9 ways you’re unknowingly sabotaging your conversations

Have you ever found yourself in a conversation, only to realize later that it didn’t go quite as smoothly as you had hoped? 

It’s a common experience we’ve all had, and often, we may not even realize that we’re the ones unknowingly sabotaging our own conversations. 

In this article, we’ll delve into 9 subtle yet impactful ways you might be undermining your interactions without even knowing it. 

These are not the obvious missteps but rather the subtle habits and behaviors that can make a world of difference in how your conversations unfold. 

So, let’s take a closer look at these conversational pitfalls and discover how to overcome them to become a more effective communicator.

1) Interrupting too often

Let’s start with a faux pas too many of us are guilty of. I honestly think that knowing when to take turns in a conversation can do so much in keeping even difficult conversations running smoothly. 

See, interrupting someone while they’re talking is definitely offensive. Because even though you didn’t mean to be rude and you might have been simply excited to share your point, what actually comes across is this: 

“What I have to say is more important than whatever you’re saying.”

If you’ve ever been interrupted (and it’s such a common occurrence that I’m pretty sure you have), you know how it feels, right? 

So, be mindful you don’t do this to other people, too. You want to let them know that you respect their moment to speak, even though you might not agree with what they’re saying. 

2) Making it all about you

This is actually the larger umbrella under which interruption falls. The YOU umbrella. 

The thing is, while there are indeed folks who intentionally set out to put the spotlight on them, we can also do this inadvertently without even realizing it.

I have a friend who does this all the time. We rarely see each other, but when we do, it almost becomes a monologue. Her monologue. 

I know she does it because she’s just a naturally chatty person. And because the times we see each other are so few and far between, she has all these stories bottled up inside her just waiting to get out. 

But it can get to a point where all I seem to do is say, “Uh huh…”, or “Really?”, and nod my head as she goes on and on. I love her dearly but sometimes I find myself spacing out or feeling like she isn’t really interested in how I’m doing. 

That’s an example of how we sabotage ourselves in conversations when we make it all about us. 

We might simply be wanting to connect, but when taken to an extreme, we end up overshadowing the other person’s perspective. 

The key here is balance. While it’s important to share and contribute to a conversation, it’s equally vital to give space for others to express themselves. 

Recognizing when you’re veering into the “all about you” territory is the first step in improving your conversational skills

The next is to stop this next habit…

3) Not listening actively

Knowing how to listen may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many don’t know how to do it right. 

Instead of truly listening to the other person, they think about what they’ll say next. 

And you know what? You might think it isn’t obvious when you don’t listen actively, but people can tell. I know I can tell when someone’s really all ears or if their mind is elsewhere.

When you can read non-verbal cues, you’ll somehow know when someone’s not listening

So, don’t sabotage your conversations with poor listening skills. When someone’s speaking, give them your 100% attention. Trust me, they’ll come away feeling heard and valued. 

4) Neglecting non-verbal cues

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Speaking of non-verbal cues earlier brings me to the importance of knowing how to read them. Because if you don’t, you could very well be sabotaging your conversations. 

You see, words are just one part of communication; body language and tone of voice matter, too. 

Honing your ability to read these non-verbal cues enables you to adapt your approach, show empathy, and respond more effectively. 

The opposite is true, too – be mindful of YOUR own body language as well. You might be sabotaging a conversation just because you stand with crossed arms or make shifty eye contact. 

If you want to connect well with other people, make sure you’re demonstrating open body language, like: 

  • Relaxed posture
  • Open arms and palms
  • Maintaining eye contact

And don’t forget tone – you might be saying all the right words, but with the wrong tone, the other person will get an entirely different message. 

5) Overusing filler words

Um, like, totally, you know, and so on – these filler words can sneak into our speech without us even realizing it. 

While they might seem harmless, overusing them can make you come across as less confident and less credible. 

You might even be seen as ditzy, which is exactly what happens to people who do Valspeak (speaking like a Valley Girl, which is peppered with fillers such as “like” and “totally”). 

I remember a colleague of mine who delivered what would have been a spot-on and well-researched presentation, except for one thing – constant filler words. 

In the end, it distracted so much from the message she was trying to deliver. 

Once again, be mindful of your speech patterns. If you ever feel the urge to let out a filler word, practice pausing instead; it makes you appear more thoughtful and composed.

I know it’s a tough habit to break, but it’s just a matter of practice!

6) Using inappropriate humor

In the same way, using inappropriate jokes won’t do you any favors. 

Look, humor can be a fantastic tool to lighten the mood and connect with others. But it can also backfire when used inappropriately. 

Jokes that target someone’s appearance, beliefs, or sensitive topics can quickly derail an otherwise pleasant conversation and hurt feelings. 

To avoid this pitfall, be mindful of your audience and the context. What might be funny among close friends may not be suitable in a professional or unfamiliar setting.

If you find yourself tempted to use inappropriate humor, take a moment to consider the potential consequences. Ask yourself if the joke might offend or hurt someone, and if in doubt, err on the side of caution. 

Remember that humor should ideally bring people together and uplift the conversation, not divide or upset those involved. 

7) Rushing to judgments

Another habit that can upset people and sabotage your conversations is making snap judgments

For instance, let’s say you meet someone new at a party, and they mention they work in a particular industry. 

Without knowing much else about them, you immediately assume you know their personality, interests, and values solely based on their job. 

You might make snap judgments like, “Oh, they must be boring because they work in accounting,” or “They must be really outgoing because they work in sales.”

This can get in the way of genuine connection. What if your assumption is completely wrong?

By jumping to conclusions, you miss the opportunity to get to know them authentically. It’s important to recognize this tendency and practice open-mindedness. 

Allow people to reveal their true selves through conversation rather than relying on hasty judgments. 

And if you’re in the midst of a complicated discussion, wait to hear the full context and consider different viewpoints. This will go a long way in preventing misunderstandings. 

8) Not acknowledging emotions

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This used to be a problem I had with an ex of mine. I would tell him about the challenges I was having at work, and he’d offer solutions and advice without acknowledging how I felt. 

Other times, he’d say I was just overreacting. Needless to say, that didn’t make me feel good. Even though I knew he came from a place of good intentions, it still made me feel like my feelings weren’t valid. 

In such cases, a simple acknowledgment of the other person’s emotions can go a long way in making them feel understood. 

Don’t make the mistake of glossing over what they feel just because it isn’t something you see as particularly troubling.

Just saying, “I can see how this situation is really frustrating for you,” or “I understand that you’re feeling stressed,” could be enough.

9) Avoiding difficult conversations

What if you just decide to gloss over difficult conversations? Avoid uncomfortable topics altogether because you don’t want to ruffle people’s feathers? 

Going to that extreme is just another way to sabotage your conversations, too. You know why? 

Because it does exactly the same thing as not acknowledging people’s feelings – makes them feel unimportant. 

Basically, you’re saying that the discomfort you feel is more important than whatever issue needs discussing. 

As someone who used to do this, I know that we don’t set out to make the other person feel bad. In fact, sometimes we do it so that they don’t feel bad. 

However, I also can’t deny that I used to avoid conflicts because of ME – I just wasn’t comfortable with it. I am just a non-confrontational person, period. Conflicts make me feel drained and awkward. 

But I do see now how that habit of mine was making the other person involved feel. That I was prioritizing my comfort level more than the relationship. 

Final thoughts

You’ve probably noticed a word I often mentioned throughout the article – “mindful.” That should tell you that when it comes to great conversations, mindfulness is key. 

It’s what will help you monitor the way you speak and move. That way, you become aware of not only what you say but also how you say it, as well as your non-verbal cues.

And that’s the first step to being someone people like talking to!

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Picture of Tina Fey

Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Ideapod to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

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