More about PNDC

By Sharon Strand Ellison

Below I have provided an overview of the traditional “War Model” Communication and the Powerful Non-Defensive Communication™ Model I have developed as an alternative. Each section is thorough enough to present a good initial picture of the differences between the two systems of communication. You can read about each system straight through, or go directly to whatever section interests you most.

The War Model:

Defensive Self-Protection & Neuroscientific Reasearch

Types of Defensive Reactions

Power Struggle

The Non-Defensive Model: Introduction

Changes in Attitude and Behavior

Non-Defensive Communication Tools — Questions, Statements & Predictions

Quantum Leaps

The War Model

Defensive Self-Protection

The goal in war is to gain control over other people by killing them, capturing them, or forcing them to retreat. In physical combat people use defensive maneuvers for self-protection. It is not a time to show vulnerability. My book opens with a basic motto for war: "To be open is to be vulnerable, and to be vulnerable is to be weak." Using the rules of war as the foundation for talking to each other, people follow this motto by shutting down and getting defensive in countless situations, such as when they believe someone has criticized their performance, judged their values or life-style, disagreed with their ideas, and/or hurt them in any way. Defensiveness has been our primary protective mechanism — not only at work and in our communities, but at home with our partners and loved ones.

Scientific Reasearch: Dr. Joseph LeDeux (and others) has deomstrated that the minute we get defensive, the complex problem-solving mechanism in the brain shuts down. We are instantly impacted at a physiological level, flooded with chemicals that usually don’t dissipate for 20 minutes to an hour — assuming that no one else reacts defensively in response. Far from protecting us, defensiveness acts as an accelerant for conflict. It fuels the fire. The key functions of this War Model for communication are (1) defensiveness and (2) power struggle.

Audio Selections:

The War Model for Communication: Why Are We So Defensive?
(PNDC Principles & Practices, Track 1)

The Physiology of Defensiveness —Research by Dr. Joseph Le Deux
(PNDC Principles & Practices, Track 4)

Types of Defensive Manuevers

While often only semi-conscious, or even unconscious, our defensive reactions typically fall into the same three basic categories of defense used in war: surrender, withdrawal and counterattack. I demonstrate how each of these strategies actually includes one passive format designed primarily for protection and also an aggressive format, used both to protect and to retaliate against others. The PNDC Summary Sheet lists all six defensive modes in English and/or Spanish. While a person might use any or all of six defensive reactions, most people have a favorite — a fallback position. In fact, much of what we think of as a person’s personality is often simply the person’s outer façade, the particular defense he or she most often hides behind.

Scott, a participant: “If I stop being defensive, I won’t have any personality at all. No one will know who I am.” 

Audio Selection:

Six Defensive Modes — A Hypothetical Story about a Work Team
(PNDC Principles & Practices, Track 6)

Power Struggle

I believe that whenever we get defensive, even if we use a passive defensive stragegy, we are still in power struggle. I also believe that power struggle is actually the most pervasive and least recognized addiction on earth. Power struggle, like any addiction, can become progressively more destructive. The drug of defensiveness can become more important than anything else—we may care more about being right than the impact an argument has on our relationship with someone we care about deeply. Because we have never changed the basic model for how we communicate, we consider such pervasive defensiveness and power struggle to be normal — just human nature.

Powerful Non-Defensive Communication

Introduction: If we use a model for communication that doesn’t rely on defensiveness and power struggle, we can create a level of change in our lives and our communities that might seem beyond imagination. It’s like getting rid of an obsolete software program and getting a new one that can do entirely different things and obtain different results. PNDC can give us tools we need for communicating without getting defensive. While it is vital that we do not try to get others to drop their defenses, the bonus is that they frequently do — instantly — even in extreme conflict. They then become open to genuine conversation. In order to shift from defensive to non-defensive ways of listening and speaking, I believe we must (1) change key attitudes, and (2) shift how we ask questions; give feedback; express our own thoughts, feelings and beliefs; and create clear boundaries. These shifts include changes in (a) intention, (b) tone (body language and (d) formatting (phrasing).

Audio Selection:

A New Model for Communication
(PNDC Principles & Practices, Track 6)

Changes in Attitude and belief

In war model communication, people often don’t “show their cards,” which translates into not being fully honest. It also translates into not showing vulnerability. Being honesty and showing vulnerability are often both seen as a liability. Exposing our weaknesses can leave us open to attack. Exposing our strengths can mean giving someone else an opportunity to “take away our advantage.”

Central to the PNDC process is the belief that we need to change our attitudes about honesty and vulnerability. Just as defensiveness and power struggle are an essential part of the infrastructure of war model communication, bringing honesty and vulnerability together is core to the PNDC process. As musician Lori G said, “The marriage of honesty and vulnerability creates an incredible alchemy.” I believe that only when we bring honesty and vulnerability together will we communicate with the greatest power, and the two together do seem to have an amazing “chemistry.” While we might strive for this in intimate relationships, an increasing number of corporations are now recognizing that greater “transparency” can be very effective in business as well.

Non-Defensive Communication Tools


Traditionally we often ask questions with tone, body language and words that subtly or not so subtly convey our own opinion and judgments, or are leading or entrapping. People are often quite unconscious of the degree to which they do this, yet others may feel interrogated and shut down.

In the non-defensive model, our intention is never to control how people answer our questions. Our questions are genuinely curious, designed simply to understand their thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and/or actions. As a result, people are far less likely to feel controlled or a need to resist and defend. In many cases, people drop their defenses instantly.

Along with outlining more than a dozen ways to ask questions that get at the heart of an issue, I show how to ask questions in a different tone of voice — one that comes down at the end (like a statement) rather than up. I also demonstrate how to ask a question with a more neutral, receptive facial expression.

Listen to how to model the non-defensive tone for asking questions: The Learning Room, Audio Stories and/or Products


Traditionally, giving others feedback often carries a tone of superiority, judgment, and/or criticism. Expressing our own opinions is typically an effort to convince others to agree the art of persuasion. In my books, CDs, and live presentations, I show how efforts to convince others to agree frequently backfire, causing them to resist our ideas.

I have developed a series of four steps for giving feedback and expressing our own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. The steps involve: (1) telling the person what you heard them say with a focus only on their words; (2) naming anything that contradicts the words, from any one of four categories of contradiction — for example, tone or body language; (3) describing your conclusions about the meaning of the contradiction or the person’s intention, and (4) expressing your own thoughts, feelings and beliefs — subjectively, without trying to convince the other person to agree.

Each step is descriptive and subjective, providing others with specific pieces of information that help them understand how we got our conclusions and reactions. As a result, people are much more likely to feel respected and to want to listen, even seek our advice.

Listen to how to model the non-defensive tone for asking questions: The Learning Room, Audio Stories and/or Products


Traditionally, when we “set limits,” we are coaxing or threatening others to get them to do what we want, or what we think they should do — perhaps for “their own good.” People will often make decisions that are contrary to their own best interest as a way to avoid being coerced. In a non-defensive model, we simply let the other person know how we will respond, depending on which of two alternative choices the person might make. It is always in the context of an “if ... then...” statement. For example, “If you do X, then I will do Y. If you don’t do X, then I’ll do Z.”

We do not try to influence the person’s decision when we make a prediction — which is the hardest part, I think, for most people. The prediction, like the question, must be very neutral. Two formats — limit-setting and challenge-choice — free people up to think things through without the need to resist being controlled. We can create security through predictability, as well as holding others more accountable for their decisions.

Listen to how to model the non-defensive tone for making predictions: The Learning Room, Audio Stories and/or Products under the audio-book: Taking the Power Struggle Out of Parenting

Quantum Leaps

Each of us can protect ourselves without getting defensive and have greater influence without being manipulative or controlling. Using non-defensive communication, we can be honest and powerful while being compassionate and sincere. We can speak with great clarity and walk away with increased self-esteem, even if the other person chooses not to cooperate. A somewhat magical “side effect” occurs when others suddenly drop their defenses. In the conversation that follows, each person involved may take quantum leaps in the kind of understanding that alters beliefs, reasoning, feelings, an/or behavior.

Audio Selection:

A World View — Teachers & Coaches Who Inspire & Malcolm Gladwell, Author of "The Tipping Point
(PNDC Principles & Practices, Track 28)

The Institute for Powerful Non-Defensive Communication • Contact Us
Powerful Non-Defensive Communication is a trademarked name. © 1994-2014 Sharon Strand Ellison






Calendar Site Map Contact Us