The Craft of Great Communication – Style Is Important

The Craft of Great Communication - Part 3

This is the third part of a series of posts. See Part One here and Part Two here.

One of the best ways to improve your communication is to look at how the style of your communication can create defensiveness (which is unproductive) or a sense of supportiveness; which is productive and moves the communication towards a resolution or bond or common purpose.

The type of talk that generally proves destructive, and sets up defensive reactions in the listener, is talk that is evaluative, controlling, strategic, indifferent, superior, and certain.

When you evaluate or judge another person, or what that person has done, that person is likely to become resentful and defensive. And this will probably result in them becoming equally evaluative and judgmental.

When the manner in which you communicate, results in the other person being defensive and combative, you have created a confrontational situation. This is unhelpful because the interaction between both of you then becomes about the confrontation instead of about the issue/job/event you were trying to discuss.

Evaluation or judgement is often perceived or heard when we use “you messages” when we communicate. This is simply identified by sentences starting with “you”. You sentences immediately carry judgement because you have decided something about the other person; as in, “you weren’t paying attention to me”.

Any communication that starts with “you” immediately draws battle lines for confrontation because you have already judged the person’s behaviour. And the natural way for the other person to respond is to defend themself; perhaps by attacking you.

If your intention is to communicate through, or about, the issue/job/event try using “I messages” rather; as in, “I felt like you weren’t paying attention to me”. This enables the dialogue to progress into other areas, such as, “why did you feel this way?” or “what about my behaviour gave you that impression?” or “you’re probably right, I had such a headache and was just trying to concentrate on what my boss was saying”.

Besides enabling discussion, using “I messages” also keeps your communication focused on what you know and can control – your perceptions, your viewpoint, your feelings – and allows you to take ownership of those, and how you express them into your world.

“I messages” also permit your listener or audience to respond to where you are at, instead of them defending your idea of where they are at.

Another way you may encounter defensiveness is when you try to control the behaviour of the other person, order the other person to do this or that, or when you make decisions without mutual discussion and agreement.

Control messages deny the legitimacy of the person’s contributions and deny his or her importance. When, on the other hand, you focus on the problem at hand—not on controlling the situation or getting your own way—defensiveness is much less likely.

When you strategize and try to get around other people or situations through manipulation—especially when you conceal your true purposes—others are likely to resent it and to respond defensively. But when you act openly and honestly (but diplomatically), you’re more likely to create an atmosphere that is equal and honest.

When you demonstrate neutrality, indifference or a lack of caring for the other person it’s likely to create defensiveness. Neutrality seems to show a lack of empathy or interest in the thoughts and feelings of the other person; it is especially damaging when intimates are communicating. This kind of talk conveys the message, “You’re not important or deserving of attention and caring.”

When you present yourself as superior to the other person, you put the other person in an inferior position. Such superiority messages say in effect that the other person is inadequate or somehow second class. A superior attitude is a violation of the implicit equality contract that people in a close relationship have.

The other person may then begin to attack your superiority and this can quickly degenerate into conflict over who’s the boss. Personal attacks then often become the mode of interaction and can settle into a destructive pattern in a relationship.

If you want to create room for negotiation, mutual problem solving or break destructive patterns in your relationships, consider using these techniques to change the style and outcome of your communication.

Stuck in a rut with the same things coming up? Get in contact now to learn how to achieve personal success!


  1. I enjoy your mosaics with meaningful thoughts, words of wisdom and sharing knowledge

    • Thank you, Yolanda. Knowledge is most useful when shared.

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