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Defensive Communication - Essay Example

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By examining these forms of messages in the context of interpersonal communication, I shall reaffirm previous research findings that defensive communication results in 'losses in efficiency in communication' (Gibb 14).
The strategy of defensive communication has various tactics and in the limited space afforded by this paper I will separately analyse in the following order only control messages, dogmatic messages, messages of indifference, and messages of superiority.
Control messages predominantly operate as imperatives, commands, and instructions. Control messages therefore imply authority, that is, the 'right to give orders or make decisions' (Lewis). Authority, however, implies varying degrees of power. 'A power relation is a causal relation between the preferences of an actor regarding an outcome and the outcome itself' (Pettigrew 188). For example, a police officer has authority to issue commands and power to enforce those commands. In contrast, a teacher has authority to issue commands and instruction but less power to enforce those commands. Parents like teachers have authority and a limited degree of power. What is more, as the context of one's communication becomes more personal authority and power wan, so that no real power relations exist between friends. For instance, in intimate relations defensive communication can occur when 'individuals are sensitive about their own flaws as well as the flaws of others close to them' (Becker, Ellevold and Stamp 95). Complicating the matter is that not all communication is verbal - body language for instance. So that, without explicit messages or in fact any intent, one may communicate irritation or annoyance. Furthermore, control is not simply the directing of action; 'information may become an instrument for advancing, attacking, or defending status' (Burns and Stalker cited in Pettigrew 189). For example, one may use control messages to avoid a topic of discussion, as in family secrets (see for example Caughlin et al.).
Dogmatic messages fall within the compass of defensive communication by virtue of the denotation of dogma; 'a doctrine or code of beliefs accepted as authoritative' (Lewis). In contrast to control messages, that expose authority and power, dogmatic messages expose censorship. Defensive communication in general, and dogmatic messages in particular, involve 'a self-perceived flaw that an individual refuses to admit to another person' (Becker, Halbesleben and O'Hair 144). Resisting the model of a dialogue (Pope 173), dogmatic messages rely on the monologue. For, 'every word is directed towards an answer and cannot escape the profound influence of the answering word that it anticipates' (Bakhtin cited in Pope 235). We may think of a dialogue as the collaboration between people to come to a mutual understanding. Yet in contrast, dogmatic messages attempt to curtail the give-and-take of communication. Such messages contain a deep irony; for, despite the effort to avoid a topic or point via an assertion of strength, the effort itself communicates a defensive attitude grounded on weakness. Dogmatic messages, therefore, undermine any authority or power asserted by a conversational partner. Furthermore, because a dogmatic message ...Show more


In 1962, J L Austin put forth 'an understanding of language as a medium for actions or deeds' (Kenaan 66). The notion of language as behaviour found further expression as 'linguistic acts' and 'speech acts' (Searle). What is more, as a type of behaviour, defensive communication is a social phenomenon that occurs when a person in a group feels threatened (Gibb 14)…
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