UNO! Game!: A Deeper Look at Toxic Communication


Does your communication feel like UNO? Fighting for space to get your point across? Hands on the deck waiting to pull the next card and hoping it's the one that's going to push the other person back far enough to claim a win? Not too far fetched right? We will do anything to get our point across. Let's take a deeper look at the action cards of the UNO deck:


Common Unhealthy Communication Styles:


Skip a Turn: This card involves the inability to sit still and listen which often results in one jumping into the conversation, not allowing the other person to complete their thoughts.


Reverse: This card involves "going back in time" throwing the past into the conversation taking it further away from the "current" reason for the conversation in the first place.


Wild Card (Color Change): This is the classic dismissive and avoidance card. The holder can change the topic/color to anything they want in attempt to gain more leverage, usually not even the topic at hand.


Draw 2 (Staying in Lane): I call this the "One-up/Tit-for-Tat" card. When someone communicates, the other usually has two more examples of a similar behavior or incident often using this card in attempt to "lesson the blow" of being called out.


Draw 4 Wild (Change to Any Color): The ultimate "Shut Down/Shut Out/Slay" card. No listening is happening, personal islands are formed, shields are up, conversation is usually way off topic and can be taken down any lane of thought. Everything that one has ever wanted to express from the moment you met the person is often said.


When no one is listening, communication is lost. Hurt words are thrown and much like the internet it cannot be deleted. The brain methodically bookmarks it all in our browser and when anything similar comes along, we have a "history link" ready to "recall and perceive" other events, people and situations through a lens of pain that may as well be likened to thick frosted glass. We simply cannot see through it and no one else's viewpoint is getting in either. So, where does one start to begin communicating more effectively? I've included 7 helpful tips below:

  1. Listen to hear, NOT to be heard - So much information is lost when we are in our feelings about what is being said. The mind has thus tapped out and preparing for battle responses instead of healthy and productive ones. Practice putting emotions in "neutral" (reserving judgment) so you are able to truly listen to the problem being communicated.

  2. Attack the problem, NOT the person - Remember you are communicating about the problem incident, action, behavior, or lack thereof.....NOT the person. Imagine a person being attacked on all sides burrowed to the ground waiting to come up for air. What condition would that person be in after they get up? A much weakened state right? If there is an important problem that needs to be solved, would you want a weakened person approaching it or a strengthened one? Which would be more capable and motivated to get the job done? It is more productive to attack the problem together, and empower one another with the approach to it.

  3. Manage Your Emotions - Don't take it personal. Are you communicating safety with your body language? Eye rolls, sighs, pacing, slouching, isolating, etc. These are all nonverbal ways to indirectly communicate "I just don't care". This sends a message of disrespect and minimizes the other person's value which are incredible barriers to healthy communication.

  4. Use "I" Statements - Use of the word "You" may as well be finger-pointing with a big foam finger. Communicate what you are feeling using "I" statements. "I feel abandoned when you are not attentive to my needs" is less confrontational than "You are inconsiderate and never pay attention to me". Remember how valuable empowerment can be to the person you would like to meet your needs.

  5. Stay on Topic - Avoid Draw 2, Draw 4. Skip, or Reverse mentality! It is very important to stay in the here-and-now. There is nothing more confusing than time traveling which takes the focus off the present to visit the past. Know what you want to communicate. When in doubt, stick to the 3 Cs of effective communication: Be clear, concise, and consistent. Communication is greatly improved when both parties can trust that the communication process is safe. Consider planning separate times to talk about the past that is agreed upon by both parties.

  6. Check-Ins - Don't wait for tension to build! Check-in regularly so that various matters do not not pile up! Do not assume that ignoring things "here and there" without mentioning it, means the same will be afforded to you. Communicate regularly to avoid the buildup of unspoken transgressions to better minimize miscommunication.

  7. Incorporate Connection - One of my favorite things to teach individuals is the art of connection within disconnection and how to change the atmosphere of arguments and disagreements. Its common that many stand on their individual islands and battle. It does not have to be that way! It is possible to talk about uncomfortable topics in less confrontational ways (doing a puzzle together, going for a bike ride, a walk, etc.) For couples, hold hands, embrace one another, and let your partner know you are safe to talk to even when it's a difficult topic. Difficult conversations are already hard and need increased affection NOT disconnection. Build bridges to connection, not expanses that separate it.


Let's be honest. Communication is not easy. It is often human instinct to defend our own personal agendas. The human ego is REAL and a massive challenge to micromanage. So, give yourself grace and simply practice, practice, practice! I often tell individuals to ask themselves: Are you a safe place to land? It's such a great question. When we are not, secrets are kept, lies can evolve, and true feelings are hidden out of fear that the person we want to talk to simply can't handle it. Therefore, it is important to endeavor to communicate safety which requires the ability to monitor personal defensiveness and manage one's emotions so it does not turn into a battlefield. When things are hard to hear, try to avoid tensing up. Its difficult but its possible to train the brain to "soften" from within first so we can better communicate effectively. If it's real communication, there is no winner or loser, there's progress on a journey together that respects one another's hands on the deck to completion!



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