The Twelve Roadblocks to Healthy Conversations

What obvious obstacles are relevant to obstruct a conversation? Experts in interpersonal communication have identified various response patterns that tend to block conversation. Thomas Gordon devised a comprehensive list that he calls the “dirty dozen” of communication spoilers.

These undesirable responses include:


Making a negative evaluation of the other person, his/her actions, or attitudes. The act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything; censure; faultfinding. The common element here is an implication that there is something wrong with the person or with what he or she has said. Note that simple disagreement is included in this group.

It’s your own fault.

You’re being too selfish.

You’re wrong.

You brought it on yourself – you’ve nobody got else to blame for the mess you are in.

I do not think it was a good idea to put him on the team


Putting down or stereotyping the other person. Having a simplified and standardized conception or image invested with special meaning and held in common by members of a group. Here the disapproval is more overt, and is directed at the individual in the hopes of shaming or correcting a behavior or attitude.

What a dope!

Just like a woman…


You hard-hats are all alike

You take things too seriously

You are too emotional

You need to develop a thick skin


Analyzing why a person is behaving as he or she is; playing amateur psychiatrist. This is a very common and tempting one for counselors: to seek out the hidden meaning for the person and give your own interpretation.

You don’t really mean that.

Do you know what your real problem is?

You’re just trying to make me look bad.

I can read you like a book – you are just doing that to irritate me.

Just because you went to college, you think you are better than I.

You think you are OK with his behavior, but i know you are angry.

Praising Evaluatively

Making a positive judgment of the other person, his or her actions or attitudes. Some people are surprised to find this included with the roadblocks. This kind of message gives a sanction or approval to what has been said. This, too, stops the communication process and may also imply an uneven relationship between speaker and listener. True listening is different from approving and does not require approval.

I think you are absolutely right …

That’s what i would do …

You are a good …

You are always such a good girl. I know you will help me with the lawn tonight.

Ask Dawn, she is great; She never says no, she’ll do it.

Many people find it difficult to believe that some of the barriers like praise are high-risk responses. The repeated use of these responses can be detrimental to relationships.


Commanding the other person to do what you want to have done. Here a direction is given with the force of some authority behind it. There may be actual authority (as with a parent or employer), or the words may simply be phrased in an authoritarian way.

Some examples:

Don’t say that.

You’ve got to face up to reality.

Go right back there and tell her you’re sorry! Do your home work right now.

Why? Because I said so…

I want no comments. Just do it the way I said.


Trying to control the other’s actions by warning of negative consequences that you will instigate. These messages are similar to directing, but they also carry an overt or covert threat of impending negative consequences if the advice or direction is not followed. It may be a threat that the individual will carry out, or simply a prediction of bad outcome if the other doesn’t comply.

Some of the threatening patterns are like:

You’ll do it or else…

Stop that noise right now or I will keep the whole class after school.

Get the work done or we are going to lose business.

If you don’t start treating him better you’ll lose him.

You’d better listen to me you’ll be sorry.

You’re really asking for trouble when you do that.


Telling another person what he or she should do. This is also a kind of “Preaching” at the other. An underlying moral code is invoked here in “should” or “ought” language. The implicit communication is instruction in proper conduct.

Such communication might start:

You should …

You really ought to …

It’s your duty as to …

You shouldn’t get a divorce; think of what will happen to the children.

You ought to tell him you are sorry

You should not accept that contract. The company breaks all kinds of environmental laws.

Excessive / Inappropriate Questioning

Closed-ended questions are often barriers in a relationship; these are those that can usually be answered in a few words – often with a simple yes or no.

People also mistake asking questions for good listening. Here the intent is to probe further, to find out more.

A hidden communication from the questioner, however, is that he or she will be able to find a solution as soon as enough questions have been asked. Questions interfere with the spontaneous flow of communication, diverting it in directions of interest to the questioner but not, perhaps, of help or concern to the speaker. Inflecting the voice upward at the end of a statement turns it into a question

What makes you feel that way?

You’re going to do that?


When did it happen?

Are you sorry that you did it?

Is the business doing well?


Giving the other person a solution to her or his problems. Here the individual draws on her or his own store of knowledge and experience to recommend a course of action.

They often begin with the words:

If I were you, I’d sure tell him off.

That’s an easy one to solve. First…

This is the best one to choose for your situation.


Pushing the other’s problems aside through distraction. Finally, this very obvious roadblock is an attempt to “take the person’s mind off it.” It directly diverts communication, and underneath implies that what the person was saying is not important or should not be pursued.

That reminds me of the time when I …

I hear it’s going to be a nice day tomorrow …

Don’t dwell on it, Sarah. Let’s talk about something more pleasant.

Think you’ve got it bad? Let me tell you what happened to me.

Logical argument

Attempting to convince the other with an appeal to facts or logic, usually without consideration of the emotional factors involved. The underlying assumption in these is that the person has not adequately reasoned it through and needs help in doing it so. An American archetype for this way of responding is the character Spock in the Star Trek series, or Data in its “Next Generation” series.

Such responses may begin:

The facts are that …

Yes, but …

Let’s think this through …

Look at the facts; if you hadn’t bought that new car, we could have made the down payment on the house.

It’s the best for your business; it’s cost-effective, good quality, and a standard in the industry.


Trying to stop the other person from feeling the negative emotions he or she is experiencing. The intent here is usually to help the person feel better. What’s wrong with that? Nothing, perhaps, but it’s not listening. It meets the criterion as a roadblock because it interferes with the spontaneous flow of communication.


There, there, it’s not all that bad.

Don’t worry, it is always darkest before the dawn.

It will all work out OK in the end.

Losing your job is a blessing in disguise. Now you can find a new job that uses all your great skills, and which pays a lot of money.

The twelve barriers to communication can be divided into three major categories:

  • judgement,
  • sending solutions, and
  • avoidance of other’s concerns