Psyched Online

Communication Blocks: Part I

By Paul Schienberg, Ph.D.

Many things can sabotage effective inner and interpersonal communications. Most are unconscious habits. All can be improved. Two fundamental blocks are ignorance of communication basics and unawareness of how you’re communicating. By learning more about communications, teams (2 or more members) of all sizes are more likely to get along and be successful.

The Basics

Any perceived behavior that causes a “significant” emotional, physical, or spiritual effect on another person is “communication.”

Intentional communications (like “talking”) aims to fill the following personal needs: gain or keep respect (a constant); give or get information; vent; cause change or excitement; and/or reduce or avoid discomforts. The need for “enough” self and mutual respect is subjective and constant. People with low self-esteem rarely get enough until in true recovery from false-self wounds.

Effective communication occurs when each person gets their current needs met well-enough, in a way that promotes self and mutual respect and trust. Anything that hinders this is a communication “block.”

Communication blocks can occur between an athlete’s/coach’s “inner family” of sub-selves (inner-personal blocks), and between people (interpersonal blocks).

Seven Common Internal and Interpersonal Communication Blocks

  1. Someone gets a verbal or nonverbal “respect message” they decode as “I don’t respect you as an equal here.” This occurs on an unconscious level from voice and body dynamics. Communication “works” (needs get well-filled) only when each person feels enough self respect and get believable respect messages from others.
  2. The sender’s and receiver’s communication needs don’t match. An example: I want to vent and you’re distracted (can’t really listen) or you want to persuade me to do something. Many combinations of these needs are in conflict. First steps: get clear on your and your teammates’/coaches’ current communication needs and value them equally.
  3. The sender gives a “double (mixed) message: their words say one thing, and their face, body and/or voice imply something else (i.e., “I’m not angry!” the player says loudly with fists clenched. Confusion, frustration and distrust are often the result of double messages. The speaker may be controlled by a false self who does not feel safe to give their real message.
  4. One or both people are distracted (i.e. can’t focus or hear well) by physical discomfort (pain, thirst, sleeplessness, etc.), worry, anxiety, or other strong emotion, and/or noise, flashing lights, motions, temperature, etc.; yet they try important communications anyway.
  5. A “1-up” Respect – message is implied by a speaker who constantly interrupts the other. This habit signals that speaker is probably composing their response without really hearing the speaker. Interruptions can imply “What I have to say now is more important than anything you need.” This is a discount and discounts hurt and breed anger and resentment in the listener.
  6. Either sender or receiver makes wrong assumptions about the other’s intent, meaning, respect message, emotions and/or key words. This can be unconscious or an intentional way of discounting the other. “I know what you really feel or mean, no matter what you say or don’t say. This often evokes a response of resentment, defensiveness, counterattack, and/or withdrawal and denial.
  7. A common special case of mind-reading happens when the receiver starts talking before the speaker finishes because the “know what the speaker is going to say. Conversely, the speaker may habitually repeat or be long winded, and the receiver legitimately gets bored. Sometimes a meta-comment like “When you string so many ideas and comments together without pausing, I get overwhelmed and tune out.”


Parts II and III of this article will add to the list of types of communication blocks. If you have examples of communication blocks that have occurred in your athletic career, please send them to us. We will share them with our readers. In addition, we would like to share successful resolution of these blocks.