Post written by Rachel Casey, LMFT

We are all guilty of communicating ineffectively at times, but are we aware of the types of ineffective communication we are using? Most of the time, no. We are here to help you identify and make changes to communicate more effectively with others. So, what are the types of ineffective communication? According to Gottman, there are four main types of ineffective communication called “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. 

Criticism:  There is a significant difference between a complaint and criticism. Criticism uses “you” or blaming statements. Complaints use “I” statements, which are more productive. When we criticize, we are telling the other person what they are doing wrong instead of expressing how we are feeling or what we need. i.e., Complaint-“I feel unheard. Can we talk about this and problem-solve ways for me to feel heard?” Criticism-“You never listen to me. Why do I even bother trying to communicate with you? It is a lost cause.”


Contempt:  Contempt includes disrespect, a patronizing communication style or tone, or a strike on a person’s character. i.e., Partner A-“I wish you would spend more time with our family.” Partner B-*eye rolls* “Well someone has to make money around here!” 


Defensiveness:  When feeling attacked, we tend to defend ourselves. Although, sometimes the other person we are speaking with is not intending on attacking us. They might be expressing a complaint, which is a healthy way of communicating. (See Criticism for the difference).  i.e., Partner A-“I feel upset when you ignore my needs. I need you to hear me.” Partner B-“Oh you get upset when I ignore your needs? What about those times when you have ignored my needs? Do my needs not matter to you?”


Stonewalling:  Think of an actual wall. When we are stonewalling, we are putting a wall between ourselves and another person. We are not allowing ourselves to hear or understand what the other person is saying. In a sense, we are avoiding the problem. We might respond with, “Ok” or “Mhm”, but that is dismissive of the other person. i.e., Partner A-“I feel hurt and resentful that we do not spend enough quality time together.” Partner B-*looking away* “Ok.”


Are you noticing any of these ineffective communication styles in any of your relationships? If so, the clinicians at Fleming Family Therapy are here to help! With the majority of our clinicians having a background and education in relationships, they can help change your ineffective communication patterns to effective ones.  Click here to learn more!

Lisitsa, E. (2013). The Four Horsemen: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling. The Gottman Institute

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