Want Better Communication? Stop Pushing Buttons

photoI’m around little kids a lot these days. It’s amazing how early and thoroughly they learn to push our buttons. They know our weaknesses, and they aren’t afraid to use them.

A very convincing cry, some irritating whining, or even a guilt trip. Man, they are good.

I try to remember the motto posted in my daughter’s classroom at daycare: They’re two. Whatcha going to do?

I give kids credit, they really don’t have a lot of power. They have to use what they can. They are resourceful, really.

While it’s skilled for kids to at least try to push buttons to get what they want, the same is not true of adults.

As adults, if we purposefully say something to another person just to get our way or get them to feel something negative, then that is unskilled communication.

I’m not trying to shame anyone. We all do it sometimes.
It’s important to notice it and to be honest: button-pushing is for children.

If we try to push another person’s buttons we are being selfish and ill-intentioned.

What you are communicating is: appease me or else I’ll make you pay emotionally.

I teach in my workshops that the centerpiece of effective communication is always good intentions.

Good intentions don’t necessarily mean you are being nice. Good intentions definitely do not mean you are being a pushover.

You can (and should) be both well-intentioned and assertive. These two things go hand in hand.

If you want to be effective- to be heard, respected, valued, connected- what you say has to be rooted in wanting something good.

Maybe it’s that you want to be less angry so you can better connect with your partner. Maybe you want to end a relationship so that both parties can move on and not be left hanging. Maybe you need to fire an employee to maintain the integrity of your business.

These are all scenarios where you might need to say something difficult, real, and hard. AND at the same time, they are rooted in good intentions.

You can push buttons if you want to provoke anger, drama, and chaos.

But skilled communication is about maintaining integrity and being grounded in good intentions.


Want to learn more? I offer communication coaching and small group workshops. Email me at [email protected] or call 207-553-2260.


  1. Andy

    This should be on a billboard somewhere. I always find it interesting what people are willing to say when they don’t get there own way. I deal with a lot of hostile people in the course of the work day. I always get a kick out of the people that tell me how good a person they are and when they don’t get the answer they wanted to hear they flip out on me and wish for bad things to happen to me (not such a “good person” thing to do)I know that they are trying to hurt me with their words and it’s interesting to think its just a lack communication skills that leads to their ultimate frustration. I like that perspective.

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