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.

Grab TCM's Goal Setting Guide Now!


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This article was Originally Published on 01/30/18

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

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

  2. 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!

  3. 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!

  4. 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!

  5. 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

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

  7. 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

  8. 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!)

  9. 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

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