How to Take the High Road in Communication

Excerpt from モCommunication at Workヤ by Patti Lind (Inkwater Press, June 2012).

By Patti Lind, Founding Partner, Lind Consulting Group

When I come out to talk with groups, there is invariably someone in the audience who says, “I don’t buy this. I am who I am and if people can’t accept that, then that is their problem.”

In my mind, that is the lowest level of communicator you can be. “Everyone has to adjust to me, I adjust to no one.” And they are usually the individuals who are the most frustrated with their situation, most critical of others, and most unaware of how they are contributing to their own problems.

One step up from that level is, “I’ll communicate more effectively, but only if the other person does, too.” From this perspective, it is easy to convince yourself that you have “good enough” skills because there are, indeed, people with whom you can work and live. If you run into problems, it must be the other person’s fault, not yours. You tried and it didn’t work, so what else can you do?

This perspective is very limiting because it reduces people to two categories: the people we can work with and the people we can’t. From there it is a quick fall into “if I can’t communicate with this person, then they must be a bad or stupid person.” I facilitate meetings all the time, and I know how quickly people will dislike someone simply because they struggle to communicate with that person.

As a communication expert, I try to get people to strive for a much higher level. “I can separate my communication from someone else’s communication, and I can make most situations better by making better choices myself.” To be at this level you need to fill your “toolbox” with a variety of listening and assertion skills. Plus, you need to develop skills to disengage yourself emotionally from an interaction that goes poorly.

Here are some self-talk phrases you can use to help yourself take the “high road.” I say these to myself when I need to talk with someone I have trouble communicating with:

  • It isn’t all coming down to this moment.
  • I just need to get through this conversation.
  • I can handle this.

Even if this conversation turns out poorly, there are things I can do to solve the problem.

Chances are there is a limit to how long you are willing to take the high road. But the longer you are able to hang in there, the more proficient a communicator you will be. And the more you practice, the better you will get!

Excerpt from “Communication at Work” by Patti Lind (Inkwater Press, June 2012). For more information, visit

Patti Lind is a founding partner of the Lind Consulting Group, long-time faculty member at Marylhurst University, and author of “Communication at Work.” Working as an independent consultant, she has spent the last 27 years addressing communication and leadership issues within the health-care industry and the unique challenges faced by its workforce. Lind holds degrees in Communication from Boise State University and The Ohio State University.

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