What Is Supportive Communication?

by Sharon Secor


Supportive communication is a style of communicating that has a specific set of goals and techniques. The primary goal of supportive communication is to resolve conflict or achieve change in a situation while preserving, even strengthening, the relationship between the communicating individuals. This style of communication is used in many types of interpersonal interactions, such as those including a power differential, as is found between manager and employee, teacher and student, or parent and child. It is also effective when used between those with more equal power, such as spouses, business partners and friends. Learning these techniques can result in more effective communication.

Focus on Problem and Solutions

Supportive communication emphasizes a problem or a situation and its potential solutions or possible changes, instead of focusing on the other person involved and their personal traits or characteristics. By taking that approach, the communication can more effective because the other person doesn’t feel as defensive. If the other person doesn’t feel the need to defend himself personally, he may be more willing to participate in the proposed solution or change, and may even take an active role in coming up with suggestions on how best to resolve the matter.

Use Descriptive Language

Instead of using evaluative language, which can sound judgmental or feel like a statement on a person’s overall competence or worth, and thus invoke nonproductive defensiveness, try using descriptive language. Descriptive language describes the situation or problem in specific terms. For example, instead of saying something was done wrong, describe what was done, the results of what was done and what could be done instead to better meet the original goals.

Take an Inclusive Approach

Avoid sounding like a superior person delivering messages from a high pedestal. This type of communication can make the listener feel as though they are considered to be less -- less intelligent, less competent and less valuable as a person or part of the group. Supportive communication seeks to resolve problems while ensuring that the other people feel valued and respected. It aims to have people identify themselves as part of the solution, not the source of the problem.

Encourage Productive Dialogue

Communication is a two-way street, and that concept is an important part of supportive communication. It is imperative to listen to the other person and encourage productive back and forth communication. Simply providing instructions or putting forth demands without accepting or leaving room for any input from the other person can make that person feel as though she is not valued or considered to be worth listening to. Making a person feel as though she is a valuable part of the team or the solution strengthens the relationship while addressing the problem.

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