Gibb’s Defensive Communication Climate Paradigm (1961)

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In Chapter 2, the literature supporting the Gibb’s Defensive Communication Climate Paradigm (1961) with regard to the definition of a communication climate, the components, characteristics, dimensions, types, patterns, factors and the barriers influencing a communication climate was discussed.
In this chapter, the Gibb’s Defensive Communication Climate Paradigm (1961) will be discussed according to the conceptual framework, the theories or models related to a communication climate and the conceptual framework applied to nursing practice relationships


The conceptual framework (see Figure 1.1) within which this study was conducted emanated from a literature study the researcher undertook. The conceptual framework comprises a Communication Climate Focus and six bipolar continuums that range between a defensive and a supportive communication climate. A defensive communication climate focus emphasises negative communication behaviour, and a supportive communication climate focus emphasises positive communication behaviour.
The six conceptual continuums include the Evaluation-Description, Control-Problem Orientation, Strategy-Spontaneity, Neutrality-Empathy, Superiority-Equality, and the Certainty-Provisionalism continuums. These six conceptual continuums each relate to the Communication Climate Focus continuum.
The researcher viewed this conceptual framework a suitable conceptual foundation for this study as it provided a network of concepts and relationships within which the research questions pertaining to this study were posed and the data generated were integrated (Brink et al 2012:26; Polit & Beck 2012:131)
integrated the six conceptual continuums and suggested relationships to be considered in the study design (Polit & Beck 2012:131)
provided a context for interpreting research results that might otherwise be isolated and difficult to interpret (Polit & Beck 2012:131)
allowed for the derivation of the three research questions
briefly summarises the main events of the communication controversy in nursing.


It is important for scientific studies to utilise appropriate theoretical frameworks upon and around which a study can be built. A paradigm is a way of viewing natural phenomena which encompasses a set of philosophical assumptions that guide one’s approach to enquiry (Polit & Beck 2012:720; Brink et al 2012:24). The term paradigm, according to Soanes et al (2009:736), refers to a typical example, a pattern or model of something.
After scrutinising the existing literature for a suitable communication climate theory or model, the researcher found only one model, the Gibb’s Defensive Communication Climate Model (1961) and one dimension of the Downs and Hazen Communication Satisfaction Model (1977) applicable to the study. The primary purpose of this study was to assess the communication climate focus of professional nurses. The Gibb’s Defensive Communication Climate Paradigm (1961) was identified as the most suitable framework for the purposes of this study, as it is based on the theoretical assumption that all communication relationships should be supportive and collaborative. The Gibb’s Model (1961) will be discussed in detail in the following sections of this chapter. Therefore, this section will present only a brief discussion of both the communication climate dimension of the Downs and Hazen Communication Satisfaction Model (1977) and the Gibb’s model

The Downs and Hazen Communication Satisfaction Model (1977)

Communication climate forms one of the eight communication satisfaction dimensions of the Downs and Hazen Communication Satisfaction Model (1977). It reflects on the satisfaction of employees in terms of general aspects of organisational communication – therefore, the general perception that the communication of the organisation creates is reflective of the communication climate of the organisation. The communication climate dimension explains the extent to which communication in the organisation motivates and stimulates workers to meet organisational goals and the extent to which it makes the workers identify with the organisation. It therefore measures the degree to which communications in the organisation are healthy (Roussel & Swansburg 2009:177-178)

Gibb’s Defensive Communication Climate Paradigm (1961)

Jack Gibb developed the concept of communication climate in 1961 (Buchanan & Huczynski 2010:227). He analysed tape recordings of discussions that had occurred in various settings over an eight year period (Gibb 1960:115-135; Gibb 1988:2) and identified six pairs of communication behaviour. Based on the interrelatedness and interactivity of these pairs of communication behaviour, Gibb was able to design the Defensive Communication Climate Paradigm (1961). He arranged the pairs of behaviour as bipolar continuums, namely: the Evaluation-Description; Control-Problem Orientation; Strategy-Spontaneity; Neutrality-Empathy; Superiority-Equality; Certainty-Provisionalism Continuums (see Figure 1.1). Behaviour which a listener perceives as possessing any characteristics of the first concept in each pair arouses defensiveness, whereas that, which is interpreted as possessing characteristics from the second concept in each pair, labelled as supportive, reduces defensive feelings. The extent to which these reactions occur is dependent on an individual’s level of defensiveness and the general climate within a group at a specific time.
The aim of the Gibb’s paradigm is to produce a communicator who is self-actualised; one who displays positive, supportive communication behaviour towards others. It suggests that instead of communicating with patterns of behaviour that arouse defensiveness, a corresponding set of supportive communications should be used. The six conceptual continuums contained in this paradigm reflect the principles of cohesion, support and trust. The paradigm develops collaboration and, if implemented correctly, may produce meaningful interpersonal relationships. A more detailed discussion of the Defensive Communication Climate Paradigm (Gibb 1961) will follow


Evaluation-Description Continuum

The Evaluation-Description Continuum ranges between the defensive evaluation pole and the supportive description pole. Evaluation indicates negative communication behaviour and Description indicates positive communication behaviour (Figure 3.1).

Defensive (negative) communication pole

Evaluation, refers to the most important/powerful aspect of a first impression formed of another, thus whether an individual likes or dislikes another person (James 2008; Mokhtari 2013). The evaluation of another person pervades an individual’s memories of what he or she likes. Furthermore, a favourable or unfavourable impression in one context extends to most other situations and to other seemingly unrelated characteristics. In this respect, negative information seems to be more powerful than positive information. Thus, in forming an impression, special attention is paid to negative information, as negative information is weighed more heavily.
Evaluation consists of communication behaviour that engages in judgemental language (Czech & Forward 2013:12; Gibb 1961). Often evaluation is marked by so-called “you language” or “you messages” (Adler et al 2009:298), in which blame is placed on another person. Gibb (1988:2) elaborates, stating that speech or other behaviour which appears evaluative increases defensiveness. Thus if a sender seems to be evaluating or judging a listener through expression, manner of speech, tone of voice or verbal content, indicating disapproval of the receiver (Adams & Galanes 2012:114), the receiver will go on guard (Steinberg & Angelopulo 2015:171). Adding to this statement, Trenholm (2011:185) mentions that evaluation occurs when the comments of individuals imply appraisal and criticism of one another’s behaviour. A judging message will judge rather than describe one’s thoughts or feelings, arouse defence and trigger a negative response. Muller et al (2011:322) state that “when the sender or receiver [of a message] has judgemental ideas about the other person/s, or about the topic under discussion, many unjust assumptions can be made, which may lead to misunderstandings”.
In the case of assumptions, the receiver interprets the meaning of the message according to what he or she ‘thinks’ it means, without actual proof. This may result in a distorted understanding of the real message (Bagraim et al 2011:207). Insecure individuals often place blame and view others as fitting into categories of good or bad, often make moral judgements and question the value and motives of their colleagues, affecting the value loadings (judgement of others by believing that the standards of the speaker differ from those of the receiver) of the speech which they hear. This can cause the listener to become defensive (Gibb 1988:3). Some individuals, according to DeVito (2008:264), tend to place the blame for a problem on others instead of focusing on a solution; this action does not protect either their own needs or those of others. DeVito (2008:264) explains that “whether true or not, blaming is unproductive, as it diverts attention away from the problem and from its potential solution and creates resentment that is likely to be responded to with additional resentment”.
A manager who uses evaluative communication in an organisation is critical and judgemental of employees and their work, criticises them and does not accept or allow any explanation from employees (Costigan & Schmeidler 1984:112-114). Judging refers to behaviour where an opinion is formed about [someone or something], through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises (Merriam Webster 2013). However, judging in defensive behaviour tends not to be based on evidence, but emphasises apportioning blame and making other people feel incompetent (Buchanan & Huczynski 2010:228). Uys and Middleton (2014:263), defining judgement as “the ability to assess a situation correctly and act appropriately within the situation”, feel that judgement and insight (the ability to analyse situations and understand the true meanings of experiences) go hand in hand; if insight is impaired, judgement is usually also impaired. Criticising means “disapprovingly indicating the faults” of others, through the “expression of a critical assessment of them” (Soanes et al 2009:340). Criticising the work of others points to negative feedback, and a lot of the feedback that individuals receive is critical (see Box 3.1).


Supportive (positive) communication pole

Description refers to the providing of information instead of judging and placing blame (Buchanan & Huczynski 2010:228). Therefore, descriptive communication tends to arouse minimal uneasiness and encompasses language in which the listener can perceive the need for information (material with neutral loadings) and a real desire to understand the view of another (Gibb 1988:3). In particular, the least defence-evoking is the presentation of feelings, perceptions or processes which do not require or imply that the receiver change behaviour or attitude.
Description in communication is a desire to understand another’s point of view without making it wrong (Adams & Galanes 2012:114). It is marked by the use of “I language” that places the responsibility on the sender of the message (Czech & Forward 2013:12; Gibb 1961); descriptive messages offer thoughts and feelings without judging others. They arouse little defensiveness, because they focus on presenting feelings or opinions without assigning blame; for instance, a person can express concern about a deadline by describing his or her feelings (Trenholm 2011:185). These messages are “observations that can be specific and concrete” (Adler et al 2009:298), therefore it is expected that “I” messages would be more likely to create a positive communication climate than “you” messages that are defensive. However this is not always the case; usually individuals do not like to hear negative expressions aimed at them, regardless whether “I” or “you” messages are used, hence, using “I” language in moderation is the most effective (Hajdasz 2012:32-34).
Understanding is defined by Merriam Webster (2013) as “a mental grasp or the power of comprehending, or the power to make experience intelligible by applying concepts and categories, or a friendly or harmonious relationship or an agreement of opinion or feeling; adjustment of differences”. It also refers to “an elusive intuitive process whereby one succeeds in apprehending the deep significant meaning of an event, a concept, an idea, etc.” (Reber et al 2009:842). Managers often forget that people are all different (Ferreira et al 2009:435).
Even if employees are treated fairly and equitably, managers should make provision for recognising and accommodating the differences that exist between them. It is therefore necessary for managers to understand and accept that people behave in different ways as a result of cultural forces; they should thus strive towards understanding the perspectives of others. Managers who utilise descriptive communication in an organisation attempt first of all to explain situations clearly to employees without harbouring personal bias (thus to make the situation clear, by providing more detail, and to give reasons or justifications (Soanes et al 2009:502). They also present feelings and perceptions without expecting a similar response. Finally, such managers refrain from labelling (“classifying name applied to a person or thing, especially inaccurately” (Soanes et al 2009:794)) situations as being either good or bad (Costigan & Schmeidler 1984:112-114) (see Box 3.2). In manager-employee communication, the communication of the manager is clear, describes the situation fairly and presents his or her perceptions without implying that there is a need for change (Costigan & Schmeidler 1984:112-114).


Control-Problem Orientation Continuum

The Control-Problem Orientation Continuum ranges between the defensive Control pole and the supportive Problem orientation pole. Control indicates negative communication behaviour and Problem-orientation indicates positive communication behaviour.

Defensive (negative) communication pole

Control, refers to expected conformity, rigidity and inhibition of change (Buchanan & Huczynski 2010:228). It is a behaviour that can increase defensiveness and occurs when members of a group try to impose their will on others (Trenholm 2011:185). It is a common occurrence that in social interaction, one person is attempting to do something to another person – to change an attitude, to influence behaviour, or to restrict the field of activity (Gibb 1988:3). Control is thus an ability to change or modify behaviour by the systematic use of applicable reinforcement or punishment (Reber et al 2009:168). The extent to which these attempts to control produce defensiveness depends on the openness of the effort. Suspicion that hidden motives exist increases resistance. Control is often marked by implicit attempts to be manipulative and the speaker may view, or appear to view, the listener as arrogant, unwise, uninformed or of possessing inappropriate attitudes (Czech & Forward 2013:12, Gibb 1961).
Control in communication is the effort that one person applies to dominate or change another person. It is also when a person insists on having things his or her way. In conversations, statements might include: “I want to do things this way, so that’s what we are going to do” (Adams & Galanes 2012:114). Speech which is used to control the listener as speech evoking resistance can be classified as controlling speech. The term controlling refers to the use of power to influence people’s behaviour or the course of events. It is also the restriction of an activity, tendency or phenomenon (Soanes et al 2009:311). Controlling occurs when a “sender seems to be imposing a solution on the receiver with little regard for the receiver’s needs or interests” (Adler et al 2009:366).
Controlling messages can be viewed as an attempt to control another individual. These types of message can communicate status and create hostility, thus the resulting communication climate might be defensive and negative. The receiver of a controlling message will feel incapacitated and powerless to contribute anything of substance to the conversation because of a loss of confidence between sender and receiver (Steinberg & Angelopulo 2015:172).
The term hostility refers to a feeling of intense anger and resentment, exhibited by destructive behaviour (Keltner et al 2011:512), and is distinguished from anger on the grounds that anger is “a more intense and momentary reaction” whilst hostility is “a long-lasting emotional state characterized by enmity towards others” (Reber et al 2009: 355). Non-verbal communication behaviour manifests itself in gesture clusters. One of these clusters is defensiveness (hostility), which is characterised by gestures such as a rigid closed posture, arms and legs tightly crossed, eyes glancing sideways, minimal eye contact, frowning, no smiling, pursed lips, clenched fists, head down and a flat tone of voice (Buchanan & Huczynski 2010:219).
Communication could be used to maintain control and power in relational groups through the withholding of information, deliberate partial sharing of information, communicating within a specific group only, communicating in a language that others do not understand and the use of silence when a reply is required (Gardezi, Lingard, Espin, Whyte, Orser, & Baker 2009:1390-1399; Longman 2013:116).
From an organisational point of view, the controlling manager feels a need to be in charge of all situations and permanently act in an authoritarian manner in an attempt to change the employee (Costigan & Schmeidler 1984:112-114). This manager will also try to change the attitudes and behaviour of others to suit his or her own will and control how others do their work (see Box 3.3).

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