Communication Strategies: Supportiveness

Continuing with my attempt to spell out the various communication strategies, here is a little item on supportiveness--taken from my Essentials of Human Communication which has the most complete discussion of Gibb's system.
     One of the best ways to look at destructive versus productive talk is to look at how the style of your communications can create unproductive defensiveness or a productive sense of supportiveness, a system developed by Jack Gibb in the 60’s. The type of talk that generally proves destructive and sets up defensive reactions in the listener is talk that is evaluative, controlling, strategic, indifferent or neutral, superior, and certain.

Evaluation When you evaluate or judge another person or what that person has done, that person is likely to become resentful and defensive and perhaps at the same time to become equally evaluative and judgmental. In contrast, when you describe what happened or what you want, it creates no such defensiveness and is generally seen as supportive. The distinction between evaluation and description can be seen in the differences between you-messages and I-messages. You-messages are evaluative (you never reveal your feelings; you just don’t plan ahead, you never call me) whereas I-messages are more descriptive (I would like hearing how you feel about this; I need to know what our schedule for the next few days will be; I’d enjoy hearing from you more often. If you put yourself in the role of the listener hearing these statements, you probably can feel the resentment or defensiveness that the evaluative messages (you-messages) would create and the supportiveness from the descriptive messages (I-messages).

Control When you try to control the behavior of the other person, when you order the other person to do this or that, or when you make decisions without mutual discussion and agreement, defensiveness is a likely response. Control messages deny the legitimacy of the person’s contributions and in fact deny his or her importance. When, on the other hand, you focus on the problem at hand—not on controlling the situation or getting your own way—defensiveness is much less likely. This problem orientation invites mutual participation and recognizes the significance of each person’s contributions.

Strategy When you use strategy and try to get around other people or situations through manipulation—especially when you conceal your true purposes—others are likely to resent it and to respond defensively. But when you act openly and with spontaneity, you’re more likely to create an atmosphere that is equal and honest.

Neutrality When you demonstrate neutrality—in the sense of indifference or a lack of caring for the other person—it’s likely to create defensiveness. Neutrality seems to show a lack of empathy or interest in the thoughts and feelings of the other person; it is especially damaging when intimates are in conflict. This kind of talk says, in effect, “You’re not important or deserving of attention and caring.” When, on the other hand, you demonstrate empathy, defensiveness is unlikely to occur. Although it can be especially difficult in conflict situations, try to show that you can understand what the other person is going through and that you accept these feelings.

Superiority When you present yourself as superior to the other person, you put the other person in an inferior position, and this is likely to be resented. Such superiority messages say in effect that the other person is inadequate or somehow second class. A superior attitude is a violation of the implicit equality contract that people in a close relationship have. The other person may then begin to attack your superiority; the conflict can quickly degenerate into a conflict over who’s the boss, with personal attacks being the mode of interaction.

Certainty The person who appears to know it all is likely to be resented, so certainty often sets up a defensive climate. After all, there is little room for negotiation or mutual problem solving when one person already has the answer. An attitude of provisionalism—“Let’s explore this issue together and try to find a solution”—is likely to be much more productive than closed-mindedness.

To summarize, the following are suggestions for fostering supportiveness rather than defensiveness:

·         Talk descriptively rather than evaluatively.

·         Focus on the problem rather than on personalities.

·         Act and react honestly and spontaneously, rather than strategically.

·         Empathize with the other person.

·         Approach the conflict resolution process as an equal and treat the other person as an equal.

·         Be provisional; suggest rather than demand.



Emily Laurie said...

While reading your summary on suggestions for fostering supportiveness rather than defensiveness, I would suggest that the use of common sense is also important. In my gradate program readings this week, we read about Common Sense from a communication perspective in the book, “Communication Ethics Literacy.” Common sense is not an innate human faculty; common sense consists of a background of experiences from which we draw our ideas and insights for decision making. Our particular understanding of common sense emerges from what we do and what we know; the common comes from the familiar. When the common is no longer in place, communicators are no longer certain of what constitutes an appropriate ethical communicative response. (Communication Ethics Literacy: Dialogue and Difference (Kindle Locations 1003-1005). Because common sense is not a God-given thing, it’s probably one of the most challenging aspects of communication. I think back to life as a child and the things I would say and being embarrassed by it only after my parents would tell me, “Use some common sense, Emily! Especially when I would act a certain way or say something I wasn’t supposed to especially during the wrong times. Your section on Neutrality was very interesting to me. One of my biggest pet peeves is whenever people don’t listen when trying to talk to them. Because of technology being the way it has forced people to multi-task, simple listening without a phone in hand or the TV on is somewhat of a rarity these days. This is unfortunate and would cause someone like myself to be defensive because what might be important to you (as the speaker) isn’t always going to be important to your audience. This describes what you said, “This kind of talk says, in effect, “You’re not important or deserving of attention and caring.” I’m not always looking for someone to take my side, but most often I would like a response from my listener whether they agree with me not.

Joe DeVito said...

An interesting perspective Emily. Thank you.

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