I think they were thinking. I have this bad habit of thinking people are always talking about me … it’s just something I need to get over, or ask.

    1. Definitely! I used to have that habit too!! What I started to realize, is that most people are too self absorbed to be talking about me all the time haha and if they are, well that’s their issue haha I’ve really been working on just being present with people and then forgetting about them when I am not with them so I don’t build some story in my head about them not liking me or something

  20. Babies to Bookworms

    I love the point that the response should be part of the solution. That is such a great point!

    1. YASSS!! *applause* I am SO with you! I grew up in a family where gaslighting was a major communication tactic and it took me years to get out of the “fog” of it and realize what was happening and even to trust my own memory again! I think I may do a post on that specifically…

  21. Oh gosh I love this post. I used to avoid confrontation all the time. I finally realized it was not healthy and not to mention I was just a walking ticking time bomb just waiting to go off on someone.

    1. Uhh loveeee that insight Bev!!! I used to be like that too which is why I think this is a topic so close to the heart for me! It took a lot of work to pause and not react and find response that add to the solution and work through things rather than falling into these traps!

  22. Omg gas-lighting boggles my mind! How can you flat out deny something that you know full-well occurred?! I’ve only met a couple people who’ve done this to me (a psycho ex-roommate included) but it was enough to make me see that some people are just delusional.

    1. You are lucky it’s only been a few people!! I grew up in a family where that was a primary communication tool! IT took me years to finally trust my own memories of a situation and trust myself! It’s actually a form of abuse. I think I may do an entire post on just gaslighting actually haha

  23. I am SOOOOOOO bad about assuming the feelings of others! I feel like I always think they feel how I feel (or how I would feel). So bad! I TOTALLY agree with not saying things if your response doesn’t add to the solution.

  24. What a beautiful post! I’m the worst with confrontation. I’ve always feared confrontation it will ruin a relationship. It’s only been in the past year that I’ve started to confront problems in a relationship without (toooo much) fear. I can be very hot headed and get emotional when I confront someone or someone confronts me, so I don’t always handle it appropriately, but these are all great pieces of advice to help me navigate it better!

  25. Kaitlyn Fickle Killebrew

    I really liked this blog because it’s relatable to my job! I’m terrible about assuming things!

  26. I saw a great post on Instagram that said, “I’d rather be someone’s shot of vodka, than everyone’s cup of tea.” I was like, this is totally spot on the nose. I try to avoid situations that will are confrontational in a more of a preventative way than an avoidance way. You can just tell when someone is trying to bait you, so I just go the opposite direction. I believe the term is “swerve” lol I know that I tend to have a bad/good habit of keeping to myself when I’m frustrated to work through my feelings so I don’t snap at people for things they aren’t responsible for. Sadly some of my coworkers take this as a cue to probe me and try to get me to talk. It’s like, “No I’m upset. I have my headphones on, I’m focusing on my work. I don’t want to talk about what I did this weekend.” LOL Great tips, we can all learn from.

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