Are You Helpful Or Hurtful In Your Communications? Here’s Exactly How To Tell

I spend a good deal of my time every day writing, speaking and training, so becoming an effective communicator is something very important to me. Despite my experience, as a former corporate VP, therapist, and now coach and leadership trainer, I don’t always get it right. Not by a long shot. And when I blow it, it’s really hard to face.

In the past six months, I’ve attempted to focus on understanding more deeply what makes our communications helpful, productive and inspiring, versus hurtful, damaging and bridge-burning.

Here are five ways to tell if your communication has crossed the line into hurtful:

1. It’s all about you. I’ve had to have some tough talks with a number of colleagues in the past few months regarding projects we’re working on, deadlines we’re chasing, and outcomes we’re striving to achieve. It’s been clear to all of us that we’ve missed some very important goals and milestones. But the question isn’t “Who blew it?” It’s “How are we going to handle this, together, and not leave body parts lying in our wake?”

Hurtful communication attacks a problem with guns blazing – searching for someone specific to blame and criticize. Helpful communication isn’t one-sided; it’s empathic, open and free-flowing. Sure, you can state your case plainly and directly, and not beat around the bush. But if you’re having your meeting or your Skype or phone call only to take someone down, you’re going to do some nasty damage.

The more productive way to approach a challenge or problem is to go in with the desired outcome strongly in mind, of forging a stronger alliance with the parties involved (if at all possible), so that all can feel inspired to be more open, committed and collaborative in achieving your mutual goals.

2. You don’t really want to listen. You’ve made up your mind. I’ve seen in meeting after meeting (especially in the corporate arena), that so many professionals share their opinions as if standing on a soapbox, not wanting to expand on or enrich the topic, or learn more (or explore different viewpoints that will be helpful), but to give time only to how they see it and nothing more. Their eyes are shut to other, more diverse or innovative perspectives that may be critical to the conversation and the goal. They are emphatically clear – it’s my way or the highway.

This type of communication is hurtful. To enter into a conversation or a meeting without granting the other parties the chance to speak their truths, from their unique perspectives, is ego-centric at best, career-killing at worst.

3. The relationship is shattered at the end of the conversation. I heard once that “you can say anything if you say it with love.” While “love” might not be the exact word we want to use to describe what’s in our hearts during any given business day, I would say this: you CAN say anything and have a positive outcome, but only if you say it with the utmost emotional neutrality, compassion and care in your heart. If you don’t neutralize your emotions before you speak, and come from a place in your heart of openness to the other individual, a typical outcome will be that you’ll shatter your ability to relate to the other party, and they’ll feel the same toward you.

Further, in your meetings and communications, do you need to share every little thing on your mind that’s bothering you about this person? Or can you leave some of what’s annoying you out of the mix and focus only on what will move you forward? Often we want to dredge up tons of material from the past, and smear the other person with it. As my beloved dad used to say, “Leave the past in the past.”

If you’ve experienced a shattered relationship or two in the past six months, it’s time to look at how you’re communicating, so that you can get your point across and feel heard without cutting off someone’s arm to do it.


Meet Kathy Caprino, a career success coach, leadership trainer, author and speaker dedicated to the advancement of women. She runs a career and leadership consulting and training firm — Ellia Communications — that offers programs, training and resources for career growth. She is a former corporate VP, a trained therapist and career specialist, and she has worked with over 10,000 professional women and emerging leaders globally. Along with Forbes, she blogs for Huffington Post, LinkedIn, and her own Ellia Communications career blog. Her book Breakdown, Breakthrough: The Professional Woman’s Guide to Claiming a Life of Passion, Power and Purpose, explores the 12 hidden challenges working women face today and how to overcome them.

Kathy is a guest blogger for TurtleWise. We are excited to have her share personal experiences and knowledge. Stay tuned for upcoming posts from Kathy Caprino.

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