Powerful Non-Defensive Communication

*Reprinted from Ellison Communication Consultants, 4100-10 Redwood Road #316, Oakland, CA 94619
Phone: 510-655-8086 Fax: 510-655-8082 Web site: www.pndc.com
1994 Powerful Non-Defensive Communication, Sharon Ellison, M.S.

We are using non-defensive communication when we ask questions, make statements and predict consequences in an open, sincere way without trying to control how other people respond. We can gather accurate information, speak with clarity, protect ourselves, and hold others more accountable. People are more likely to respect us and we can strengthen personal and professional relationships.

1. Ask Questions: Nature: curious, open, innocent, neutral, inviting

Purpose: To gather thorough information to understand accurately what the person means, believes, or feels.
Example: If someone acts upset, the first step is to simply ask the person directly about your own assumption so he can confirm, deny, or qualify, for example, "Are you irritated (frustrated, angry, upset) about something?"
Avoid: Using a question to express your own opinion or to entrap others.

2. Make Statements: Nature: open, direct, vulnerable, subjective, descriptive

Purpose: The first three steps are to state neutrally our subjective interpretation of 1) what we hear the other person saying, 2) any contradictions we see (perceive) in the person's tone, body language, and words, and 3) our conclusions regarding the person's overt and covert messages. The fourth step is not neutral and is to 4) fully express our own reactions, our feelings, beliefs, and reasoning.
Example: If the person continues to act irritable and yet denies it when asked, saying harshly, "I'm fine!," we might respond with this four part statement:
  • Hear: "When I hear you saying that you are in a good mood
  • See: and (at the same time) I see that you are rolling your eyes and shrugging
  • Conclude: then I believe that something is wrong but you don't want to tell me
  • Reaction: and so I feel frustrated and am not sure if I should ask you more questions or leave you alone."
Avoid: Stating opinion as fact or trying to convince others to agree.

3. Predict Consequences: Nature: protective, foretelling, neutral, definitive, firm

Purpose: To create boundaries and security by telling another person ahead of time how we will react if s/he does make a certain choice, and how we will react if s/he does not make that choice.
Example: If the person still acts upset and continues to deny it, after hearing our statement, saying "I said I'm fine , there's no problem!," we can set a limit using an "If......then" sentence:
  • "If you would like to tell me what's going on, then I'd like to hear it."
  • "If you don't want to tell me, then I don't want to try to make you."
Avoid: Using a consequence prediction to coax, punish, or falsely threaten others.
Six Defensive Reactions
That Prevent Powerful, Non-Defensive Communication

When someone says or does something to make us feel put down, hurt, frustrated, or angry, we may feel attacked and try to protect ourselves by using one or more of these six defensive reactions. When we get defensive, we get into power struggles, which causes many unnecessary, destructive conflicts.

1. Surrender-Betray: We are a traitor to ourselves when we allow someone to mistreat us and then defend the person's behavior, taking the blame ourselves.

Example: We might say, "He just treated me rudely because he was in a bad mood. I should have known better than to ask a question just then."

2. Surrender-Sabotage: We outwardly give in or cooperate with someone and then undermine the person in some way.

Example: We might talk about the person behind her back, or procrastinate about doing something we told the person we'd do.

3. Withdrawal-Escape: We avoid talking to someone about something we don't want to discuss.

Example: We might simply not answer, or leave the room, or change the subject.

4. Withdrawal-Entrap: We refuse to give information to someone as a way to trap him/her into doing something inappropriate or making a mistake.

Example: We might just stare the person and not answer a question she asks until she gets embarrassed and drops it or gets angry and says something that inappropriate.

5. Counterattack-Justify: We explain our own behavior or make excuses if someone questions or criticizes us to let him know he is wrong to be upset with us.

Example: We might say "I would have gotten that done sooner, but I've been really busy," or, "I'm doing my best," or "I can't work any faster."

6. Counterattack-Blame: We attack or judge the other person to defend ourselves.

Example: We might blame the other person for whatever the problem is, saying perhaps, "You are always so critical," or, "Why are you in such a bad mood?"
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