The 6 Gibbs Characteristics And Provoking A Defensive Response

A warning provokes defensiveness on behalf of the participant.

It’s the least effective way to change behavior.

Gibbs lists 6 characteristics that will provoke a defensive response; being critical, controlling, guarded, aloof, superior, and dogmatic.

A warning covers at least 3 (criticism, controlling, superiority).

Once you warn a member, they can’t change their ways without first changing taking a hit to their self-concept. Most people won’t do that. They’re far more likely to protect their self-concept and continue (or increase) acting that way they have until you remove them.

In their minds, there’s not something wrong with them. There’s something wrong with you.

Most people resist feedback that refutes their pre-existing beliefs about themselves – especially on characteristics that are central to our self-concepts. You’ve probably done this yourself. Have you ever been given negative feedback and wondered what was wrong with the messenger?

The anecdote, according to Gibbs, is to be non-judgmental, collaborative, genuine, understanding, equal, and open-minded. I think it’s simpler.

Compare these two responses to a self-promotional post:

“Hi Martin,

I have removed your post from April 17 which included a link to your own website. As per our rules, you will notice that you are not allowed to link to your own website or promote your own work in our community.

If this happens again, you will be suspended from the community indefinitely”.

 Can you see the Gibbs’ traits here: critical, controlling, aloof (in language), superior, and dogmatic (not explaining why it’s not allowed). This message will certainly provoke a negative response.

Now compare with:

 “Hi Martin,

I loved your post about {xyz} this week. I’ve been reading several of your posts recently. I’d consider you one of our top experts in {xyz} at the moment.

I’d love to see if we could get you more of your expertise involved in the community.

Specifically, I’m looking for advice that would help members do {xyz}. You wouldn’t be able to link to your own site (we don’t want everyone linking to their own products for obvious reasons), but I think we could make it work without that. 

What do you think? Would you be interested?

This is the same message but delivered without criticism, being aloof, controlling, or asserting rules without explaining them.

The secret here is to affirm the values they likely already hold about themselves. Show appreciation for who they are (over what they’ve achieved). And highlight a good thing about them – while delivering the message you want delivered.

Too often we deliver threats and warnings which either sustain or provoke further negative behavior. You can cut this cycle by changing how you communicate the message. Understand the Gibbs’ traits and ensure they’re not in your messages.

This is an incredibly effective way to use simple psychology to optimize your own communications with members.

For FeverBee SPRINT, we’ve invited 14 of the world’s top community experts to San Francisco to explain how you can use simple psychology tactics to optimize everything you do in your community. I really hope you join us.

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  1. Bo McGuffee says:

    Excellent article! I’m sharing it with my mod team.

  2. Sarah Hawk says:

    That second approach doesn’t actually address the issue of the existing link, only future behaviour. How would you handle that?

  3. ForumSentinel says:

    That’s a good article although that definitely has to be tailored for the community temperament and on a member by member basis. Our community is of a similar attitude to 4chan and the more aggressive Sub-Reddits much of the time thus they only respond to a little aggression and firmness in return. If you try to be too “lovey-dovey” for lack of a better term haha, they’ll step all over you. Some users simply have no other agenda but to be troublemakers, they don’t want to learn and to treat them any different is wasting your time imo.

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