Defensiveness – Causes and Remedies

Defensive reactions can spiral through our relationships and cause real problem. The Saying What Matters lady would contend that the root of such behaviour is the desire to save face. We don’t want to hear messages that will challenge our hard won self-concept. We seek the approval of others, especially those close to us – this is normal. So, what happens to get these spirals going and what can we do to turn things around?

Chain Reactions

  1. We feel attacked in some way. This is a matter of perception but perceptions shape our realities.
  2. We do not accept the incoming perception of attack. We might experience cognitive dissonance – we have two pieces of conflicting material to deal with (self-concept and incoming perception of attack).
  3. We respond – accept the information and change the self accordingly or reject it and stay the same

Three Choices

Attack the critic with verbal aggression or sarcasm. We’ve all been there, right?

Husband: Is that a designer label on that bag?

Wife: Oh right … you’re one to talk. You’re such a phoney. What about your poker game last week? What about that mid-life crisis car in the driveway?

Distort the critical information by rationalizing, compensating or regressing. The above example can go double duty for all of the above.

Avoid the information – physically steer clear of the person dishing out what one doesn’t want to hear, mentally block the message, pretend we don’t care, displace the bad feelings by venting on others.

Avoidance strategies are as varied as the people who practice them. We all sing our own form of la-la-la-la with our fingers in our ears at times. The wife leaves the room and yells at the kids. The husband kicks the dog. You get the picture.

How to Prevent Defensiveness in Others

The Saying What Matters lady is here to tell you, the main way to stop another’s defensiveness is by using your competent communication ability. An article written by Jack Gibbs, entitled, Defensive Communication, was discovered at the University of Toledo in 1988.  The opposing categories that Gibb came up with flowed from research done for the Office of Naval Research. Gibb later wrote that this particular article had been more widely distributed than any of his other work. For good reason. The contrast between the opposing ways of responding to others is immediate and powerful.

Jack R. Gibb – Categories of Defensive Interaction

You language – causes others to feel defensive

I language – helps others feel supported

Evaluate – You don’t have a clue, do you?

Describe – When I see the way the laundry has turned out, I wonder if you understood how I wanted it sorted?

Control – You need to get a hold of yourself, right now.

Problem solve – What do you need from me right now?

Strategy or Manipulation – You’ll look like an idiot if you do that. Just trust me, I know more about this than you do.

Spontaneity – no hidden agendas – I’m not really sure how to explain this but I think you’re making a mistake. Let’s talk it through.

Neutrality – You’ll only make yourself unhappy acting that way.

Empathy – I can see how upset you are. I want to understand.

Superiority – You should have listened to my advice in the first place

Equality – I wonder what we can come up with to solve this problem.

Certainty – You are wrong.

Provisional – I was thinking we might look at the situation this way. What do you think?

Pompei exhibit - Getty Villa - Bruce Witzel photo

About francisguenette

Writer, blogger and author of the Crater Lake Series.
This entry was posted in Communication, Communication skills, Counselling, Mental health, Photography, Relationship, Self Help, Teaching and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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