Like the weather, interpersonal relationships have a climate. It can be positive or unpleasant and hostile. Certain behaviors contribute to these positive or hostile feelings. The term communication climate defines the emotional tone of a relationship. Whether you are referring to personal relationships or workplace relationships, the communication climates are shared by everyone. As your chapter points out, being valued by another person (confirming communication) or being shown a lack of respect (disconfirming communication) is what makes the tone of the communication positive or negative. Keep in mind that disconfirming communication like every other form of communication is a matter of perception. Often we perceive a message to be disconfirming when the intent was not to devalue us. We all have been disconfirming ourselves, when we failed to return a phone call or respond to a letter.
Any time two people start to communicate, whether it is at home or at the job, a relational climate begins to develop. If the messages are confirming, the result will be a positive climate. Once a climate (or the tone) of the communication is established, it can develop into a self-perpetuating spiral. A spiral is an established pattern where each person’s message reinforces the other’s response. When you tell a child, “I love you,” the tone is positive and the reciprocating message will also be positive. If you tell your coworker that his work is lousy, he will not reciprocate with kind words. A spiral begins to form that will further increase the defensiveness and hostility between you and your colleague.
There is probably no type of communication that pollutes an interpersonal climate more than a defensive spiral. As your text points out, there are a number of messages that make us defensive and escalate the conflict. The moment we perceive that we are being attacked by others and you are not willing to accept their judgment, you are faced with cognitive dissonance – an inconsistency between two conflicting pieces of information, attitudes, or behavior. There are three broad ways of resolving dissonance without agreeing with a critic. Each of these is characterized by defense mechanisms. The first is an attack on the critic and includes verbal aggression and/or sarcasm. The second is by distortion of the critical information through rationalization, compensation, regression, or avoidance. Avoidance can be effected through physical avoidance, repression, or displacement. Displacement means that you take your anger and frustrations out on someone else.
In order to prevent defensiveness in others, you should carefully study the Gibb categories of defensive and supportive behaviors. Jack Gibb has found six types of defense-arousing communications and six contrasting behaviors that lessen the threat and defensiveness by conveying face-honoring relational messages of respect.
None of the supportive behaviors mean that you have to tiptoe around issues and hold your tongue at all costs. There are methods to allow you speak your mind in a clear, direct, non-threatening way that builds on the “I” language approach of chapter five. Your text calls this the clear message format. There are five parts to this and each part can be combined with the others to have successful and non-hostile interactions. Behavior, interpretation, feeling, consequence, and intention statements make up these five parts and their uses alleviate many potential and actual problems in your professional and personal life.
When dealing with the public, telecommunicators have to develop the skills to respond nondefensively to criticism. Seeking more information, asking for specifics, guessing about specifics, paraphrasing the speaker’s ideas, determining the other’s wants, asking about the consequences of your behavior, and agreeing with the critic offer a wide choice of reacting in a sincere and positive manner.
When faced with criticism by others, it is really possible to respond nondefensively by attempting to understand the criticism and by agreeing with either the facts or the critic’s perception. Always remember that you are dealing with someone else’s perception and acceptance of facts and criticism does not have to mean that you accept the other person’s premise. You are simply agreeing with the other person’s right to have his or her say.
Please know the key terms of the chapter and read the text thoroughly. I have listed some web links for further study and your enjoyment.
Life Skills: Being Nice
Criticism Doesn’t Have to Hurt
Know Yourself and the Communication Climate
Open Communication Climate
Assertiveness Training: Responding to Criticism