Defensive and Supportive Communication

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    Oct 06, 2012
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Defensive communication is a method which many of us use to protect our self-esteem. Defensiveness is used when we want to hide those parts of our personality or our emotions we can`t or don`t want to show to others. It can be described as a coping mechanism against emotional harm and pain.

In my opinion, everyone is defensive about certain subjects, people or emotions without even realizing it. However, when defensiveness becomes a day-to-day way of life, then a person devotes a great portion of his energy and time to defending himself. It can therefore become very emotionally destructive and disempowering. A person like this often thinks about how he appears to others, how he may dominate, impress or avoid punishment.  Such attitudes create similar defensive postures in others. All in all, defensive communication will often hurt you more than other people around you.

Defensiveness does not serve you in positive ways. Defensive behavior can manifest itself as not listening to others, finding it difficult to listen to the opinions of others, and not thinking about other people. On the other hand, caring about others is the foundation of supportive communication.  If you don`t care for them sincerely, if you only pretend to listen, people will notice your insincerity and they will know that you are only in this for yourself. It won`t matter how much you do for everyone, they will always be assuming that you have an ulterior motive.

This isn`t easy. In fact, it is extremely hard. But one can at least make an honest effort to do so. It seems to me that you will respect yourself more and that other people will like you much more if you are truly interested in seeing your colleagues, your neighbors and the members of your family succeed, and if you do your best to help them along the way.

The second basic element of supportive communication is honesty. People who behave defensively try to avoid talking about certain subjects. They often have a habit of telling lies or half-truths to make themselves look better in certain situations or to impress others. In my mind, they act like this because they feel as if no one understands them. For instance, if you fail to meet commitment you made to someone, don`t try to make excuses to cover it up and don`t try to be defensive or aggressive when challenged with truth and reality. If you apologize and ask what you can do to make it right, you will be respected for it. Doing anything else will show people that you are willing to say or do whatever is necessary to avoid the consequences of your actions. 

The lesson I have learned from my early childhood is that the most valuable resource you have with others is their trust. Losing trust is the worst thing that can happen, because it makes all other things you do or say nearly worthless in the eyes of others.  But if you are always honest, people will know that you mean what you say when you speak your mind.

People who behave defensively are often shy, overly self-critical and excessively worried concerning imagined threat or criticism. Their desire is to be seen more favorably and to avoid exposure to their shortcomings.  That`s why these people don`t ask for help when they don`t know what they are doing in certain situations.  Their strategy is to try to solve the problems alone, pretending that they know everything. Mistakes are inevitable and when others criticize them, they usually negatively interpret what people say, and treat another person pointing out their faults as injuries to their egos.  On the other hand, the persons who behave non-defensively, admit their ignorance and ask for help.

It seems to me that there are two benefits to doing this.  First, it helps you learn something new. Second, it makes someone else feel important. He (she) will feel good about his (her) knowledge and generosity at the same time. If you give people that gift, you will get friendliness and respect in return. In my mind, asking for help is the third fundamental element of supportive communication. There is always at least one thing you can learn from everyone you meet. That`s why we shouldn`t be too proud and we shouldn`t take anyone for granted.

 To be successful in personal and professional relationships, we must learn not to be defensive.  We use 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. For instance, if someone acts upset, we can ask the person directly about our own assumption. (Are you angry about something?).  We have to avoid expressing our own comments about his (her) frame of mind. When we make statements, we should avoid stating opinion as a fact or trying to convince others to agree. We can fully express our own views, reactions, feelings and beliefs but we must try not to make others feel hurt, frustrated or upset.

 We also use supportive communication when we refrain from using consequence prediction to punish, coax or threaten others. When we predict consequences in a protective, neutral, firm and definite way, people are more likely to respect us.

Unfortunately, defensive communication is a universal problem. It is present everywhere, not just in our culture. A rise in verbal abuse directed at people of different national backgrounds, races, religions, cultures, lesbians and gay men has plagued the whole world. These expressions of intolerance manifest themselves as sarcasm, mocking, blaming, shaming, anger, denial and rigidly sticking to one way of thinking. In my opinion, hate speech is the worst, the most despicable manifestation of defensive communication.

There are sound arguments to justify a prohibition on inciting hatred. Hate speech is the gateway to discrimination and violence. It is psychological foundation for serious, harmful criminal acts.  Politicians have used it in their campaigns and some of them have caused hate-motivated attacks on vulnerable minorities who have a history of suffering persecution and prejudice. In my opinion, any incitement hatred shouldn`t be tolerated.

 However, when hate speech is concerned, it can`t be stopped by means of criminal sanctions. Defining hatred is difficult to determine in a way that will satisfy everyone. Different people have different definitions of hatred. It is very gray area.   It seems to me that the most effective way to diffuse hatred is by presenting facts and arguments, by breaking down ignorance and ill-will.

Our schools, media and public figures have a vital role to play in encouraging tolerance and helping to promote understanding and empathy with others.  Their obligation is to speak out loudly and clearly against all kinds of expressions of hatred. This process will be slow, but powerful in its effect in the end. Hatred can be countered by education and debate. Also, people can organize to counter bad attitudes, possibly change them, and forge solidarity against the forces of intolerance. Schools and local authorities must create forums and workshops to raise awareness and promote dialogue on issues of race, religion and sexual orientation. Schools throughout the world should intensify their efforts to recruit members of racial minorities at all levels and reform their institutions` curricula  to reflect the diversity of people and cultures that have contributed to human knowledge and society.


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