Jack Gibb Communication Climate Model | Gibb Defensive and Supportive Climates
Just as perpetually gloomy geographical climate can negatively affect our mood and sometimes our physical wellbeing, a similar effect could be found in our interpersonal and working relationships.
The prevailing communication climate in which our communication takes place affects how to satisfy we feel about that relationship.
Gibb Defensive and Supportive Climates
In 1961 Jack Gibbs coined the phrase communication climate to describe the environment created by communicators, which increases or decreases defensiveness.
Another way to look at this is the emotional tone of a relationship, which comes from the way people feel about and treat each other as they communicate with each other.
In some relationships, we feel good, and we feel valued, not threatened. It is a comfortable and supportive relationship.
In others, however, we feel defensive or threatened. We perceive attacks on our self-concept and self-esteem. We feel personally diminished, and we tend to respond defensively, often falling victim to the fight or flight syndrome.
We may want to flee by withdrawing from the situation, falling silent physically, removing ourselves, or becoming submissive.
Typical fight responses include denying the potential validity of the attack. In other words, what was said may, in fact, be correct, but because we’re defensive, we refused to admit it and sometimes argue even harder.
We might also mount a counterattack under the belief that the best defense is a good offense.
Jack Gibb uses these two terms, supportive and defensive, to describe the communication climate, which is made up of behavior patterns.
The word patterns are important because it reminds us that a few behaviors do not create the communication climate. However, extensive and frequent use of those behaviors does.
Gibbs Categories Of Defensive and Supportive Communication
Gibb identified six patterns of behavior that tend to create defensive communication climates and six contrasting patterns that tend to create supportive climates.
Gibbs Categories Of Defensive and Supportive Communication
Gibbs Defensive Communication (Behaviors)
Gibbs Supportive Communication (Behaviors)
|1. Evaluation||1. Description|
|2. Control||2. Problem Orientation|
|3. Strategy||3. Spontaneity|
|4. Neutrality||4. Empathy|
|5. Superiority||5. Equality|
|6. Certainty||6. Provisionalism|
The behaviors in defensive climates create an environment where communication is threatening. Behaviors in supportive climates create spaces where trust can develop.
In a defensive climate, gestures intended to be calming and productive are likely to be perceived as strategic and superior. There is also a noticeable overlap between defensive climates’ behaviors and in competitive conflict styles and between supportive climates and collaborative conflict styles.
Gibbs Defensive Behaviors & Examples
What are Gibb’s Defensive Behaviors?
Defensive communication behaviors are communication behaviors that stimulate one to perceive or anticipate a threat, causing the individual to expend energy to defend him/herself.
When defensiveness is perceived, the Individual devotes energy to defend him/herself, often at the expense of the communication interaction. The resulting behavior tends to create similarly defensive postures in others, and the resulting reciprocity may become increasingly destructive.
Gibb pointed out that as one becomes more and more defensive, s/he becomes less and less able to accurately perceive the other individual’s messages. Both sent and received messages become distorted.
The opposite is also true; i.e., the more defense-reducing or “supportive” the climate, the fewer participants are likely to distort messages. The clearer and more effective is the resulting communication.
Gibbs Defensive Behaviors are behaviors that tend to create defensiveness in one or both of the participants in a relationship. They include;
The first defensive pattern is evaluation, where we feel people are judging us, blaming us, telling us what we do wrong, and treating us with contempt.
This could be communicated verbally with words like You are so lazy or nonverbally, with a look tone of voice, Sigh, etcetera.
Remember that some situations call for evaluation if you are a supervisor at your job, for example. But there are ways to phrase evaluations to get the point across without diminishing the other person’s sense of self-worth.
We tend to be more sensitive to negative feedback than positive feedback. Often, it matters who criticizes us and what we’re being criticized for, and when we feel we’re being evaluated, we get defensive.
The second pattern controls, which is when we feel someone is making us do something that they want us to do because they can.
When someone tells us what to do, we may think, Well, who is he to tell me? That and the more someone tries to control us and limit our choices, the more we tend to fight back, especially if we feel entitled to our freedom to choose.
If you’ve ever had someone tell you don’t think of an Elephant, you may have experienced the need to fight against that command. You can’t seem to help but think of an Elephant, and the harder you try, the more you think about it.
This can also refer to who controls the conversation. If someone dominates or interrupts, we feel they have taken control, and that defensiveness kicks in.
The third defensive pattern strategy isn’t quite so obvious. Gibb wasn’t referring to thinking strategically, as in what would happen if but manipulation.
How do you feel when you find out that you have been or are being manipulated?
Or if you think there could be a hidden agenda, you may ask yourself, What is this person really want?
And how is that person going to go about getting it? And will I get hurt in the process?
Oftentimes the mere thought that someone might be manipulating us can put us on the defensive. We think they’re lying, and we don’t feel we can trust what they have to say.
Neutrality also needs some explanation. Another way to describe this is apathy, a lack of concern, indifference, or the impression that the other person doesn’t really care about us, who we are, or what we think we like to be acknowledged, and when that doesn’t happen, we get defensive.
How do you feel when someone addresses you with a superior than thou attitude? It may be non-verbal. It may be the words they use, but they make us feel like we are beneath them, generating that defensive reaction.
The last defensive communication pattern is a certainty. Another word for this is dogmatism, the belief in the self-evident truth of one’s opinion.
A dogmatic person is very closed-minded and inflexible. There is no room for debate when someone implies that they know the right answer, and obviously, if we have a different answer, we are wrong, miss informed, or sometimes just stupid, we get defensive.
We may back down and act contrite, But oftentimes our immediate instinct is to prove that person wrong. Even in those rare instances when we know we’re actually incorrect, we tend to fight harder to prove our arguments.
Gibbs Supportive Behavior/Climate
Supportive communication behaviors are communication behaviors that reduce levels of threat or defensiveness.
Gibb also identified six supportive communication patterns that could be used to both create a supportive climate.
If you were the center of the message and a counter a defensive communication behavior if you’re on the receiving end to counteract evaluation.
Gibb recommends using description, which is describing a behavior instead of evaluating it. You may think, Wow, that was rude, which is evaluative.
But ask yourself what the behavior was that made you come to that conclusion. That is what you describe the behavior.
So instead, you might say, I’m concerned that you didn’t respond to my messages when you said you would, or I’ve noticed that you’ve been late to work three times this week.
You could become more descriptive by offering praise before describing as long as the praise is appropriate and use, I statement rather than the you or we statement.
When you own your own feelings, it is difficult for others to argue with you or deny your feelings. It allows them to save face by thinking, well, that’s just your opinion and be specific, not vague. I feel let down when you’re not here when you say you will be.
Remember that there is more to communication than just the words. You’re nonverbal must be consistent, so pay attention to your facial expressions, eye contact, and tone of voice.
A sarcastic attitude can undermine all the effort you put into using descriptive language, turning it into the evaluation, and putting the other person on the defensive.
To counteract control, aim for a problem orientation. Please focus on the problem separating it from the person.
What’s the problem? If someone is late, the office doesn’t get open on time. So rather than attacking or blaming the person, attack the problem.
Rather than ordering, offering various suggestions, implying or directly requesting feedback and other ideas, perhaps you can collaborate to find an effective solution.
Remember that gives term strategy could be thought of as his manipulation or dishonesty.
Gibb offers spontaneity or genuineness and honesty. Assertiveness is the contrast in behavior.
In general, honesty is the best policy but don’t use honesty as an excuse to tell people hurtful information that they don’t need to know. Be direct and straightforward, transparent.
While some people might be offended initially, most would rather be around someone who was direct and honest than someone who is not and make sure that you don’t have any hidden agendas.
To combat neutrality. Use empathy as neutrality or indifference contributes to defensiveness, acknowledge the other person.
Respond emotionally to another person’s feelings and try to understand the situation from their perspective, demonstrate that you value their opinions even if you don’t actually agree with them or can’t do what they want, you still value them.
Be other-oriented, which is thinking and feeling what you perceive another to be thinking and feeling.
Instead of implying superiority, strive to communicate that you are equals and acknowledge that each of you has areas of expertise. Respect others until they give you a reason otherwise.
Treat others as you would like them to treat you, Be polite.
If you don’t like to feel stupid and who does?
Don’t make them feel stupid. Try not to treat people differently because of various age, gender, talent, etcetera.
Minimize status differences. You may be the boss or the parent, but you don’t have to lord it over people.
It’s important to pay attention to your nonverbals here because, more often than not, it’s not what you say but how you say it.
Don’t set people up to fail so that you can feel superior.
Rather than claiming certainty. Use Provisional is, um, provisionalism is being flexible and allowing for other points of view.
It suggests some tentativeness in presenting ideas and allows you to remain open to possibilities and options that you may not have explored.
Some ways of being provisionalists include letting others speak, don’t dominate and don’t interrupt. Encourage others to contribute to the conversation. Who knows? You may learn something.
Consider the remote possibility that you could be wrong. It’s possible, really, and use provisional wording.
One example of provisional wording includes prefacing a statement with a qualifier such as, I think, or from my perspective; you can also date generalizations the last time I looked or three months ago.
Indexing generalizations is providing a comparison, such as Compared to our last bill, this one is much higher.
How to Create Good Communication Climates
First, understand the concept of reciprocal patterns, like begets like. What you say or do can influence other people, and what they say or can influence you.
If you engage in support of communication, it increases the likelihood that the other will respond supportively.
Conversely, defense of communication can lead to more defensive communication. Communication patterns can spiral.
While a supportive spiral, maybe a great defensive spiral where defensiveness causes defensiveness, which causes more defensiveness, can easily get out of hand.
As humans, we can engage in self-reflexiveness, which means we can think about what we are experiencing while we are experiencing it.
When you were engaged in communication, pay attention to the verbal and nonverbal messages. Ask yourself several questions, such as;
What precisely are the behaviors you and your partner are engaging in? If they indicated an offensive pattern, what can you do to counteract that behavior?
And might you perhaps be misinterpreting the message? Think if you needed to say the same thing, would you have communicated it differently?
If the answer is no, perhaps you shouldn’t be defensive.
And finally, it might be time to evaluate the relationship. Is it worth saving or maintaining? If, for example, you are working in a toxic work environment and understanding the concept of reciprocal pattern, you have tried everything you can to counteract the defensive communication patterns. Perhaps it’s time to look for another job.
However, if you are stuck in a defensive climate, understanding what is occurring might make it easier to tolerate.
Gibb’s Supportive and Defensive Climates
Gibbs Communication Climate Summary.
|DEFENSIVE CLIMATE||SUPPORTIVE CLIMATE|
|EVALUATION: Judgmental statements indicating a lack of regard for the other.
Subtext. “I don’t value you.”
Responses: Counterattack, justification, defensiveness, abandon communication
|DESCRIPTION: Neutral statements describing the behavior, giving it context, and reporting its impact on you.
When you put me down in front of others, like; I feel humiliated.” supportive language: “I” factual vs. inflammatory language.
|CONTROL: Speaker imposes solution(s) without regard to the needs or input of the other.
Subtext “I know better than you! What do you need?
|PROBLEM‑ORIENTATION: Collaboration on a solution that is satisfactory to both.
win‑win supportive language: asks instead of tells responses: sabotage, resistance “What do you think?”
Subtext., “I don’t trust you or our relationship enough to be direct.”
Responses: resentment, resistance
|SPONTANEITY: (honesty) Direct communication with no underlying Agenda|
|NEUTRALITY: Indifference to speaker’s plight.
Subtext ‘What is going on with you doesn’t matter to me.”
Responses: resentment, hurt, defensiveness
|EMPATHY: Verbal and nonverbal displays of support supportive language: reflective listening, paraphrasing|
|SUPERIORITY: Speaker reminds you frequently of her perceived greater status.
Subtext “I am someone. You aren’t.”
Responses: delight in speaker’s failures
|EQUALITY: Speaker may have greater talents but communicates that she sees you as having equal worth as a person.|
|CERTAINTY: Sees one way: MY WAY! Has a low tolerance for disagreement.
Subtext “I’m right, you’re wrong.”
Responses: debate, delight in proving speaker wrong
|PROVISIONALISM (flexibility): Would instead investigate than debate.
Acknowledges others’ views. supportive language: “perhaps,” “maybe,” “This is how I see it.”